Jerry Angelo has all but counted out Mike Brown before and the popular veteran safety returned to the Bears anyway.
Well, the general manager sounds like he's counting out Brown again. The difference this time is that Brown is no longer under contract to the club and will be an unrestricted free agent beginning Feb. 27. It was in his end-of-season address a year ago that Angelo said the Bears couldn't count on the often-injured leader. Yet he returned for a ninth season with the franchise. Getting to a 10th year will be more challenging.
"I don't see that right now,'' Angelo told the Tribune's Dan Pompei. "Given how it affects Danieal [Manning]. Allocation of money comes into play, too, in what we want to do at other positions. There could be a case where we want Mike back, but we can't afford to do it given what we want to do in other areas.''
Most expect Brown played his final game as a Bear on Dec. 22 against Green Bay when his recurring calf muscle injury forced him out and landed him on injured reserve for the fourth time in five years. Brown finished fourth on the team with 101 tackles and was more productive when he was moved to strong safety in the middle of the season. What turned things around ultimately for Brown last offseason was a contract restructuring. He earned all $2.44 million he was schedule to receive but only by hitting play-time incentives. Safety has been an issue for the Bears for several years. It was breakdowns at safety that ultimately cost the team in Super Bowl XLI. Brown missed the final 10 games of that season and the postseason run.
But if the Bears bring back Brown, they set themselves up for the same kind of issues they've been trying to defeat in recent years. When you count on Brown and he cannot deliver, there's a void that cannot be filled. There are some young players in the mix but none of them have been outstanding. Kevin Payne and Craig Steltz are viewed strictly as strong safeties even though Payne played at free. Danieal Manning has the physical tools to play safety but has been moved so much that you can't help but wonder what you'll get. He blew an assignment in the season-ending loss at Houston. He played best as a nickel back last year.
"When we brought Mike Brown back, I felt that hurt Danieal,'' Angelo told Pompei. "We had Mike at free. We liked what we saw in Payne in OTA's at strong safety, having a bigger body. We felt our best package was with Mike and Kevin. Saying that, we wanted to create a spot for Danieal. That's where the nickel came in. He had all the traits to do it. Our thinking was let's get our best [players] on the field. He started to impact us in the latter part of the season with his athleticism and because he is a tough guy. We certainly have to define what his role is going to be. We're a better team with him on the field.
Looks like Angelo believes the Bears will ultimately be better off moving forward without Brown. A final determination will probably be made in the organizational meetings which should begin after the Senior Bowl this week. With or without Brown, you can slide safety in the need list for the Bears' offseason.