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.
The club insisted it had a plan for Booker. That plan didn't involve a lot of work. He was on the field for only seven plays in the season opener at Indianapolis and while his reps increased somewhat, he never got real regular use even though he made five starts. Booker turned in one of the most acrobatic catches of his career on Oct. 5 at Detroit. The one-handed grab ranked among the top 10 catches for the season according to NFL.com.
Booker, who will turn 33 in July, is expected to want to continue his career. He's just a year removed from two 50-catch seasons with the Miami Dolphins. But the bigger issue is how his departure is going to play in the Bears' work to revamp the group of wide receivers. The most obvious step here is that with Booker and Brandon Lloyd out of the picture it will be time for third-round pick Earl Bennett to step forward.
"We see him as having starter talent,'' college scouting director Greg Gabriel said of Bennett on draft day. "Whether he becomes a starter as a rookie, remains to be seen.''
Currently, the Bears have five receivers under contract:
Name 2008 statistics
Devin Hester 15 games, 51 catches, 665 yards, 13.0 ypc, 3 TD
Rashied Davis 16 games, 35 catches, 445 yards, 12.7 ypc, 2 TD
Earl Bennett 10 games
Brandon Rideau 2 games
Devin Aromashodu 0 games
Whatever moves follow at the position, and there should be some, keep in mind that the club will be working to promote Bennett. Never forget draft status has its privileges at Halas Hall and the opportunities Bennett might not have received as a rookie, he will get in his second year. As for Booker, he's already been linked to Kansas City where new head coach Todd Haley remains a big fan. Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was in New England last year and the Patriots had Booker in for a free-agent visit before he signed with the Bears. Stay tuned.