Chicago Sun-Times

February 2009 Archives

We're going to be up front here on this one: No one has told us a thing about John Tait in the last week-plus and at no point has anyone hinted that Tait is planning anything other than retiring, as he told the team he was going to do in January.

But that was more than a month ago and until Tait files retirement papers, there's at least going to be a sliver of doubt out there that he is going to walk away from the final year of a contract that will pay him $4.8 million in 2009, not to mention a modest $50,000 workout bonus he could pick up this spring. Tait has never struck me as the kind of guy who is after the money. I doubt seriously cash would be motivation for him playing an 11th season at age 34. But maybe he's not ready to get football out of his system. Why else would would there be a delay in a little paperwork?

One of the Bears' primary competitors made a huge splash in free agency a year ago when the Minnesota Vikings signed wide receiver Bernard Berrian away with a $42 million, six-year contract. The Vikes then made a major splash in signing safety Madieu Williams and their biggest move of all was the sign-and-trade deal they engineered for defensive end Jared Allen.

Now, the defending NFC North champion Vikings are in play for the top wide receiver in this free-agent class--T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He's reportedly headed from Seattle to Minnesota for his next free-agent stop. The Vikings, who already have the top run defense in the league, would have an even more improved offense with Houshmandzadeh to work with newly acquired quarterback Sage Rosenfels.

We're just past 21 1/2 hours into free agency and while the action hasn't been as fast as it was a year ago for the Bears when they were hoping to pry Bernard Berrian out of Minnesota and then plotting to get Lance Briggs back at their price, it's been an interesting start.

It's clear the club has out the trenches at the top of the list for this offseason. Rod Marinelli has been brought in to rework the defensive line, and the first move in free agency was signing versatile offensive lineman Frank Omiyale to a four-year contract. Next on general manager Jerry Angelo's wish list appears to be veteran John St. Clair, who can also play four positions on the line.

One of the first signs here is that the Bears want to get bigger on the offensive line. While the natural first reaction was that Omiyale would step in immediately as the right tackle--the Bears don't have one on their roster--Angelo said the club will first look at him at guard, most likely left guard. Angelo isn't pigeon holing him there, and said he'll likely get looks elsewhere, but that's the first idea. Clearly, that means work remains to be done at tackle. St. Clair and a high draft pick could accomplish that. Getting another lineman on board would also aid Angelo in is quest to not be need-driven with the 18th pick in the draft.

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Although they made one of the first signings in free agency when they locked up Frank Omiyale to a four-year contract early Friday morning, the Bears still have interest in bringing back veteran offensive lineman John St. Clair.

At what price is the question.

"Yes, this has nothing to do with how we feel about John St. Clair,'' general manager Jerry Angelo said Friday afternoon in a teleconference discussing the signing of Omiyale, a 26-year-old who the team will likely look to fill the void at right tackle first.

"Really when you go into negotiations you can't tell the timetable of when you're going to get them dpne," Angelo said. "We would have liked to have gotten John St. Clair done first. This doesn't do anything for how we feel about John"

A league source filled us in that the four-year contract offensive lineman Frank Omiyale signed incudes $5 million guaranteed.

He will be on a conference call with general manager Jerry Angelo at the end of the hour and we'll hopefully get some more details then.

Stay tuned.

If the Bears are in play for free-agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, it's news to his agent.

Contacted Friday afternoon, Chicago-based agent Kennard McGuire said he wasn't aware of any interest the Bears may have in his client. It was reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer in Thursday that the Bears were one of three leading candidates to land the top wide receiver on the market. Not so.

"Not that I know of,'' McGuire said when asked if the Bears were in play for Houshmandzadeh.

Mark Slough knew he would have interest in Frank Omiyale but he didn't expect his phone to go off like it did when free agency began late Thursday night.

The Bears landed the versatile offensive lineman after 10 teams expressed varying degrees of interest in signing the 26-year-old, including the Carolina Panthers, who he spent the last two seasons with.

"Chicago is very fortunate,'' said Slough, Omiyale's agent. ``There were other teams that were extra high on him. This is really an incredible story.''

Omiyale's story began in Week 5 when he filled in for Jordan Gross at left tackle. The Pro Bowl performer was out with a concussion. Omiyale helped open up some big running lanes in a 34-0 shutout of the Kansas City Chiefs. Then, when Carolina played the New York Giants in a high-profile Week 16 meeting, Omiyale played the entire second half at left tackle as Panthers lost Gross and right tackle Jeff Otah. Again, he played well. But other than preseason action, the fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 2005 didn't have any action for teams to judge.

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The Bears have made their first move toward filling some of the obvious holes on their roster by signing offensive lineman Frank Omiyale to a four-year contract.

Omiyale, who spent the last two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, has signed a deal worth between $11.5 million and $14 million, according to an NFL source.

He got his first real NFL action this past season when he filled in for Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross for the Oct. 5 game vs. Kansas City. Carolina won 34-0, piling up 205 yards rushing. Omiyale, 26, can play either tackle position and could probably move inside also. The 6-4, 310-pounder was originally a fifth-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2005 out of Tennessee Tech. The Panthers claimed him off waivers in 2007 and he had been a backup there.

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All the indications the Bears have made are that they will not be in play for a veteran wide receiver with proven credentials.

There's exactly one of those set to reach the open market in a little more than 2 1/2 hours now--Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

And the Cincinnati Enquirer lists the Bears as one of three favorites to land his services.

"The Bengals decided not to place the franchise tag on Houshmandzadeh, which would've been for $9.88 million. It is believed that he is looking for a deal upwards of $10 million per season. As many as eight teams could be in the T.J. Derby starting Friday, but the favorites remain the Eagles, Giants and Bears."

We've learned to never say never, but we will say we don't think so to this one. The Bears went down this same path four years ago when they paid good money on the open market--a little more than $5 million per season--for Muhsin Muhammad. He was 32. Houshmandzadeh, who will turn 32 in September, is seeking big money, reportedly $10 million a year. He's been second fiddle for the Bengals to Chad Johnson. He feels he can break out on his own.

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Here we go, less than eight hours until the opening of free agency. The latest report is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have $61 million in available cap space. To put that in perspective, the total cap in 2003 was around $75 million. Good thing the NFL has been recession proof to this point, right? The Bears will head toward free agency with what is believed to be about $31 million in cap room.

We'll do our best to monitor the situation as it gets going but keep in mind general manager Jerry Angelo has already warned it's going to be quiet. We'll see if that's the case or if the Bears have a surprise move or two in store for everyone. This will be our final installment of Four Down Territory for the week. We'll resume with the Q&A's next week. Let's go:

Q: After a less than stellar showing at the combine where his speed was questioned, Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins could fall out of the top 10 and be available when the Bears pick. If he's available do you think the Bears would consider him? If so, could he or a cornerback already on the roster be moved to free safety? 
 
Chris, Homer Glen

A: Jenkins wasn't the only cornerback to post some slower times than expected at the combine. He didn't help himself by coming in at 4.52 and 4.59 and will almost certainly run again at the Buckeyes pro day on March 13. Had he been under 4.5, even just a little bit, his place in the top 12 picks of the draft probably would have been secured. He's got a ton of experience as a four-year starter and he has ideal size at 6-foot, 204 pounds. There's a lot to like there but the feeling is Illinois' Vontae Davis could have gained some ground on him.

Strike an actual free safety off the board.

Eugene Wilson, the Illinois native who played for Ron Turner in college, has re-signed with the Houston Texans, agreeing to a three-year contract.

The two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots was considered a possibility for the Bears. He played one season in Houston last year and was quickly promoted over Will Demps. Given that move by then Texans secondary coach Jon Hoke, who is now in that position with the Bears, Wilson was considered a player the Bears might target in free agency. Not any more.

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We've got a handful of questions since Wednesday about Laveranues Coles after he agreed to leave $6 million guaranteed on the table in exchange for the right to become a free agent.

Would he fit in with the Bears?

Sure, he would probably be able to help out any team but let's not make him out to be someone he isn't right now. Coles has turned in just one 1,000-yard season in the last five years. That right there would qualify him for the Bears, right?

Strike one of the name safeties off the board.

Not that the Bears would have considered Gibril Wilson any way. Wilson didn't waste any time finding work after getting served his walking papers in Oakland earlier this week, agreeing to a deal with the Miami Dolphins, according to Alex Marvez of FoxSports.com.

Wilson doesn't fit what the Bears need--a free safety with range to play the deep post. He's a classic in-the-box safety who struggles the further you move him away from the line of scrimmage. It was just a year ago that Wilson pulled down a $39 million, six-year contract to leave the then defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants for the Raiders. Some experiment that turned out to be.

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As we roll toward the opening of free agency this evening there isn't quite the anticipation there was a year ago when the Bears had a handful of players entering the open market. The action started with the team doing what it could to keep wide receiver Bernard Berrian. When that mission failed, the Bears put the squeeze on linebacker Lance Briggs, getting him to return at their price while some key role players (who were missed last season) departed in special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and tight end John Gilmore.

There just won't be that kind of drama this weekend, at least not that we see right now peering into our crystal ball. A phone call to Miss Cleo might confirm our hunch. It's important as we move forward to take stock of where the team is right now with the salary cap. We've reviewed the information when it comes to the 2009 salary cap, which was referenced in this story today, and have the cap numbers for projected starters. This provides an idea how the Bears have budgeted and where they're at. It's similar in many ways to how the money was distributed last season.

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On the eve of free agency, we're awful excited so we're going to expand Four Down Territory again. If you didn't see, it's worth noting that the NFL has raised the salary cap for 2009 to $127 million. That doesn't do any favors to the teams with a lot of money to spend as it only gives more flexibility to the few clubs who were right up against the number. Let's get into it:


Q: Does the release today of Derrick Brooks or Warrick Dunn interest you even a little bit? Seems like they may still have a little steam left.

J.T., Charleston, Ill.

A: Talk about some swashbuckling moves in Tampa today. The Bucs didn't just release two of the franchise's greatest players ever in Brooks and Dunn, they also made receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard and linebacker Cato June walk the plank. It was stunning news down there. But it doesn't matter if Brooks or Dunn interest me, it's whether or not they interest Jerry Angelo & Co.

My hunch is the Bears will not have interest. They don't have a place for Brooks, who turns 36 in April. The Bears have a better, younger weak-side linebacker right now in Lance Briggs. The Bucs are ditching their Tampa Two scheme with Jim Bates taking over the defense, and Brooks simply didn't fit the defense. Dunn, 34, rushed for 786 yards last season and added another 330 in receiving yards. He's clearly got some ability left to help someone as a complementary back. Right now, the Bears are pointing to Garrett Wolfe and wanting to see him fill that position in his third season. Signing Dunn would block his development.

Jerry Angelo just got an extra $4 million to spend.

That doesn't mean he's going to rush into free agency when it begins in a little more than 27 hours.

Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reported that the salary cap, which was expected to be at $123 million for 2009, has been bumped up to $127 million.

"Because teams didn't spend as much as they were supposed to under the collective bargaining agreement the past three years, teams were notified Wednesday that the salary cap will increase over $4 million to $127 million for this coming year, according to sources with two NFL teams. The collective bargaining agreement calls for cap adjustment down if teams spend over the cap in cash and adjustment up if they don't spend up to the cap."

The assistants have changed but the policy remains the same.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will not let assistant coaches out of their contracts to take jobs elsewhere, even if they involve promotions.

The Bears found out in 2004 when Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo tried to land Rod Marinelli, then the defensive line coach and assistant head coach with the Bucs, as defensive coordinator. Tampa wouldn't allow him to leave. Marinelli found out contracts were more binding than family ties when he became the head coach in Detroit and tried to hire Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry, his son-in-law, to be his defensive coordinator. Barry couldn't leave until his contract was up the next year.

The Bears finally have Marinelli, although he's the line coach and assistant head coach, Barry has returned to the Bucs after the whole thing blew up in Detroit, and Bucs quarterbacks coach Greg Olson is the latest one feeling the shackles. Olson, who worked as the Bears quarterbacks coach in 2003, has been denied opportunities to leave for promotions with at least two teams, an NFL source said.

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Are the Bears ready for Rex Grossman twice a year?

The former quarterback named the Detroit Lions as one of the more interesting teams he has an eye on as he heads to free agency. Grossman called Calvin Johnson one of the best, if not the best wide receiver in the league, said he'd like playing home games in a dome and lauded new Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

"They're not as bad as their record,'' Grossman said earlier today on Sirius NFL Radio, appearing on the Blitz with Adam Schein and John Riggins. ``They are a good team. I would love to be there.''

Now, in the interest of full disclosure from this interview, Grossman said he'd love to be just about anywhere, including as the backup to Tony Romo in Dallas, with the New York Jets, or just about anywhere else. In fact, he didn't rule out a return to the Bears, but we know that's not happening.

We've been dutifully working the phone lines to see what is going on out there related to the Bears and the answer is, as best we can tell, not much.

Several teams around the league are making some salary dumps, or clearing out players that don't fit new systems, as much to give the players let go a fair shot at the start of free agency as anything else.

The most high-profile news came out of Tampa where the Buccaneers and new coach Raheem Norris have made linebacker Derrick Brooks walk the plank along with wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, linebacker Cato June and running back Warrick Dunn.

The Bucs are ditching the Tampa Two so Brooks wasn't needed any longer.

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We only knocked out three questions on Monday so we'll even it up with five today. Let's get right to it:

Q: One thing I really took away from the combine was the performance of Pat White. I know everyone was writing him off as a quarterback because of his size but this kid did everything right. He had excellent throws all day. He also ran a very fast 40 for a quarterback. How would he look in a Bears uniform if they could get him in the second or third round?

Tyler K., Tulono, Ill.

A: You were not the only one who was impressed by White's dazzling display Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was quite a show and it will be interesting to see how much momentum White generates moving forward. Remember, it just takes one team to fall in love with a player.

Here is what they said on nfldraftscout.com:

2/24/2009--West Virginia's Pat White is a fine athlete who worked out at the combine as a quarterback and was relaxed in doing so. White is such a talent that teams are discussing what to do with him and when he should be drafted. He could be a No. 3 quarterback with a chance to be a No. 2, but he also can run the Wildcat, play slot receiver and return punts and kicks. As one GM said, "I want him on my team, and now I just have to figure out where I have to take him." - Pat Kirwan, NFL.com

Jumping back into Four Down Territory, our first of what will be four installments this week. We'll run a Q&A each day through Thursday this week. Here we go:

Q: Any possibility the Bears would consider moving Brian Urlacher to free safety since he played safety in college? It seems that with the choices in free agency it might make some sense and extend his playing career, enabling him to fulfill the four years left on his deal. Does he make too much money to play safety? Does he still have the speed? Would it be easier to find a starting middle linebacker to replace him than a starting free safety?
 
Also, is Kirk Barton under contract with the Bengals or is he a free agent? I thought he showed some potential before he was waived. Is there a chance the Bears would trade a low pick for a back up right tackle like Barton to eliminate the glaring need before the draft?
 
One more thing, have the Bears considered offering Mike Brown a coaching job? Given his knowledge and leadership, keeping him around to help develop unproven (unidentified) talent could really help the secondary and if the players they get to replace him don't pan out or get injured, he could be reinstated to the roster.

John O., Shorewood, Minn.

A: We usually have a one question per e-mail rule, but we're short on questions tonight.

1. There is zero possibility Urlacher will be moved to safety. If his range is deteriorating at middle linebacker, he certainly wouldn't have it to play safety. It's not even an option.

2. Barton is under contract with the Bengals, and finished the season there on injured reserve after spraining an ankle in practice. He went from the Bears to Miami, San Francisco, back to Miami and then the Bengals. That means three teams gave up on him and one did so twice. There is zero chance the Bears will look to trade for Barton.

3. Why would you offer a coaching job to a man who doesn't want to coach? Brown plans to continue his playing career and most likely will have an opportunity or two to consider after the draft. I'm not sure it's a good idea to try and involve someone who was just a peer with the players in the locker room immediately as a coach, either. Sorry, you're 0-for-3 with these ideas.

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Jerry Angelo from his sit down with media on Saturday at the combine:

DRAFT OVERVIEW

It looks like a pretty good draft. It looks like the defensive line position will be real strong. We had a lot of receivers come out as well as the running backs, so those two positions look like they're going to plentiful too. The linebackers should be real strong due to the fact that I thought potentially four could have come out last year and were thinking about it and they all four stayed in. So that looks like it's going to be pretty deep as well. Those are the positions that I think will be most fertile going into this draft. There's probably not as good a crop of DBs as we've seen in the past. Defensive tackles, just a few ... it seems like every year there are fewer of those guys, given the fact that probably more emphasis is put on the pass rush and they become a little bit less important. Again it's a strong draft with the offensive line, in particular the tackles. I thought last year as we saw was a big year and this year could be every bit as last year, and in part I think it's a testament to what the colleges are doing. With the tackles, it's all about pass protection. It's a little harder to find guards. You don't hardly see any in a three-point stance anymore. It's shaping up to be to be a pretty good draft. There are some quarterbacks, all underclassmen, that people are talking about right now. They have to go through the process a little bit early because they weren't able to do as much during the year given that they were underclassmen."

Lovie Smith in his own words

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Lovie Smith unflitered from the combine:


OPENING REMARKS

Seems like once you get to the combine you can really start getting ready for the upcoming season. After having a chance to watch Pittsburgh celebrate the winning the Super Bowl everyone else is excited about getting back on the football field. Seems ours is coming a little bit closer, matter of fact we want to get out there so bad we're going to move up our minicamp to March 16, first time we could really get out there, excited about that.

Past season of course was disappointing. Anytime you don't make the playoffs and you're not holding up the trophy of course I see it as a bit of a disappointment but we feel like we're real close. We like the nucleus that we have coming back in all three phases, I'm talking about offense, defense and special teams. But we need to add a little bit, that's why this combine is good, lot of good players here, and we have a big group down here evaluating the players and hopefully we can add a couple pieces to the puzzle.

Offensively, just talking about a couple of our guys. I'm a big Kyle Orton fan. I like him leading our football team, he'll do that this coming season. Of course you're always trying to add different pieces to the mix, but Kyle Orton will be leading our football team this coming season. Like what Matt Forte was able to do this past season. Seems like it was a few weeks ago we were watching him perform out here at the combine. We like what he was able to do, need to get a little bit more around him. We can add a few more pieces to the puzzle on the offensive line. With John Tait retiring, that'll open up a spot for someone, but Greg Olsen coming back of course will be big, we know we need to add a little bit at the receiver position and we'll do that also.

Defensively, we're anxious to get back. We haven't played defense the way we should play defense in a few years but I still like what we have. After having a chance to evaluate our players quite a bit, Lance Briggs really did have a Pro Bowl year. I know he went there, but after evaluating it he really did play well throughout. Tommie Harris played better than he was given credit for, we'll add some more pieces to the mix of course with it and then make a run from there.

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The Bears have sent contract tenders to exclusive rights free agents Nick Roach (above) and Marcus Hamilton, NFL sources confirmed.

Roach started nine games at strong-side linebacker and finished with 40 tackles including a season-high eight in the final game at Houston. Roach is expected to enter minicamp atop the depth chart at the position although he will be pushed by seven-year veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer, 28. Hillenmeyer has made 56 career starts but fell out of favor.

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What is a photo of former New England running back Robert Edwards, being carried away from a game of flag football on the beach, doing in these parts? It's all in the No. 18. Read on.

Jerry Angelo was asked on Saturday afternoon if he thought the team might be able to find an elite pass rusher with the 18th pick in the draft, a notion he more or less dismissed.

Seeing as yours truly asked the question, I can say now that maybe it would have been better to ask if he thought the Bears could find an elite player from any position in that spot. If past history is an indicator, chances are the Bears will not.

First, let's re-visit Angelo's response:

"If he's elite there is a reason why he is there at 18 so I can't say he's elite,'' he said. "He might have elite traits but to say he is going to be an elite pass rusher, there is going to be probably one flaw is the reason why he is there. There are only probably in any draft maybe eight elite players, in any given draft, sometimes you might get to 10, sometimes it might be as few as three. That's a strong word.


"You might get a player with some strong traits that has some potential but there is going to be some real areas of concern too and one thing I have learned in my experience with pass rushers as there have probably been as many gotten on the second day, meaning rounds four through free agency as gotten on the first day. That is one good thing about pass rushers. You can get them really in any round. There are certain traits that they have to have, very difficult position to project as well."

In examining the No. 18 position over the past 20 drafts ... it doesn't look there will be a sure thing for Angelo & Co.

Darrius Heyward-Bey virtually sprinted himself out of consideration for the Bears today.

The Maryland wide receiver blazed through the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.30 seconds, the fastest time of any receiver on the day and tied for the second fastest by a receiver at the combine since 2000. Any hope the Bears had of being able to consider him with the 18th pick in the first round looks to be gone in 4.3 seconds.

In fact, it was pretty good times all around on the day for the position group that the Bears has to be keeping a close eye on. A couple other receivers had strong performances and might be worth considering a little later on in the draft.

*** Ohio State's Brian Robiskie answered questions about his speed when the 6-3, 210-pounder ran the 40 in 4.51 seconds. His vertical jump of 37.5 inches was ninth among wideouts. He was fifth in the three cone drill in 6.72 seconds and eighth in the 20-yard shuttle.

INDIANAPOLIS--We're getting ready to depart Indianapolis after three days but want to cover a few bases.

*** Showing up at the combine out of shape and announcing he will not work out until the pro day at his school was a bad move by Alabama's Andre Smith. Bolting town early Saturday morning without telling anyone was another strike against Smith. Remember, this is the player who was suspended for the Crimson Tide's bowl game because of illegal contact with an agent. The strikes keep piling up and Baylor's Jason Smith and Virginia's Eugene Monroe are capitalizing quickly.

Both performed well in workouts and on the field Saturday in Lucas Oil Stadium. Jason Smith, a converted tight end, put up 33 reps on the bench at 225 pounds. If Andre Smith doesn't wow scouts at his pro day March 11, he'll fall significantly behind these two.

*** USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, perhaps eyeing an opportunity to gain ground on Georgia's Matthew Stafford, will work out in positional drills today. Sanchez is anxious to answer any concerns scouts may have about his arm strength. With Stafford waiting until his school's pro day to throw for scouts, this is a chance for Sanchez to claim the spotlight. The thing he can't make up here is the lack of experience he has coming out of school with only 16 starts.

INDIANAPOLIS--In perhaps another sign that the Bears will look at an offensive tackle or a wide receiver in the first round of the draft, general manager Jerry Angelo said it's unlikely the club will be able to find an elite pass rusher with the 18th pick in the first round.

"If he's elite there is a reason why he is there at 18 so I can't say he's elite,'' he said Saturday afternoon. "He might have elite traits but to say he is going to be an elite pass rusher, there is going to be probably one flaw is the reason why he is there.

"There are only probably in any draft maybe eight elite players, in any given draft, sometimes you might get to 10, sometimes it might be as few as three. That's a strong word. You might get a player with some strong traits that has some potential but there is going to be some real areas of concern too and one thing I have learned in my experience with pass rushers as there have probably been as many gotten on the second day, meaning rounds four through free agency as gotten on the first day. That is one good thing about pass rushers. You can get them really in any round. There are certain traits that they have to have, very difficult position to project as well."

INDIANAPOLIS--Nothing's over until John Tait decides it is, to borrow loosely from John "Bluto" Blutarsky, surely an offensive lineman at heart.

General manager Jerry Angelo said Saturday afternoon that coach Lovie Smith and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand have spoken with Tait on more than one occasion in the hope of talking him out of retirement. The Bears know Tait, who informed them last month he planned to walk away from the game after 10 seasons and with one more year remaining on his contract, didn't enter into the decision lightly.

"John has said he's going to retire,'' Angelo said. "In all likelihood that's probably going to happen. But that's not a certainty yet until the paperwork is turned in. That door isn't 100 percent closed. We've got to look at that. We're talking to John St. Clair. We certainly like [St. Clair]. We've got to create some opportunities there for us. We'll just have to in positions where you potentially have a need let it play itself out. We'll see how things unfold."

INDIANAPOLIS--He pulls a business card out of his bag and hands it to you.

It reads "Paul Edinger IV, Professional Kicking Specialist,'' and the former Bears kicker has been working it in hotel lobbies at the scouting combine.

Edinger hasn't kicked in the NFL since 2005 with the Minnesota Vikings, although he's had a handful of tryouts, and he's doing his best to get a shot to get back in the league. Saturday afternoon he was looking for some representatives from the Washington Redskins, hopeful of encountering defensive coordinator Greg Blache. He'd tracked down Todd Haley, the former Bears wide receivers coach, about a chance in Kansas City. He just wants an opportunity to revive his career.

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INDIANAPOLIS--General manager Jerry Angelo discussed upcoming free agency and the draft in his hotel suite Saturday afternoon and urged you to be patient if you're looking for a fix in free agency.

Angelo reaffirmed what we've thought for some time, that the Bears are going to be bargain shoppers if and when they venture out into free agency. Remember, they didn't sign a single unrestricted free agent last year, choosing to pick through the discard pile of waived free agents.

A few nuggets from the talk:

*** Angelo said confirmed Saturday's report in the Sun-Times that the team has had discussions with the agent for offensive tackle John St. Clair. Angelo would like to bring him back.

INDIANAPOLIS--While Bears coach Lovie Smith repeatedly refused to rule anything out at the quarterback position, he also made it quite clear the Bears envision Caleb Hanie in a position to be the backup quarterback this season.

You don't have to extrapolate anything Smith said Saturday afternoon at the combine to realize the Bears are not expected to make a play for a free agent. No, they won't be in a Kurt Warner derby if the two-time MVP does not re-sign with the Arizona Cardinals before Friday. They're also not expected to court Byron Leftwich or Chris Simms. Leftwich wouldn't want to join the Bears any way, he's seeking a starting job. Simms has stated his preference to return to Tennessee, where the Titans want him back. After those two, the discard pile is a short list of has been and never were type passers.

"I think sometimes you have to go with young talent,'' Smith said.

INDIANAPOLIS--Here are a couple quick highlights from Lovie Smith's 24 minutes meeting with media this afternoon at the combine.

*** He reiterated the Bears feel like they're "real close."

*** Said he would be comfortable entering the season with the quarterback depth chart as is having Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez compete for the No. 2 job.

*** Said final review of the season showed DT Tommie Harris played better than he was credited for being in 2008.

*** Made it clear Garrett Wolfe will have the first crack at being the complementary back to Matt Forte but said he was comfortable with the workload Forte had as a rookie.

*** Expects big things from LDE Adewale Ogunleye, who is entering the final year of his contract.

INDIANAPOLIS--The Bears figure to be in the market for a wide receiver in this draft and the picture for wideouts just got jumbled.

Michael Crabtree, the consensus best receiver in the draft and the top player according to some scouts, will be out 10 weeks after it was discovered Friday that he has a stress fracture in his left foot. He will require surgery to have a pin inserted.

How this changes the board for teams picking near the top of the draft remains to be seen. Ten weeks will take him up until about the draft, which begins April 25. It could affect Missouri's Jeremy Maclin most. He's considered the next best receiver by many.

INDIANAPOLIS--Maybe the price for John St. Clair just went up.

The draft prospects were overshadowed on Day 1 of the scouting combine with blockbuster deals done around the league Thursday, and another biggie got knocked out Friday.

The Miami Dolphins didn't place the franchise tag on right tackle Vernon Carey and they didn't need to as they struck a deal on a six-year contract to keep him in place. Carey's deal is worth $42 million. He was considered by many to be the best available tackle moving toward the open market after Jordan Gross was locked down by Carolina on Thursday.

Carey's signing removes another name from a shrinking list of tackles the Bears can consider, and they've got to do something. With John Tait set to retire, Chris Williams, the untested first-round pick from 2008, and Cody Balogh, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, are the only offensive tackles under contract. As it stands now, that means a lot of extra work for long snapper Pat Mannelly when the veteran minicamp opens March 17 at Halas Hall.

INDIANAPOLIS--Hectic first day at the combine that started with a nifty detour down by Kankakee thanks to the closing of Interstate 65 in Northwest Indiana. We're out trying to gather tidbits and nuggets, or we're going out to do just that.

We'll check back in more on Friday. Right now, let's cover the bases with some of the offensive linemen who visited with media today. Four questions from four linemen:


Will Beatty
Tackle
Connecticut


Q: What have your meetings with teams been like?

A: So far it was like the meetings where they ask you about your weight. Have you got in any trouble? No one has asked too many questions. No one really showed really too much interest in me. At the Senior Bowl I was with Cincinnati but they were actually coaching me so I didn't really get a feel for it. Nobody really tells you too much. Told me to get my weight up. Continue to work. Continue to perform.

INDIANAPOLIS--Two of the biggest names that could have reached the free market have been crossed off the list.

As expected, Carolina reached terms on a contract with left tackle Jordan Gross. He'll get $30.5 million over the first three years of a six-year contract.

Let's interrupt for a second to ask the question: What recession? Nnamdi Asomugha will receive $45.3 million in a three-year contract. Oakland made the move preventing the All-Pro cornerback from having to be paid. Speaking of pay, Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden landed a $43 million, five-year contract with $22 million guaranteed.

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Go ahead and take another name off the list of potential impact free agents the Bears could have targeted to fill one of their several needs.

St. Louis announced it has placed the franchise tag on safety Oshiomogho (O.J.) Atogwe, meaning he's out of the picture. Atogwe was considered the top safety heading to the free-agent market but there are some scouts who don't believe he's in an elite category.

Bears running back Matt Forte blew past him on a long run at St. Louis during the regular season and considering the premium teams pay in free agency (see the $33 million, six-year deal Madieu Williams got in Minnesota last year or the $39 million, six-year deal Gibril Wilson got in Oakland for examples), missing on Atogwe might not be the worst thing that happens to the Bears in free agency. Yes, he'd be an instant upgrade over anything the team has but at what cost?

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We've got the vehicle gassed up, an empty notepad and plenty of questions so we're ready to depart for Indianapolis on Thursday. This is our final installment of Four Down Territory for the week. Check back often for updates from the combine. We'll get back to the mailbag starting Monday.

Q: I cannot claim this as my own possibility but I found it intriguing enough to share with you. One of the mock draft sites (Draft Tek) has engineered a hypothetical trade between the Rams and the Bears. The Bears send No. 18 (1st round) and Nate Vasher to the Rams in exchange for Torry Holt and, No. 35 (2nd round) and No. 66 (3rd round). I like Vasher even though he had a down year last year. But this trade possibility is intriguing. Yes, Holt is aging but he has a bit left in the tank and would give the Bears some much-needed help. It opens up a spot for Corey Graham opposite Charles Tillman. And, it goes along with Jerry Angelo's modus operandi of trading down for additional picks. Thoughts?

Bill S., Oneida, Ill.

A: I don't think there is any question Holt still has some game left in him. He'll turn 33 before the season begins but we're talking about a player who has missed only two games over the course of his distinguished career that could one day land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's not the vertical threat he once was, but he's adapted and can still be productive even if he was pushed aside somewhat by a coaching staff hellbent on developing rookie Donnie Avery.

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Through the process of elimination, it appears Julius Peppers wants nothing to do with the Bears.

Darin Gantt of the Rock Hill (S.C.) Herald reports that the Carolina Panthers defensive end has a list of four teams in mind to be traded to if and when the franchise tag is placed on him. The team is expected to tag Peppers before Thursday's 3 p.m. deadline.

The Bears are not one of the four clubs.

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Indications are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will use their franchise tag on wide receiver Antonio Bryant unless they can reach an agreement with him before the 3 p.m. deadline Thursday for teams to use the tag.

That means safety Jermaine Phillips could be headed to the open market starting Feb. 27. Phillips is considered one of the top safeties but it's unknown if he will re-sign with the Buccaneers. He flourished the past few seasons under new head coach Raheem Norris, and the Bucs have a bounty of space available under the salary cap to make a deal. However, Tampa Bay used a second-round pick on Sabby Piscitelli in 2007, and the Bucs could be ready to slide him into a starting role.

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This will not come as a surprise.

The Bears announced on their Web site that they would like to have John Tait back for another season.

Tait informed the team he is was likely to retire and multiple sources have told the Sun-Times it's a done deal but nothing will be official until he files retirement papers.

"John informed us a few weeks ago that he was considering retirement," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "He has been a great player and representative of our team since joining us in 2004. We would like to have him back for another season, but certainly respect his decision if he chooses to retire."

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Free agency just lost a little bit of its luster.

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome let it be known Tuesday that the Ravens will place the franchise tag on pass rusher Terrell Suggs if they cannot work out a contract extension with him before Thursday's deadline to tag players.

Cross Suggs off your shopping list.

That's OK, you say. Julius Peppers will be available.

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Looks like things have quieted down a little bit around the league in what is usually a slow period leading up to free agency, which opens in 10 days. It's going to be very interesting to see how the shopping season opens up and we wrote about that last week. Mike Florio of Profootballtalk.com has an interesting take on it here, and he's not alone in thinking this could be a down year for free agency. Perhaps we'll get a feel for the action later this week at the combine. For now, let's jump into another Four Down Territory.

Q: Jeff Garcia has been a winner nearly everywhere he has played. Tampa Bay has decided to go with less than eight quarterbacks this offseason and he's one who will not be back. What are the chances the Bears attempt to sign him?

Eric G., Palatine

A: We're going to say the odds of the Bears pursuing Garcia are only slightly higher than the chances of them going after Kurt Warner, if indeed the two-time MVP makes it to free agency. Because like Warner, Garcia tried to land himself with the Bears before. His agent Steve Baker attempted to place his client at Halas Hall and didn't have success. Same thing goes for Warner, who expressed interest in coming to the Bears on two occasions.

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Charles Tillman is staying put.

The Bears' left cornerback will not be moving to free safety this season, an NFL source said.

It's been an idea that's been floated for years but one that gained more traction since the start of the 2008 season and the issues the Bears faced at safety. Moving Tillman now doesn't make sense, though. It would create a major void at cornerback. Instead of solving a problem, it would transfer it to a new area, one that is deemed more important. Typically, cornerbacks are paid more than safeties and the reason is because teams put a greater emphasis on them.

We're running behind again today, but the mail has arrived in time to deliver Four Down Territory. Let's get into it.

Q: It looks to me like Max Starks or Vernon Carey is going to be the Bears' No. 1 free-agent target. Why you ask? Well for starters John St. Clair mentioned in a recent article that the Bears have not contacted his agent yet to start contract negotiations. I doubt if John Tait thinking about retirement is a surprise to them so if you know Tait and his salary are leaving, it's logical to assume the Bears would want to pursue the best possible replacement. St. Clair played a good left tackle last year but Starks and Carey are probably much better right tackles than St. Clair. Both also fit the the mold of the guy I have been wanting them to have that of a road grader run blocker. Replacing Tait with a free agent makes more sense to me than drafting a rookie right tackle and having both your starting tackles with virtually no NFL experience. The Bears have the cap room to sign Starks or Carey the question is will either of them want the Bears and how far are the Bears willing to convince them moneywise this is the place for him to play. I also heard that Ray Willis of the Seahawks is a free agent. Can you tell me if you also believe the Bears will pursue a free agent for right tackle and how do you hear Starks, Carey and Willis rate against each other?

Tom P., Parts Unknown

A: Let's get one thing straight, Jerry Angelo hasn't called yet to share his free agency plan with us.

Second, the Bears are going to have to get two tackles, whether it's through the draft, free agency or both. Right now, Chris Williams and Cody Balogh, who was on the practice squad all last season, are the only tackles under contract. So, if the Bears re-sign St. Clair, a possibility, or go after another veteran in free agency, they still have to find another tackle because you have to have three.

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Unless the Bears make a move for a quarterback in free agency, and the crop of available passers has already dwindled, then there is a growing chance Caleb Hanie and recently signed Brett Basanez will battle for the backup job behind Kyle Orton. The only way a rookie would get in the mix is if the Bears spent a high draft pick on a quarterback and given the draft class and the team's other needs, that could be viewed as a longshot at this point.

Basanez signed a two-year contract to come home. The Carolina Panthers wanted him to return and he had interest from other clubs, including the New York Giants, but the lure of returning to his roots and the Bears' depth chart made Halas Hall the most attractive destination.

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The post-Mike Brown era has started for the Bears and they will be able to go about working to find some solutions in the secondary when they head to the scouting combine on Thursday.

Brown's nine-year career with the Bears was celebrated for his leadership skills and top play but the second half of his run was marred by injuries, a lot of them and ultimately that probably was the final straw in the decision not to pursue him as an unrestricted free agent. Brown isn't going to be easy to replace but replacing him in March and April is considerably easier to do than replacing him during the season if he is injured again. He's finished on injured reserve four of the last five seasons.

His teammates over the past few years talked about how he was indispensable and the funny thing is only a select few were around when Brown made his biggest mark on the field for the team, returning interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive weeks to win games during the middle of the 2001 season. You can make a long list of Brown's top accomplishments on the field. He is the franchise's all-time leader with seven defensive touchdowns. Here is a list, certainly incomplete, of some of his highlights:

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The departure of Marty Booker got lost in the shuffle somewhat on Friday with the news offensive tackle John Tait is expected to retire with one year remaining on his contract.

Booker spent six of his 10 NFL seasons with the Bears and departs tied for third in franchise history for receptions, partially a testament to the franchise's inability to develop a quarterback. Booker is the only Bears wide receiver to be selected to the Pro Bowl since Dick Gordon in 1972. He went to the all-star game after the 2002 season when he made 97 catches for 1,189 yards with six touchdowns.

After one more year with the Bears, he was traded to Miami in the deal that landed defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. Booker never seemed to be a fit in Terry Shea's offense and you got the same feeling when he returned last year. Booker seldom got work with the first team in training camp and was virtually invisible in preseason, sparking questions about whether or not he was going to make the roster after signing a $3.5 million, two-year contract.

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Not only will John Tait's expected retirement force the Bears to contemplate offseason moves on the offensive line, it will lead the organization to make a decision on money that has already been paid to the veteran right tackle.

Tait, who one source told the paper is definitely walking away from the game, has one year remaining on his contract at $4.8 million and his departure would create a salary-cap savings of $4.85 million, including a $50,000 workout bonus he has for this year.

When he departs it will create a void at offensive tackle for the club as Chris Williams, the 2008 first-round pick, will be the only player at the position under contract. When his retirement papers are officially filed--nothing is finalized right now--it will also create an opportunity for the organization to recoup a pro-rated portion of bonus money that has already been paid to Tait. There's no saying that would be a move general manager Jerry Angelo would elect to make but it would be an option.

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A project that could have potentially been put off one more year is expected to be at the forefront for the Bears demanding immediate attention.

Veteran right tackle John Tait is seriously considering retirement with one year remaining on his contract according to two sources, and a third source close to the team called it a done deal although no official word came Friday when the club announced its first cuts, releasing three players including veteran wide receiver Marty Booker.

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Delayed by some of the first news the Bears have made in a while, here is our final Four Down Territory for the week.

Q: Perhaps the most controversial argument amongst Bears fans seems to have been Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton heading into 2008. There are plenty of Orton haters as well as those who seem to be glad to give Rex the boot. Many fans still clamor for Grossman, making claims that the Bears will live to regret letting him go. What's your position on this issue? Are there teams indicating an interest in Rex? Do you think releasing Rex will become another poor personnel decision by the Bears current regime?

Dave, Parts Unknown

A: First, we pledge this will be the final Grossman vs. Orton question we take, for a long while any way.

Marty Booker's return to the Bears was short-lived. It lasted one season. The veteran wide receiver was released Friday, one of the three players cut loose.

Booker leaves with 329 receptions as a Bear, tied for the third-most in franchise history. He is the only Bears wide receiver since 1972 to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

At this point, John St. Clair figures he's headed out into the open market.

Free agency begins in two weeks, on Feb. 27, and the veteran offensive tackle has yet to hear from the Bears.

"I feel I have no choice,'' St. Clair said. "If you haven't heard anything, of course you're going to the market. I haven't heard anything as of yet. I'm just down here [in Florida] enjoying my time off.''

The scouting combine begins a week from today in Indianapolis, and two weeks from now teams and agents will be sitting next to their phones waiting for free agency to begin. Let's get right into Four Down Territory.

Q: I've heard that the quarterback crop coming out next year far exceeds that of this year. Could it be that Jerry Angelo has decided to wait until next year to draft that franchise quarterback the Bears so desperately need? Seems to me this would give Kyle Orton one more chance to prove himself. Plus, why waste a draft pick this year on a quarterback that isn't NFL ready when you can see a bumper crop of quarterbacks available next year. Of course, I thought that Atlanta's QB Matt Ryan wasn't that great of a draft pick, and look how that turned out.

Joe, Metropolis, Ill.

A: I think you're trying to play connect-the-dots with the Bears and the quarterback position and as we know that's a dangerous game. Committing to Orton as the quarterback for 2009 doesn't have anything to do with the talent available at quarterback in this draft or next.

The NFL Scouting Combine begins next Thursday in Indianapolis as teams ramp up their preparations for the draft and free agency. The combine is the breeding ground for many free-agent deals. Agents informally shop around with clubs, who are informally doing window shopping, and the parameters for most big deals are hammered out well before free agency opens.

But more on free agency in the coming days. For now, we'll dive into more of Mel Kiper Jr.'s teleconference from Wednesday with more thoughts on quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez and where they might fall in the draft.

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Plenty of football action already today, so we'll dive right into Four Down Territory.

Q: So I hear the Dallas Cowboys want Terrell Owens out of town. Either they cut him or trade him. I've heard speculation they could take as little as a third-round draft pick for him. Give me the odds of the Bears being players for his services.

James T., Charleston, Ill.

A: First, the Cowboys and Jerry Jones have to arrive at the conclusion that they're better off without T.O. than they are putting up with his antics and self-destructive behavior. Based on how Roy Williams played after Dallas paid a high ransom to get him from Detroit, that might be a tough decision to make. But Owens has become an unbelievably divisive force there, proof that problems ran much deeper than his run-ins with former wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Todd Haley. That was the vibe you used to get, that T.O. didn't get along with Haley, which was dead on. Haley exited for Arizona in 2007 and T.O. has been at odds with everyone else since. What Jones is witnessing is the window of opportunity slowly closing on his team. He's moving into a shiny new $1 billion building and nothing sells quite like winning.

Popular opinion is growing that Owens will not be back in Dallas. Peter King weighed in on the issue Monday, writing "I think everyone doing free-agent lists should add one name in pencil: Terrell Owens. I'll bet you a month's worth of lattes he'll be free in six weeks." He's not the only national writer thinking that way. In fact, there are more who consider T.O. a goner than think he'll play with a star on the side of his helmet in 2009.

There is nothing quite like a 25th anniversary and the 2009 draft marks the 25th year Mel Kiper Jr. will be associated with ESPN's coverage of the NFL Draft.

Kiper has the Bears selecting LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson in his latest mock draft, which has been up for a few weeks, and he took time out this morning in a conference call to talk about a realm of different possibilities.

"Wide receiver, offensive line and obviously the quarterback situation has to be cleared up there moving forward," Kiper said when asked what the Bears could potentially target at No. 18 in the first round. "But certainly wide receiver would be the one you have to look at, maybe Percy Harvin if he was there would be someone they have to consider. I just think their defense, which did not get it done in a lot of games, has to be looked at. Tyson Jackson from LSU, a defensive end, would seem to fit kind of the mold of the versatile defensive end they like. I would say Tyson Jackson if not maybe Percy Harvin.''

We outlined a few reasons why Harvin might not be a good match for the Bears in that slot last week. Harvin's cut from the Devin Hester mold and like Hester he played other positions in school. He also comes with some injury baggage, not the kind of thing general manager Jerry Angelo will likely be willing to consider at this pick.

To re-sign Mike Brown or not ... that's one of the questions the Bears will have to answer soon if they have not already tackled that issue in a Halas Hall board room.

If the organization has not already completed organizational meetings reviewing the 2008 season and charting a path for the offseason ahead, it will probably do so by the end of the week. That would give them next week to gear up for the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins Thursday, Feb. 19.

One of the first orders of business for general manager Jerry Angelo is determining what to do with his own own players. All clubs hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until free agency opens Feb. 27. Brown and left tackle John St. Clair are the only primary starters from last season who will be unrestricted free agents. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, running back Kevin Jones, quarterback Rex Grossman, linebacker Darrell McClover and safeties Brandon McGowan and Cameron Worrell will be UFA's. Weak-side linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Marcus Hamilton are exclusive rights free agents.

As we pledged to do this offseason, we're not going to take our eye off the quarterback position for long. With that, let's dive right into Tuesday's Four Down Territory and start with a couple of QB queries.

Q: What are your thoughts on Kyle Orton? How much is his dropoff in production in the second half attributed to his ankle injury? Is he the longterm answer at quarterback? How much can he reasonably improve if the wide receiver corps remains so mediocre?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: If anyone has the answer to this question, Jerry Angelo would like to hear from them. Pronto. Here is the bottom line--Orton will be the starting quarterback for 2009. Even if the club brings in a veteran there isn't going to be any type of derby. Not after the maneuvering the team has done since the season ended to make sure everyone knows it believes in Orton.

If the Bears are going to consider a move with Charles Tillman, the veteran's recovery from reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder last month could play a factor in the decision.

Tillman will be four weeks removed from surgery on Wednesday. The short window for a full recovery and return is expected to be four months. On the long side, it could be six months.

That means you can rule out the eight-year veteran for minicamp, which was moved up nearly three months this year by coach Lovie Smith. It begins in five weeks and will run from March 17-19. Either way, Tillman is expected to be ready to go in advance of training camp.

Go ahead and take one veteran quarterback off the list of players Jerry Angelo can pick through.

David Carr, the No. 1 pick of the 2002 draft, has re-signed with the New York Giants, according to the New York Daily News. This reduces the short list of experienced veterans as free agency quickly approaches on Feb. 27. Another possibility also disappeared as Luke McCown re-upped with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons.

Kurt Warner has come and said if he plays next season it will be for the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans are working to bring back Kerry Collins. Matt Cassel was already tagged by the New England Patriots.

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When the Bears finally wrapped up a contract for Devin Hester at the start of training camp last summer, it finished a whirlwind spending spree for general manager Jerry Angelo. Hester was the 10th Bears player he had re-signed or extended in less than six months, a shopping adventure that ran a total of $185.39 million with roughly $59.2 million guaranteed.

Based on the 9-7 season that followed, it wasn't the best money the club ever spent. But the franchise's core group of players remains in tact, and the hope is they'll rebound to playoff form moving forward. When you factor in the deals given to cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher the summer before, the total figure for 12 contracts approaches $250 million or so. Of course, not all of that money will be earned, it's the nature of NFL contracts.

But one of the real themes moving forward in 2009 is that the club is expecting more, particularly from some of the players it invested in. That will serve as a backdrop to our first question of the week in Four Down Territory. We'll knock one out every day this week through Friday. If you have any questions, shoot them in and we'll do our best to get to as many as we can.

Matt Cassel speculation in Boston is reaching a fevered pitch after the career backup turned star received notification New England would place the franchise tag on him Thursday and then reportedly faxed a letter to the team Saturday accepting terms of the $14.65 million, one-year contract.

Hey, who wouldn't go for a $14 million raise in a heartbeat? Cassel might be the player most overjoyed by being tagged--ever. No one could blame him.

But it puts the Patriots in a situation where their salary cap of $123 million will be weighted down by $29.27 million committed to two players--Cassel and fellow quarterback Tom Brady. That's 23.7 percent of the cap in two players, and only one of them can play at a time.

Brady's returning from multiple knee surgeries and the wait is on to see what the next move is. Some believe Cassel will be traded. Some believe he's there to stay as insurance. The excellent blog run by Mike Reiss over at the Boston Globe touches all the bases.

Sometimes it is more difficult to stay on top of the mountain than it is to climb it.

The Bears' special teams unit discovered that in 2008 when sharp turnover within the core group and a dramatic slip by return man Devin Hester took a toll on performance.

Still, coordinator Dave Toub's unit managed to finish eighth in the NFL and third in the NFC in rankings that were published today by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. Gosselin is credited with beginning the formula, that ranks special teams units in 22 categories, in 1980 when he got it from Frank Gansz, then the special teams coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. He publishes the final results every year during Pro Bowl weekend.

Ron Turner doesn't have plans to rejoin forces with Dave Wannstedt.

But Wanntstedt is in search of an offensive coordinator at Pitt with Matt Cavanaugh expected to depart to become the quarterbacks coach of the New York Jets.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that Turner's name has surfaced as a possibility, and profootballtalk.com and its sister site collegefootballtalk.com weighed in on the possibility.

Long day with plenty of non-related football activity. We're happy to get this Fourth Down Territory in before the day is out.

Q: Since the Bears signed the quarterback from Carolina, Brett Basanez, do you see them releasing Rex Grossman? That would just be so awesome.

Nada, Parts Unknown

A: You have nada clue when it comes to the situation, apparently. Grossman is out of contract and will become an unrestricted free agent when the period opens Feb. 27. You cannot release a player you do not have under contract.

Why would it be awesome for Grossman to be released?

It's very apparent he did not fulfill the expectations that the organization had for him, or those that he probably had for himself. Grossman has not been a pariah like Cade McNown was. Grossman hasn't been a former No. 4 overall pick busted twice in five weeks for booze incidents that he was eventually cleared of in court. Grossman didn't get it done. I'm not a Grossman backer, Grossman supporter or Grossman apologist, and you can find those types. I didn't care that he got booed at Soldier Field by hometown fans, who pay for tickets and can do as they please. But I can't understand how he is Public Enemy No. 1 for so many people. Fans are disappointed, understandably, by the Bears' long struggle to right the position. Grossman is just one guy who didn't get it done. It strikes me that he's somehow become the target for the failings of an organization. Grossman didn't draft himself. He didn't sign Jonathan Quinn. He didn't draft McNown. He sure as heck didn't trade for another quarterback from Indiana in Rick Mirer. But people want to see him fall flat on his face, preferably in a puddle of mud. Seems like the blame is being misplaced here. Grossman should get credit for handling himself like a pro during six seasons with the organization. Just remember, he didn't tell booing fans to stay at home and serenade their television set. Who knows if it will work out for him elsewhere. We'll see.

The Bears will announce today that season-ticket prices will not increase for 2009. The club has been holding internal meetings for some time to map out the coming year, and a big part of the budgeting process is determining how much revenue will be generated through ticket sales. The Bears joined roughly three-quarters of the league, according to commissioner Roger Goodell, in keeping their prices level.

Soldier Field is the smallest stadium in the league (the Colts used to be 32nd before moving into Lucas Oil Stadium) and that limits the ability of the club to collect money. The Bears ranked eighth last year in average ticket price. When you factor in fewer seats, that put them closer to the middle of the pack in terms of total ticket revenue generated.

Bears president Ted Phillips discussed the decision, issues related to it and some more football. Here is a Q&A:

WHAT WENT INTO THE DECISION TO NOT RAISE TICKET PRICES FOR 2009?

TP: We've typically increased prices every year, some years more than others just to be able to keep our ticket revenue in the middle of the pack given that our capacity is small. So, a year ago I would say to you that we were anticipating increasing ticket prices again. And frankly it's really no more complicated than taking a look at the very challenging economic environment that every fan, every person in America is facing. It's not not just a down economic year, it's an unprecedented situation that has huge impact on every citizen and we felt for that reason it was the right thing to do.

After raising ticket prices in at least some manner for eight straight years, the Bears will freeze their prices for 2009.

In light of a struggling economy, the club decided that it was the best strategy even as occupants of the smallest stadium in the 32-team league. The Bears average ticket price was eighth in the league last season.

``Frankly, it's really no more complicated than taking a look at the very challenging economic environment that every fan, every person in America is facing,'' team president Ted Phillips said. ``It's not not just a down economic year, it's an unprecedented situation that has huge impact on every citizen and we felt for that reason it was the right thing to do.''

We've successfully completed this mission about three hours earlier than Wednesday night. That's progress you can believe in. Let's dive right in.

Q: Why does Jerry Angelo downplay the importance of upgrading the Bears wide receiver corps, when it is so universally believed by virtually everyone else that the Bears will never have a playoff-caliber offense until they improve this unit? Does Angelo honestly believe what he is saying and if so, what does this say about Angelo's ability to recognize even the most obvious talent deficiency on the team he is in charge of overseeing?

Tom N., Dayton, Ohio

A: It's a fair question after the Bears missed on re-signing Bernard Berrian last year and made the decision to cut ties with Muhsin Muhammad. The position was as bad as it has ever been under Angelo in 2008 and without some steps to improve it, it's not going to get better. Having two solid pass-catching tight ends in Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen is good, having a running back in Matt Forte who has good hands out of the backfield is nice. They're not gamebreaking players as receivers, however. They're move-the-chains targets and as offensive coordinator Ron Turner has expressed on more than one occasion, it's hard to drive 70 or 80 yards without picking up big chunks from time to time.

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One of these days we'll be able to complete a Four Down Territory a little earlier in the day. Until then, we'll have to accomplish what we can. Let's jump right in.

Q: I've seen published reports saying the Bears should make an offer to Oakland's franchised cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. What do you think of Kelvin Hayden as an alternative. He's local, from the same base defensive system and maybe cheaper?

Rob C., Parts Unknown

A: Now that the Raiders have taken care of finally announcing Tom Cable will be their coach for next season, or the beginning of next season any way, they can get down to the business of deciding what to do with their roster. Asomugha has made it known he doesn't want to play under the franchise tag again and is tired of the losing, but a player's wishes aren't always granted in these instances. Oakland has two players it badly wants to retain and will probably only keep one. Asomugha is the first. The second is perennial Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler. They could place the franchise tag on him and spent significantly less than it would cost to lock down their lock down corner.

Just like there are not a lot of starter-quality options in free agency when it comes to quarterback, it's a thin class at wide receiver.

Cincinnati's T.J. Houshmandzadeh is head and shoulders above the rest of the group. He joined Waddle & Silvy this morning on WMVP-1000. You can find the interview here.

We've said before Houshmandzadeh would be a longshot to join the Bears. It's been rumored all over the place that a likely destination is Seattle, where the Seahawks are in about as bad of a way at the position as the Bears. There are a couple issues at play here when considering Houshmandzadeh. The first is that the Bears are unlikely to set the bar for anyone in free agency. With Houshmandzadeh the class of the group, he's going to command top dollar even in a weakened economy. If the Bears were not willing to come close to keep Bernard Berrian last season, and keep him away from a division rival, they're not going to overpay for someone who is not a home-run threat.

We touched on the strength-of-schedule issue the Bears had moving forward a few weeks ago, noting their 2009 slate was the easiest in the league, a function of having two games with 0-16 Detroit more than anything else.

Kevin Seifert at ESPN.com goes into the issue a little further and made some great points worth considering. First, when teams like the Miami Dolphins can go from 1-15 to being in the postseason the next year, the statistics really don't tell you a whole lot. The fortunes of many clubs swing so dramatically on a annual basis that it's hard to take a whole lot out of the chart. It is worth noting that the Pittsburgh Steelers just claimed the championship having played the most difficult schedule in the league.

All you quarterback dreamers out there can stop.

The third time won't be the charm for the Bears when it comes to Kurt Warner. You know, the two-time league MVP and former Super Bowl MVP and nearly Super Bowl XLIII MVP.

Yeah, that Warner. The one the Bears told "no thanks" to after he left the St. Louis Rams in 2003. Yes, this is the same Warner the Bears said "no thanks" to after he left the New York Giants in 2004. Warner stopped by Halas Hall in 2005 after getting out of Gotham. It was a fit that wasn't meant to be with the organization's undying devotion to Rex Grossman at the time.

Just about three weeks in advance of free agency the Bears have made their first move of the offseason by adding quarterback Brett Basanez, who was available because he was a practice-squad player for the Carolina Panthers last season. He didn't have to wait until free agency to sign. There will be plenty of news and speculation to work through as we move closer to the opening of the NFL shopping season on Feb. 27.

Obviously, the moves by the club at the start of free agency will help shape decisions that will be made come the draft. Here's the latest mock draft by Todd McShay and Scouts Inc. at ESPN.com. He's got the Bears drafting Percy Harvin in the first round with the 18th pick. We don't see any way the Bears consider Harvin. He'd give them a second Devin Hester. He's a little like Hester in that he's not a proven commodity at wide receiver. He spent time as a running back last season at Florida. He's got an injury history. After drafting Chris Williams in the first round last season, general manager Jerry Angelo is not likely to roll the dice on a player with medical issues. They don't need a Hester clone as much as they need a gamebreaking receiver with size. I'm not sure that player will exist where they're drafting, but that's an issue for another day.

The mock goes through the second round and there they have the Bears grabbing Oregon center/guard Max Unger. It's a good bet the Bears go for an interior lineman in the first four rounds of the draft but it's a better bet they go for a tackle first. The draft will give us plenty to discuss moving forward. For right now, let's jump into the mailbag and resume Four Down Territory.

Brett Basanez was so interested in coming back to town he was willing to prove it in his boxers.

One of the questions the Bears asked the former Northwestern standout was if he had a problem playing in the cold weather after spending three seasons with the Carolina Panthers.

"I said if they need to test me I'll come out there in February and wear nothing but my skivvies out there if they want,'' Basanez said. ``I don't care.''

The Bears signed him to a two-year contract on Tuesday, effectively replacing Rex Grossman on the roster. This gives the Bears three quarterbacks as they head toward mandatory veteran minicamp in five weeks. It will run from March 17-19.

Bears add QB Basanez to mix

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The Bears have a replacement for Rex Grossman.

The club has a third quarterback now after signing Arlington Heights native Brett Basanez to a two-year contract. For now, he figures to vie with Caleb Hanie for a spot as the No. 2 quarterback heading into the offseason. Grossman will be an unrestricted free agent beginning Feb. 27 and will not return.

When Lovie Smith talked about taking a look at everything when he evaluated this past season, the offseason schedule was included.

Smith has turned around the Bears' offseason and minicamp is coming, just around the corner. The team announced that veteran minicamp will be held from March 17-19. That means it begins five weeks from today. Typically, it has been held in June, near the end of the offseason program.

Following up on our post earlier about drafting wide receivers in the first round and the strike/bust ratio, we'll look at the history of the position in the second round.

It doesn't get better.

There was an amazing run on wideouts in the second round of the draft last year as 10 were selected. Denver's Eddie Royal and Philadelphia's DeSean Jackson enjoyed breakout rookie seasons both on offense and special teams. St. Louis' Donnie Avery also had a terrific season in a broken-down offense. The jury is out on the rest of the bunch.

Since the 2000 draft, a span of nine drafts, 41 wide receivers have been selected in the second round. Three of them have gone to the Pro Bowl as a receiver with Cincinnati's Chad Ocho Cinco and Arizona's Anquan Boldin being the standouts. Some of these names you probably forgot long ago.

The Bears have a need for a wide receiver for this coming season.

They have a need for two wide receivers and never has the need been more apparent then after watching Super Bowl XLIII.

But drafting one in the first round is no guarantee to solve the problem, a fact we touched on a little bit in today's paper. While spending much of our Monday in the airport, we did a little research on the wide receivers drafted in the first round since 2000. It's a scary bunch. General manager Jerry Angelo has said before that's where you have to go to find an elite receiver. The problem is everybody has found a lot of non-elite receivers too. This isn't just a situation where the Detroit Lions swing and miss seeking a wideout at the top of the draft.

Thirty-seven wide receivers have been drafted in the first round since 2000. By our count, nine have been named to the Pro Bowl. The list:

Have a senior you're thinking about already with an eye toward the combine?

The list of invited players has come out, and the annual meat market for draft picks is just around the corner.

Players start reporting to Indianapolis on Feb. 18 and the action runs through Feb. 24.


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Could Mount Carmel product Simeon Rice be mounting a comeback that could lead him to Halas Hall?

The three-time Pro Bowl performer has announced that he wants to make a comeback this coming season after sitting out 2008. Rice turns 35 later this month and enjoyed the most productive seasons of his career playing under Rod Marinelli when he was the line coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Have a short layover and have been scrolling through the in box. Found the Super Bowl odds posted on BetUs.com to be interesting.

The defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers were installed as the favorite at 7-to-1. Next, the New England Patriots are 8-to-1 followed by three clubs at 10-to-1, Dallas, Indianapolis and the New York Giants.

For the odds for the NFC North clubs, continue on.

TAMPA, Fla.--The entire NFL has officially entered the offseason.

Well, everyone not headed to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl any way.

We're going to fire up Four Down Territory again beginning Tuesday after we make our way home. We've already got a host of questions to pick through and we'll need more as the week moves along.

Our initial reaction coming out of Raymond James Stadium Sunday night is that the Bears really need to address the wide receiver position. Look at what the top teams in the league had, look at how they challenged one another in the closing minutes of a riveting fourth quarter. It comes down to playmakers. The Bears have one, they hope, in the making in Devin Hester. And nothing else.

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