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.
June had some solid years as a weak-side linebacker in Indianapolis and the Bucs played him on the strong side where he was out of place. We got a separate question about him, and he doesn't look to project on the strong side but we could be wrong on that one.
Q: Love your updates, especially being in Calgary it's sometimes hard to keep up with the Bears. I have free agent questions. Do you think the Bears will look at Marvel Smith or Stacy Andrews? I know they both have injury concerns and with Chris Williams already having a back injury it could muddle the waters for Mr. Angelo. However, both are talented guys whom the Bears could really use. Lastly, do you think the Bears will look at Gibril Wilson at all?
Bart C., Calgary, Alberta, Canada
A: Andrews might be the most appealing offensive tackle on the open market but he had surgery to repair an ACL in December. Of course, word is he's ahead of schedule (do you ever hear of anyone being behind schedule with the exception of Tom Brady?) and is hopeful to be back on the field in June. Andrews would be a nice fit for a lot of teams and I don't know how much of a concern an ACL is for a lineman. Smith is another interesting possibility, one that might come with a cheaper price tag. He's had back issues that have kept him off the field for much of the last two seasons. If the Bears do not get something done with John St. Clair--there has been no movement on that front--maybe they look at one of these guys.
As far as Wilson, my hunch is no. He's a strong safety who struggles the further away from the line of scrimmage you play him. The Bears have already proven they can collect strong safeties.
Q: You mentioned in Tuesday's "Four Down Territory" about Kellen Davis showing flashes in training camp/preseason, then fading as the season went on. Isn't that a Bears' epidemic? Every year we hear the praises of Mike Hass in training camp. Brandon Rideau led the league in preseason touchdowns. Neither made the team. (I think Rideau ended up playing one game late, and Hass is now signed with Seattle). Earl Bennett was the next coming of, well, the last great Bears' receiver. Gosh, it's been a long time. Josh Beekman never played his rookie year even when the playoffs were well out of sight and the line was falling apart. What is it with Halas Hall pimping all of these products, then refusing to use them, or watching them deteriorate as time goes on? Matt Forte being the exception, and Cedric Benson kind of forced their hand there, it seems like the Bears love young players early but don't trust them a bit once the season starts. Is that simply a coaching decision, to bring them along slowly, or is this epidemic of poor coaching (i.e. player development)?
Patrick E., Marion, Ind.
A: Well, we're biting off a big piece here. As far as Davis, the rookie tight end from Michigan State, he was a fifth-round draft pick at a position the Bears seemingly didn't need much help with Desmond Clark and Greg Olsen. I'm not going to sit here and tell you the Bears have done a marvelous job of identifying and then developing young talent, but Davis didn't really have a spot to slide into, did he? What was impressive about him in training camp was the way he made plays downfield in the seam. He's a big man at 6-7, 262 pounds, and I think it's fair to say he ran and caught the ball better than most expected. Good enough to push Clark or Olsen aside? Well, we know the answer to that. What the Bears needed to see Davis develop was more ability as a blocker to try and pick up some of the slack created by the departure of John Gilmore to Tampa Bay in free agency. We'll see how he comes along in that role this next season.
Hass? Maybe he should have gotten a chance but the Bears viewed him as a zero on special teams and it's tough to carry a backup receiver on Sunday if he can't help you on teams. Rideau? It would be nice to see what he can do. They need a big target. Bennett? I don't think anyone talked about his skills in training camp. Frankly, he struggled in camp and preseason. Beekman was a fourth-round pick in 2007 and the Bears played into the very end of the season with the idea that they had not been eliminated from the playoffs. I don't think you make a bad point, but in choosing Davis you're probably picking the wrong guy to try to make it.
Q: After watching much of the combine two players stood out, in my opinion, in the receiver/running back category. One was Brian Robiskie, what are the chances the Bears would go with a player of his caliber (great hands, precise route runner, good speed) with the 18th pick? Does his combine propel him into the top 15? Also, Donald Brown strikes me as a carbon copy of Matt Forte. Any chance the Bears look in his direction in the first round?
Frank, Hamden, Conn.
A: Frank, what's your favorite apizza joint? I went to Modern Apizza on an adventure you New Haven last summer and enjoyed it. Robiskie really helped himself by running a 4.49-second, 40-yard dash. Speed was the one real question about his game and he seemingly answered that with a big day Sunday in Indianapolis. Some are talking about him being a first-round pick now. Previously, I think he was viewed as a second-round choice. It might be a little high for him to go 18, though. Brown also turned in a solid performance with a 4.51-second 40. His college career mirrors Forte's somewhat in that he was extremely productive. He doesn't have one trait that really jumps out at you, he's just a good, all-around back. Again, kind of like Forte. Brown probably projects as a second-round pick. I doubt the Bears spend a pick on a back at all, at least not in the first four rounds. They've got many other needs.
Q: Is there is any good reason for the Bears not to pursue the recently released Damon Huard immediately? Huard, somehow, managed to be a competitive quarterback in Kansas City, has starting experience, will likely not be looking for a starting position and will come reasonably priced. It does the Bears very little good to select a developmental quarterback in the weak draft class before us, especially because both Caleb Hanie and Brett Basanez represent projects and are already on the roster. Hanie may have the ability to be a backup but he needs a lot more polish before that happens. While Kyle Orton has mostly proved durable, throwing Hanie into emergency game action before he is ready could damage both he and the team. A one- or two-year deal with Huard would allow him to fill the dual role of a quarterback that could be both a short-term fill in for Orton and the guy to keep Hanie learning on the sidelines for the next season or two.
Nick L., Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
A: The flip side of all of this is bringing Huard in would block the Bears from getting an idea whether or not Hanie or Basanez can add anything. Huard had a nice little stretch in 2006 when he started eight games and threw 11 touchdowns vs. just one interception. Otherwise, his career doesn't do a whole lot for me. He'll be 36 in July and we've seen what aging veterans can do for the Bears at this position, haven't we? One of the real problems the Bears have run into is they take a long time, too long, trying to determine if their quarterback can be THE GUY. Rex Grossman is departing after six seasons. Orton is going into his fifth season. In this man's opinion, they need to find a way to speed up that process. Giving Hanie and Basanez a reasonable shot at the No. 2 job would be a step in that direction.
Q: Which is more likely, the Bears signing wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh or free safety Gibril Wilson, or some scrub no other team will bid against them for? Who would you sign given their options?
Adam W., Oak Park
A: I'm going to bet against Houshmandzadeh or Wilson. We've covered the Houshmandzadeh topic thoroughly here and I doubt he would have interest in joining the Bears. Wilson is not a free safety, he's a strong safety. I couldn't afford to sign any of the players, but it would be my question whether or not wide receiver Bryant Johnson could help. He's a big target and could provide some depth without necessarily blocking the development of Earl Bennett. An offensive tackle with the ability to start is a must-sign. I'd expect an addition or two in the secondary also.
Q: I would like the Bears to kick the tires on safety Jim Leonhard from the Ravens, what do you think? Here is what Scouts Inc. had to say:
``He isn't an overwhelming physical specimen, but Leonard can contribute in many ways and will make his new team happy because he has terrific instincts and is a tough, hard-nosed competitor. There is little bust potential in signing him. Leonard also could benefit playing more of a center-field role, which obviously was a responsibility that usually was handled by Ed Reed in Baltimore.''
Rob C., Parts Unknown
A:Leonhard is a hard-nosed football player who enhanced his value with some big plays in the postseason for the Ravens. Most expect his former defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, to make an immediate push for him in free agency with the New York Jets. In fact, I've read it so much you would think it's a done deal but we know that doesn't happen, right? Not everyone is convinced he will be an impact player. Here is what RealScouts with Sporting News had to say about Leonhard:
"Leonhard lacks ideal size and power but is smart and tough. He is a good fill-in starter, as he has shown the past two years in Buffalo and Baltimore. However, he fits best as a special teamer who adds depth to the secondary."
Thanks for the great questions and thanks as always for reading. We'll get to Four Down Territory once more this week on Thursday. Check back often as we approach free agency. We're going to do our best to have constant updates when there is Bears news, or semi-Bears news.