PITTSBURGH--We had a couple of entertaining championship games over the weekend and it's good to hear that Baltimore running back Willis McGahee has been released from a local hospital after he was taken on a stretcher off the field Sunday night at Heinz Field. There are some compelling Chicago storylines coming out of Super Bowl XLIII, not the least of which is that a Chicago team is in the Big Game--the Chicago turned St. Louis turned Phoenix turned Arizona Cardinals.
But those are some issues we can tackle later on as the hype builds. For now, we'll jump into Four Down Territory with a trip through the mailbag.
Q: When you list the needs of the Bears, you consistently ignore quarterback. Given the recent comments of Jerry Angelo that seem like he's not looking for a ``game manager'' (which fits Kyle Orton perfectly), and that he's looking at all options, why wouldn't USC's Mark Sanchez make sense? Should the Lions go with Matthew Stafford or a left tackle with the first pick, couldn't Sanchez slide to the point where it would make sense for the Bears to trade up and nab him? Orton could still play out his contract year in 2009 with Sanchez waiting in the wings. Yes, I know, the Bears never trade up in Round 1 and, yes, I know the Bears have bigger immediate needs than quarterback, but I think the position demands attention. Like Angelo said, you win with your quarterback.
Dan M., Wheaton
A: There is no escaping the fact that quarterback was the No. 1 need when Jerry Angelo was hired as the Bears' general manager in June 2001 and it remains just that. He's failed miserably to deliver a franchise passer and recently has been quite candid about those shortcomings. If Sanchez grades out like a first-round pick for the Bears, then absolutely he would make sense in the first round provided he lasts until No. 18, or some point close to that.
First, let's consider some things Angelo has said recently:
1. He's not going to rule anything out, including using a first-round pick on a quarterback for the second time in eight drafts.
2. He believes that mid-round selections can be brought along and molded into steady, winning quarterbacks. We've seen mid- to late-round picks succeed elsewhere, but there wasn't much evidence that this was the way to go when you studied the 12 teams in the playoffs this year.
The Lions, with the first pick, are not the only team ahead of the Bears in need of a passer. Consider St. Louis (2nd), Kansas City (3rd), San Francisco (10th), Buffalo (11th) and the New York Jets (17th) could also be in the market for an arm. It's way too early to say where Stafford or Sanchez are going to land. Here's one mock draft that has him sliding all the way out of the first round. There are two issues in play when it comes to Sanchez--he doesn't have a ton of experience playing at USC and he was surrounded by some of the finest talent in college. Matt Leinart hasn't exactly panned out yet.
But certainly all quarterback inquiries are fair game.
Q: As the name indicates, I'm a Bear fan transplanted deep into the heart of Dixie. Is there any indication the Bears have turned the corner on their drafting methodology? Everyone has a theory on why the Bears have regressed since 2006. Complacency with big money, bad coaching, you name it. I think the problem is talent erosion. They are paying the price for bad drafts in 2003, 2004 and 2005. They seem to have done better in early rounds in 2006 and 2007, but in the process lost their mojo in the mid-rounds. Is this just luck or have they refined their way of doing it?
MS Bears Fan, Mississippi
A: Angelo said at the combine last year that he was changing his approach to the draft somewhat and part of that involved looking for players with higher ``football character.'' Obviously, it's something they missed on with Cedric Benson from 2005. I think you're definitely onto something here because talent has been an issue, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle Tommie Harris and cornerback Nathan Vasher in 2004 are the last position players Angelo has selected that have been selected to the Pro Bowl. That '03 draft not only produced Briggs, but it netted cornerback Charles Tillman, wide receivers Justin Gage and Bobby Wade, along with some other players who have contributed in the NFL. Just think what it would look like if the first round wasn't marred by Michael Haynes and Rex Grossman.
What's wrong with the 2004 draft? Harris, Vasher and Bernard Berrian make for a good class. Kyle Orton is the only player from 2005 still with the club and it's still a little early to take a hard look at 2006 and 2007. Angelo needs Mark Anderson to turn around for that '06 class. It's hard to say the Bears have refined what they're doing because we haven't seen tremendous production from the last two draft classes yet. The jury is in deliberation.
Q: I know the Bears have a laundry list of needs and a decent amount of cap room but are they brave enough to fill some of those needs in free agency to lessen the importance of making a quality draft, which Jerry Angelo has a hard time doing? Julius Peppers is very attractive and the cover two starts with the pass rush of the front four. A Tommie Harris and Peppers combination would make our overrated secondary look better than it is. Am I dreaming or is there a shot the Bears will make a play for him?
Troy, Parts Unknown
A: This issue is certainly going to gain some momentum moving forward. We addressed the issue Saturday and it's a little early to say how it will all play out. Certainly, it's unlikely Peppers and Carolina will come to an understanding, but money has a funny way of fixing a lot of things in the NFL. I'm not convinced the money spent to bring Peppers to the Bears would solve some of their defensive issues, however. Peppers' agent has hinted that he might like to play in a 3-4 but that's just silly negotiating because he's eliminating roughly three-fourths of the 32 teams.
Even if Peppers doesn't land the $72 million deal with $30 million guaranteed that Dwight Freeney pulled down in Indianapolis, he's going to command a fortune. It might be dreaming to think the Bears are going to open the vault like that. The possibility cannot be ignored, however.
Q: When does the free-agent period begin?
Alex W., Palatine
A: Free agency begins on Feb. 27. That means it will begin for the Bears at 11 p.m. on Feb. 26 for the Bears, when the clock strikes midnight in New York.
Thanks for all of the questions. We're going to hop a flight home from Pittsburgh and look into some of the news coming out of the Senior Bowl when we get home. Someone has found a way to remove the facemask from the Franco Harris display in the airport here since last week. He's still plucking the ball out of the air, though. Send in your questions and will get back to Four Down Territory again Tuesday.