Chicago Sun-Times

March 2009 Archives

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Who could be in the running for Jay Cutler?

It might be easier to put together a list of teams that will definitely not be in play for the quarterback after Denver owner Pat Bowlen announced Tuesday night the Broncos are working to trade the disgruntled quarterback.

Yes, when Josh McDaniels said Cutler was his quarterback last week from the owners meetings in California, he was really saying, ``We need a little bit more.'' The Broncos removed all ambiguity from the situation and now the suitors should start to line up.

The Bears are reported to have already contacted Denver to let them know they're in. Let's explore some other teams and what their interest level could be, staring in the NFC North.

The Bears have their shot.

The Denver Broncos announced Tuesday night that they will look to trade disgruntled quarterback Jay Cutler, who has been at odds with the organization since it leaked that coach Josh McDaniels was working to move him in a three-way trade for Matt Cassel at the start of free agency.

The Bears will host defensive end Jamaal Westerman at Halas Hall today on a pre-draft visit.

The Rutgers product is one of the 30 pre-draft visits the team can have. He's an interesting late-round prospect who could also be a priority free-agent type.

Orlando Pace was not the only veteran to visit Halas Hall Monday.

A league source told the Sun-Times that cornerback Ken Lucas also was in for a visit, an interesting development given the situation at right cornerback.

Lucas was cut loose by the Carolina Panthers, who are squeezed for salary-cap room, and could make things very interesting for Nathan Vasher if he is signed. The Panthers released Lucas earlier this month in a move that freed up nearly $2.4 million in cap room. After signing offensive tackle Jordan Gross to a major deal, and with defensive end Julius Peppers counting $16.7 million vs. their cap, Carolina has had to dance around the cap some.

The Bears' plan to select an offensive lineman high in the draft didn't seem to change last week when veteran Kevin Shaffer was signed to fill the hole on the line at right tackle.

If the Bears add Orlando Pace, that could dramatically change the draft plan.

The Bears brought the veteran in for a visit to Halas Hall on Monday and he was given a physical. It's not know if the Bears have made a contract offer to Pace, but he is in negotiations with the Baltimore Ravens, who he visited shortly after being released by St. Louis.


Maybe the Bears will see Jay Cutler in the preseason? If he's with the Denver Broncos.

The Bears have released a list of their preseason opponents. Dates and times will be firmed up later on, probably when the regular-season schedule is announced in the coming weeks.

The Bears will play a nationally televised game at Denver on Aug. 30 as a part of NBC's "Sunday Night Football."

The preseason will begin for the Bears between Aug. 13-16 at Buffalo. The last time the Bears played in Buffalo was in the 2002 preseason.

The Bears flew Maurice Crum Jr., the Notre Dame linebacker, in for a pre-draft visit at Halas Hall today.

The team has been doing its homework on some linebackers that project as a late-round picks or priority free agents.

Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News pens a story today detailing the number of head coaches throughout the league that will add play-calling responsibilities to their duties this season.

Lovie Smith is one of 10 head coaches that will do double duty, if you will. That number could grow bigger. Todd Haley has not announced the chain-of-command in Kansas City as of yet and the ex-Bears wide receivers coach could call offensive plays. Seven of them are on offense. Play callers in New England and Seattle have yet to be determined. Smith is joined by Dallas' Wade Phillips and the New York Jets' Rex Ryan.

With the pro day circuit winding down at schools across the country--most of the big ones are out of the way(USC will hold its pro day Wednesday)--the Bears are nearing one of the next big steps in draft preparation. Soon, the club's six area scouts will gather at Halas Hall for at least a week. The team will begin to shape its draft board and at this point it's more removing players from the list than adding them. Twenty-seven days away from the first day of the draft, the team already has a pretty good idea what the board is going to look like.

In talking with a number of league sources last week, the same thing kept coming up over and over again--offensive tackle and wide receiver. Those are the two positions the team appears most focused on for the very top of the draft. Could it change now after Kevin Shaffer was signed this week? Maybe. But the Bears didn't come out and trumpet the signing of a starter, and certainly he's no longterm fix at the position. If general manager Jerry Angelo wants to ensure Frank Omiyale can compete at guard right away, he probably needs to go out and get a quality tackle early in the draft.

A couple tidbits we picked up along the way:

The Bears will bring in Murray State linebacker Nathan Williams for a pre-draft visit next week.

Williams is a tackling machine who led all levels of college football last season, averaging 14.9 tackles per game. Williams was the defensive player of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference and was a football subdivision, or as I prefer to call it I-AA, All-American. Wiliams, 6-1, 228 pounds, made 23 tackles in a meeting with Illinois State.

Trying to watch a little hoops and blog. That makes for rough blogging, so I will pull away from the buckets here briefly. We'll have a nugget a little later on too.

Q: Can you address what possible offers the Bears might come up with for Jay Cutler? It would seem that a first-round pick and Kyle Orton would be a good start. It's not like Jerry Angelo has had the best luck with his top picks anyway. And they just got the third-round compensatory pick. Do those two picks and Orton stand a chance at landing Cutler?

Scott Z., Parts Unknown

A: This is one of just many questions we received on this issue.

Let me ask you this, and before you answer, put yourself in the position of the Broncos.

Does the 18th overall pick and Orton sound like good value for Cutler from Denver's perspective?

While the Bears have brought in some big-name players they were considering in the first round on pre-draft visits in the past, most of the players they bring to Halas Hall are either late-round prospects or players that are being considered as undrafted priority free agents.

The team usually doesn't have medical information on those players because they did not get invited to the combine. So, a pre-draft visit allows them to put the player through a full battery of medical tests to ensure any investment is worthwhile.

One player scheduled for a visit next week is Eastern Michigan offensive tackle T.J. Lang, and he's not going to last into the late rounds. Lang is a hot climber in the draft right now and his visit to the Bears is one of just seven he currently has scheduled.

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The Bears have lined up a couple more official visits to Halas Hall for players who went under the radar of the scouting combine last month.

Oregon State safety Al Afalava is reportedly scheduled to visit the Bears soon. He's a big hitter in the secondary who had an impressive pro day that Bears West Coast scout Marty Barrett attended.

Afalava, who is considered a strong safety, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, quieting any questions there were about his speed. He did 25 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds, had a 10-5 broad jump and soared 40 inches for his vertical jump. That's posting some big numbers for a 5-11, 207-pound safety, and here is a look at his pro day. If you want to see him in action, check out this crushing hit.

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The Bears took interest Wednesday in an intriguing pass-rushing prospect at the packed Texas Longhorns pro day.

With Southwest scout Chris Ballard on hand for the Brian Orakpo show that drew an estimated 60 NFL types, the Bears were able to get a better look at converted defensive end Henry Melton, who reportedly is on the team's radar.

Melton began his career at Texas as a running back but simply outgrew the position. He was moved to end as a junior in 2007. He grew into the position and had four sacks as a senior to go with 10 tackles for loss. The Austin American-Statesmen reports that Melton has a visit lined up with the Bears. He is also drawing interest from Dallas, Minnesota and Tampa Bay.


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Jerry Angelo may be fixated on the quarterback position, but judging by the Bears' actions of late, he's fixing to do some work at wide receiver.

You can add another wideout to the growing list of players the Bears are going to get together with prior to the draft. Ohio State's Brian Robiskie is expected to meet 1-on-1 with the club. Whether it's a private workout in Ohio or a visit to Halas Hall is not known at this point.

Full day of football activity as the owners meetings wrapped up in Dana Point, Calif. We're going to do one more Q&A this week on Thursday and then we're going to take a break with the mailbag until next Wednesday. We'll roll through some questions that day. Don't worry, Four Down Territory isn't going away but we've got a few things we need to knock out. So keep the questions coming. Let's get to it.

Q: Is the money the Bears are paying Kevin Shaffer starting money or backup money? It feels like backup money. Is the plan now to move forward in the draft without placing a high pick on a tackle (first three rounds) and address other needs instead? Or should I not try reading anything into this signing? Your thoughts?

Dave, Parts Unknown

A: I think it is probably fair to characterize Shaffer's pay day as being near the bottom of the wage scale for an experienced starting right tackle, or as a very solid pay day for an experienced swing tackle. That probably reflects how the Bears view him--as a guy who can man the position capably until they have a young player ready to take over. When that point comes, he'd be a nice veteran piece to have in the mix.

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Here it is.

Jerry Angelo
has made the phone call.

Add the Bears to the list of 10 teams that reportedly have inquired with the Denver Broncos about the availability of quarterback Jay Cutler.

Charles Robinson, a Chicago resident and NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports, reports that the Bears have, to borrow from Angelo, done their due diligence.

"At some point in the process, the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears also expressed interest in Cutler. The depth of that interest is unknown, but both teams are still thought to be in play if Cutler once again becomes available."

Kevin Shaffer did his homework when it came to joining the Bears, checking in with Roberto Garza, a former teammate in Atlanta. He liked the situation the Bears presented and ultimately moved to sign with them even though he was getting interest elsewhere, including from the Cincinnati Bengals.

In the AFC North, Shaffer faced a slew of talented pass rushers playing right tackle last season, including Baltimore's Terrell Suggs and Pittsburgh's James Harrison, the defensive player of the year. Stats Inc. had him allowing 4 1/2 sacks over the season. Although that is an impossible statistic to truly track, consider Stats had John St. Clair surrendering 9 1/2 last season at left tackle for the Bears, half to Minnesota's Jared Allen.

Here is what Shaffer had to say this afternoon about joining the Bears. He will sign his contract Thursday after undergoing a physical.

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The Bears might have just bought more than a starting-caliber right tackle, they might have purchased some flexibility come the draft, which is one month from today.

Kevin Shaffer agreed to terms on an $8 million, three-year contract Wednesday that initially gives the Bears some badly needed depth on the offensive line, as well as some experience. Shaffer has traded places with John St. Clair, who signed with the Cleveland Browns last week within days of Shaffer's release by the new George Kokinis/Eric Mangini regime.

Shaffer, 29, has missed only two starts over the course of the last five seasons and at the minimum will be a swing tackle. He's expected to compete immediately for a starting job and that could allow the coaching staff to make Frank Omiyale's stay at right tackle a short one after the free-agent pickup was moved from left guard after one day of minicamp last week.

"It feels great and I am glad we were able to work something out,'' Shaffer said. "It's something we were talking about for a while and I am definitely excited. The goal is to come in and win a starting job. We haven't talked too much about that, or at length or anything, but when I get there I want to show them what I can do. I have always been a hard worker and I am in a situation where I am going to prove myself.''

Almost a week after the Bears concluded their minicamp with a player they wanted to play at left guard manning the right tackle position, they have found an offensive tackle.

The club has agreed to terms with veteran Kevin Shaffer on a three-year contract. The 29-year-old was released earlier this month by the Cleveland Browns, who essentially replaced him with John St. Clair. Check back soon for more details.

Let's get right to the mailbag.

Q: Lovie Smith is clearly a big proponent of a strong rotation on the defensive line. With Dusty Dvoracek winding up on injured reserve again last season (he's the Mike Brown of defensive tackles) and the Bears thin on rotation depth at tackle (Tommie Harris and Marcus Harrison are both three techniques and Anthony Adams is undersized at nose tackle), could Jerry Angelo surprise everyone and and take a tackle early in the draft? Both Peria Jerry and Ziggy Hood fit the scheme. Hard to justify with so many other needs but I wouldn't be surprised. 
 
Kirk W., Chicago 

A: I think the problem here is that Jerry and Hood could both be first-round picks. Jerry could be long gone before the Bears select at No. 18. There is a difference between looking for a tackle early in the draft and going for one with your first pick in the draft. I happen to think the line got better when Adams was used more last season, and certainly some line depth was compromised with Israel Idonije moving back outside to end. He's versatile enough to remain a swing player.

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General manager Jerry Angelo said his goal going into the draft is to create as many possibilities for the organization as he can in the first round.

Those possibilities don't seem that vast right now unless you do some real outside the box thinking.

The team's needs are pretty serious. Stack them up however you want, we'll go alphabetically:

The NFL has announced the official draft order for next month a day after it awarded compensatory draft picks.

Here is where the Bears are at:

Round Pick Overall Pick

1-18-18
2-17-49
3-20-84
3-35-99 Compensatory pick
4-19-119
5-18-154
6-17-190
7-37-246 Compensatory pick
7-42-251 Compensatory pick

Full day of football news coming out of the owners meetings. The Bears got what they were looking for in a third-round compensatory pick for losing Bernard Berrian. Now, if they can make sure that third-round pick isn't Mike Okwo or Roosevelt Williams, maybe they will be OK. Off to the questions.

Q: It's been reported that the New York Jets are one of the 10 or so teams that have inquired about Jay Cutler's services. Wouldn't general manager Jerry Angelo earn some goodwill with a fan base that has become rather weary of his leadership by leaking the same news, that the Bears are going to be in the hunt for the quarterback if Denver decides to cut its unbelievable losses and trade the Pro Bowl quarterback?

Rafael S., Chicago

A: Sure, Angelo might make the fans happy for a day. Maybe a week. But would it matter if the Bears didn't land Cutler? I bet the Bears might have wanted to draft Ryan Clady last season too. He wasn't available when they picked at No. 14. Would knowing that make you feel better?

It's not going to make up for the loss of Bernard Berrian, but it gives the Bears some extra power heading to the draft.

The club was awarded a third-round draft pick and two seventh-round draft picks Monday as compensatory draft picks. That brings to nine the total number of picks the team has.

UPDATED: According to profootballtalk.com, the Bears snagged the third compensatory pick awarded--99th overall and the 35th pick of the third round. The first two compensatory picks went to New England and Cincinnati. The Patriots lost cornerback Asante Samuel and the Bengals lost defensive end Justin Smith.

The Bears' picks in the seventh round are as follows:

37th pick, 246 overall
42nd pick, 251 overall

It's the third-round pick that matters, though. That's in the neighborhood of where general manager Jerry Angelo has gotten players like Alex Brown, Nathan Vasher, Kyle Orton and Todd Johnson.

The Bears will open the 2009 season against their rival the Green Bay Packers.

The NFL announced today that the Bears will face the Packers on Sunday, Sept. 13, at Lambeau Field. The game will be televised on NBC beginning at 7:30 p.m.

We've about reached the peak of mock draft season now that we're 33 days away from the NFL draft.

Offensive tackle and wide receiver are popping up most frequently as the positions the Bears will address, you know, if they don't deal the pick and more ransom to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler.

We'll certainly look more closely at who the Bears will be targeting in the days and weeks to come. But for now, let's examine the cost of the first-round pick. There's never a cookie cutter deal to work off of in the NFL, but unless the Bears surprise many and draft a quarterback, the contract of the 18th pick from 2008 will not be real applicable for the Bears.

That is the pick the Baltimore Ravens used to grab quarterback Joe Flacco last year. Quarterback contracts are always a little different, as we'll illustrate below.

Lovie Smith has never shied away from putting young players on the field and that ultimately puts them in position for an end-of-season windfall.

Safety Kevin Payne received one of the larger bonuses around the league in the performance-based pay system. The safety who started all 16 games last season picked up a bonus check of $302,218, largest on the team by a wide margin. It doesn't quite match his base pay from last season of $370,000, but it's a nice chuck of change to pick up in the offseason.

Compensatory draft picks are on the way. Soon.

We don't know when the NFL will release the information at the owners meetings that are underway right now, but we fully expect it to be out within the next 48 hours.

Last year, the picks were announced on the Tuesday of the meetings, so we could have to wait until tomorrow for the skinny.

Long week of football. Here's our promised Q&A for Friday.

Q: I finally saw that someone asked Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo about the Jay Cutler situation. To my knowledge, they did not go into it, saying basically, "We can't talk about that, he is a Bronco." They could have said "We aren't interested, we like Kyle,", but they didn't. To me, that spoke volumes because that is their typical response. So what do you think their silence said, if anything?

Jim T., Charleston, Ill.

A: I think the silence was loud and clear--the Bears cannot talk about Cutler because he is under contract to Denver. If they were to start talking about him, that could constitute tampering and we saw what happens with tampering last spring when the San Francisco 49ers got slapped on the wrist to the benefit of the Bears. The Bears are not in a position to say they are or are not interested in Cutler, and they're going to follow the code that most do with that too. The last thing the Bears want is someone talking about their players, etc. I've said it more than once, if Cutler becomes available on the open market--and that has not happened--I don't expect the Bears to be involved. I've been wrong before. I'll be wrong again. That's just my take. I'm not saying the Bears should not make a play for Cutler, I'm saying I don't think they will make a move. The Denver Post reports that 10 teams have inquired. We'll see how this plays out.


The Bears will sign veteran safety Glenn Earl to a one-year contract, a league source said.

The Naperville North and Notre Dame product was invited to participate in the three-day minicamp this week on a tryout basis and showed enough to stick around.

On the same day new safety Josh Bullocks got his hands on a couple of passes, the Bears looked to add some more depth to the secondary.

The club gave safety Glenn Earl a physical after the conclusion of minicamp Thursday afternoon. The Naperville North and Notre Dame product could sign a contract today. Earl was one of five players participating in the three-day minicamp on a tryout basis.

Day 2 of minicamp didn't have quite the suspense of the opener when negotiations in Cleveland for offensive tackle John St. Clair hung over the situation. It's a clean break for the Bears now as they can chart a path to the future by building a young line. Let's get right to the questions and remember we'll do one more Q&A in Four Down Territory this week on Friday.

Q: Chris Williams finally manned the left tackle position and Cody Balogh was at right tackle in practice Tuesday. What's happening at guard? I know the new guy Frank Omiyale is working at left guard but how are both the left and right guard spots going to work out?

Jay E., Michigan

A: You got the breakdown at tackle for the first day right but the action changed today as Omiyale was moved to right tackle.

Let me tell you what I have seen for two days at guard.

Josh Beekman has been working with the first team at left guard and Omiyale was been with the second team before his move.

At right guard, Roberto Garza is working with the first team and Dan Buenning has been behind him when he hasn't been serving as the backup center.

Even by the Bears' standard for change they moved quick with this one.

The Frank Omiyale-at-left-guard experiment lasted a day, just about long enough for the ink to dry on the contract John St. Clair signed in Cleveland Tuesday afternoon.

Omiyale was moved to right tackle for the start of the Bears' second minicamp practice Wednesday at Halas Hall, a switch that came quicker than the quarterback and safety moves you usually see here.

``We're trying to lock guys in,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ``He'll play right tackle right now. It's hard enough learning a new system playing one position, so we'll lock him in there for a while and go.''

Lock him in?

The Bears have had a good deal of success pulling players from Louisiana schools in the last decade or so. Running back Matt Forte, cornerback Charles Tillman, strong safety Kevin Payne, safety Craig Steltz, ex-safety Chris Harris and ex-wide receiver Marty Booker are a few examples.

Looks like they have their eyes in another Cajun, this one a Ragin Cajun.

Deep into the second wave of free agency, the old and sometimes broken down offensive tackles on the open market are starting to get some action.

On the heels of John St. Clair's signing Tuesday in Cleveland where he received a $600,000 signing bonus as part of a $9 million, three-year contract, there is some movement. Former St. Louis Rams all-pro Orlando Pace will visit with the Baltimore Ravens today. On the other coast, Marvel Smith, who represented the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Pro Bowl, will visit the San Francisco 49ers.

The Bears, meanwhile, will line up Cody Balogh at right tackle this afternoon in minicamp practice No. 2 unless the Frank Omiyale-to-left-guard plan is a thing of the past after one day. Take a deep breath for a moment. The regular season does not begin for six months. As we wrote the other day, Lovie Smith could race over to Lake Forest College and grab a lineman to put at right tackle for three days in a non-contact minicamp. The Bears have options and while none of them scream Keith Van Horne or Big Cat Williams, not now any way, let's be honest here. Re-signing St. Clair and lining him up at right tackle wasn't a longterm solution. The Bears are working to get younger (and maybe bigger) on the line. Re-signing St. Clair probably would not have altered or delayed a goal to draft a tackle next month. The Bears valued St. Clair as a backup and that was reflected in the offer they made him.

They're not the first spring break destinations that come to mind, but Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand isn't going to be on vacation.

Hiestand will head to Oklahoma to work out the Sooners' Phil Loadholt next week and that's only one leg of the journey. The Bears also have a private workout scheduled for Wednesday, March 25 in Tucson, Ariz., with another offensive tackle--Arizona's Eben Britton.

Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel was one of an estimated 75 NFL people at North Carolina's pro day on Tuesday.

He got to visit with Tar Heels offensive coordinator John Shoop briefly. The Bears have interest in wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and have scheduled a private workout with him next week. Shoop checked in earlier today to talk about Nicks, who was a gamebreaker for the Tar Heels last season. Nicks averaged 18 yards per catch and scored 12 touchdowns.

Our Q&A:

The sunny weather was perfect for football Tuesday afternoon at Halas Hall but the windy conditions didn't help out the passing game. More than a few passes sailed out of the reach of receivers.

It's impossible to evaluate line play when players are not in pads, so making a judgment on the running game is a fruitless effort.

But they were back wearing helmets at Halas Hall and a return to action is always a good thing. Here are some observations and notes:

*** Lovie Smith, who we know is going to call the plays on defense, announced he'll also remain in the role he began midway through last season as the coach of the nickel back. That means more 1-on-1 instruction for Danieal Manning. That could be a good thing as Manning made strides in the role in the second half of last season. It's become pretty apparent that is where he will remain.

*** New defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was as advertised when it came to running drills. Granted, the players were not in pads, but he had them on the move. Asked if he was the savior of the line, he repled, ``I'm a football coach who likes coaching football.''

John St. Clair has signed three-year contract with the Cleveland Browns worth a total of $9 million.

The deal contains $600,000$1.25 million guaranteed, which is believed to be less than the Bears had offered in a $4.5 million, three-year contract. St. Clair, however, will earn $2.85 million in the first year of the deal, and that represents 63 percent of the total value of the Bears' offer.

Now, the Bears will have to venture out into the market and find a right tackle or draft one high in the draft or both.

The Bears' first minicamp practice begins in less than 30 minutes and the team could have an answer soon for the gaping hole they will have at right tackle.

Negotiations for veteran offensive tackle John St. Clair are believed to be taking place. St. Clair remains in Cleveland where he arrived Monday for a free-agent visit with the Browns. A source close to the situation said that Cleveland has offered St. Clair a contract. We have no idea what kind of money he is looking at in Cleveland. Whether or not he is leaning one way or another is also unknown, but at this point a resolution is expected in the near future.

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Hakeem Nicks isn't the only highly touted prospect the Bears are going to investigate next week.

Ed Thompson
of Scout.com reported that the Bears will put Oklahoma offensive tackle Phil Loadholt through a private workout, and we've confirmed that will take place next week. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is a good bet to attend. Southwest scout Chris Ballard was at Oklahoma's pro day last week and the Bears were known to have interest in the 6-8, 332-pounder coming out of the Senior Bowl. He played left tackle for two seasons for the Sooners but projects as a right tackle in the NFL.

The Bears are going to take a closer look at a quarterback.

The team is reported to want to follow up with Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman following the Buckeyes pro day last week in Columbus, Ohio. It's believed that college scouting director Greg Gabriel may have been in attendance that day.

Boeckman lost his starting job after three games last season to freshmane Terrelle Pryor but some view him as a sleeper in this year's not-so-touted class of quarterbacks.

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We've tracked down the names of a couple players the Bears will bring to Halas Hall on official pre-draft visits so far--Eastern Michigan offensive tackle T.J. Lang and Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger. Scout.com's Adam Caplan first reported the Ohrnberger visit. The Bears are scheduled to put Ohio University safety Michael Mitchell through a private workout later this month.

Now a bigger name.

Plenty of football news today so we're just sitting down to sift through our mail now. Before we know it, we'll be off to minicamp on Tuesday. Let's get right to it.

Q: If you were general manager of the Bears, what would you give to the Denver Broncos to get Jay Cutler? What would it take to get him? Who else has the best shot of trading for him?

Duane, Parts Unknown

A: When you step back and survey the entire situation and how it unfolded in Denver, it's fascinating. There are a couple things that struck me from the beginning. First, had Josh McDaniels done something to royally hack off Bill Belichick? Did he do something to earn the Mangini treatment? Signing wide receiver Jabar Gaffney away from New England probably didn't go over real well in Foxboro, Mass. That was my immediate reaction, though, how in the world was this thing blowing up and did anything precipitate it. Did anything? I don't know but I can tell you it stinks from here.

My second reaction was what kind of evaluation did the Broncos make of Cutler? Sure, McDaniels feels like he raised Matt Cassel in this league. He probably did. But there are other people involved in the decision-making process there--including one of the more respected owners in the league in Pat Bowlen--and a club doesn't start talking trade for a quarterback it KNOWS is a franchise quarterback. That's just it. Is Cutler a franchise passer? An upgrade over anything the Bears have had since a healthy Jim McMahon? You bet your Ditka sweater. But a slam dunk, bona fide star for the next decade? I don't know. Probably not with the Bears' current offensive core. Cutler went to a Pro Bowl after his second full season as a starter but there's a lot of room for improvement in his game. Before this meltdown there were those in certain league circles who questioned Cutler. So, besides a reunion with Cassel, what was McDaniels' thinking in plotting a trade? You've got to consider some of these questions.

He doesn't need to look beyond his big brother to see proof that undrafted free agents can not only make it, they can make it big.

The Bears have invited Chris Gould, younger brother of Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould, to participate in minicamp this week on a tryout basis, a source close to the player said.

Big brother once came to Halas Hall in a similar situation when he competed against four other kickers for a job in the second month of the 2005 season. It led to him signing the richest contract for a kicker in 2008. Chris Gould joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent out of Virginia last year. He hit 16-of-20 field goals as a senior in 2007, including 5-of-5 from 40-plus yards.

LSU guard Herman Johnson continues to work his way into better shape for the NFL.

Reports out of Baton Rouge, La., are that he's down to 356 pounds, about 10 lighter than he was at the scouting combine last month. Considered one of the top guards in the draft, Johnson said he wants to be around 350. The 6-7 Johnson played at closer to 375 at school. The Bears are believed to have been represented at the workout by Southwest scout Chris Ballard.

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The Bears signed Josh Bullocks to a one-year contract last week, but they remain shorthanded at safety and are bringing in help for minicamp.

Veteran safeties Glenn Earl and Curome Cox and linebacker Tim McGarigle will participate in the three-day minicamp on a tryout basis, multiple league sources said.

As expected, strong-side linebacker Nick Roach signed a one-year contract Monday.

Roach was an exclusive rights free agent and the Bears tendered him at the minimum, $460,000.

Roach will be a restricted free agent next offseason. He will get a jump on competition for the starting job Tuesday at minicamp as Hunter Hillenmeyer will be sidelined, according to the team.

It was in the first hour of Lovie Smith's first training camp practice in 2004 that middle linebacker Brian Urlacher went down with a badly pulled hamstring, an injury that would make it the most challenging of his nine seasons to date. It was also a sign of things to come as the Bears had an epidemic of hamstring pulls throughout the season with nearly 30 percent of the roster being affected at some point.

Here's hoping the first hour of the first minicamp practice on Tuesday is less eventful. But there has to be some concern about muscle pulls with the Bears diving head first into their offseason program by holding a minicamp at the soonest possible time allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. There's been no warmup at Halas Hall for three days of practices and if players have not been working out on their own, the danger is there for them to suffer injuries by going from full offseason mode to full football mode (or as close as you can get in shorts and a helmet) with nothing in between.

How significant would a hamstring pull be in mid-March? Not very troubling. But as retired Dr. Lovie Smith can tell you, you just never know with hamstring pulls. They can bring down the greatest athlete and linger for weeks, even months. Sending a handful of players straight to the training room isn't what the Bears have in mind. Obviously, Smith sees far more benefit than risk in starting this way. After consecutive seasons of failing to reach the postseason, he wants to shake things up. There's no better way to get the attention of players than to send them right out onto the field and let them start competing for jobs instantly. The weather is going to be ideal. Why not? The Bears say they want to get the players accustomed to new position coaches Rod Marinelli and Jon Hoke, but the far greater aim here is to set the tone not just for the offseason but for the entire season.

The Bears announced on their Web site that veteran linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek will be sidelined during minicamp this week.

Hillenmeyer was sidelined during the season last year following surgery on his right hand. It's not known if that is the injury that he is rehabilitating. Hillenmeyer has been in Hawaii as the Bears' representative at the NFL Players Association annual meeting.

Dvoracek is still rehabbing his way back from a torn right biceps suffered in Week 13 at Minnesota. He has landed on injured reserve in three consecutive seasons and entering the final year of his contract, Dvoracek must stay on the field. He was sidelined for a good portion of the offseason program a year ago and then again in training camp.

With John St. Clair visiting the Cleveland Browns today it forces us to pose the question, what's next?

If St. Clair signs with the Browns or another team, the already changing Bears' offensive line has another major question to answer--who plays right tackle?

General manager Jerry Angelo could draft a tackle in the first round with the 18th pick and plan on plugging him in there from Day 1. He tried that last season and that didn't work so well with Chris Williams, although by all accounts he will be ready to go as the starting left tackle when minicamp opens Tuesday.

The Bears could venture into free agency and take a look at what is around.

They could do both.

What they'll find in the third week of free agency is a long list of players long in the tooth, players with injury baggage or both.

John St. Clair could be under contract soon and it might not be with the Bears.

The veteran offensive lineman will visit the Cleveland Browns on Monday, a trip that could lead to a job with his fourth NFL team or expedite negotiations with the Bears that have made the worst traffic jam on the Dan Ryan Expy look like an afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Bears offered St. Clair a three-year contract two weeks before free agency opened that was worth $4.5 million. There has not been any tangible movement since. St. Clair's side made a counteroffer and that's where it has stood for more than a month.

After making 19 consecutive starts, and with the right tackle job open for him to claim, St. Clair is seeking more money. How much more? No one knows although he's probably understanding of his age (he turns 32 in July) and the market. How does a team value a player that was signed as a swing tackle, became a dependable starter and may be a bridge to the future? There is the dilemma. The Bears want St. Clair back--at their price.

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It has reached the point where it's hard to believe the Jay Cutler saga will not be resolved until the quarterback receives a new contract.

From the Denver Broncos or from a team the Broncos trade him to because right now this storyline looks like it will be as everlasting as the Brett Favre mess a year ago.

Mike Klis of the Denver Post reports that Broncos owner Pat Bowlen has even come to terms with the fact that the Broncos could be moving forward without their quarterback, who reached a Pro Bowl after just his second full season starting in the league. This, after a face-to-face meeting at the team's headquarters in which no progress was made between Cutler and new head coach Josh McDaniels, who had hoped to acquire Matt Cassel in a trade last month.

"I'm very disappointed," Bowlen said Sunday. "I'm disappointed in the whole picture, not just disappointed that we might lose our star quarterback."

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It looks like Israel Idonije is on the move.

Back outside that is.

The Bears' defensive lineman is in the process of shedding weight, according to a report in the Winnipeg Sun, and it's believed he will be used more at end than tackle this coming year. That's the reverse of what happened last offseason for the versatile veteran. Idonije added between 25 and 30 pounds this time last year at the direction of the team for a move inside.

"If Idonije, well on his way from 306 to 270 pounds, keeps as busy all off-season as he is right now, he may resemble a wide receiver by Week 1."

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Strong-side linebacker Nick Roach will sign a one-year contract on Monday, a source close to the player said.

Roach was tendered as an exclusive rights free agent and really doesn't have any other option unless he was to hold out and ensure veteran Hunter Hillenmeyer gets an immediate leg up on the starting job. With a Northwestern education, here's figuring Roach is brighter than that.

Roach was tendered at $460,000, the minimum for a player with less than three years experience. He played in 14 games and made nine starts last season, recording 40 tackles and two stops for loss. Roach suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of two games at midseason. Right now, he's believed to have the inside track on the starting job but nothing is set.

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If general manager Jerry Angelo has done one thing well in the draft, it's find defensive backs in the later rounds.

Nathan Vasher, Chris Harris, Kevin Payne, Corey Graham and Todd Johnson were all selected in the fourth round and later.

The Bears have their eye on a safety prospect that might fit into the mid- to late-round range in Ohio University's Michael Mitchell. The team has scheduled a private workout with him, one of at least three he will have. Here is a video that has some highlights from his career.

Busy day so let's get to it. We'll reach for the mailbag three times next week--Monday, Wednesday and Friday--as the minicamp from Tuesday to Thursday is going to alter our schedule. Send your questions in now.

Q: Do you think it would be a prudent move to look at Kevin Shaffer, released by the Browns, as another option to the John St. Clair waiting game? He's an eight-year veteran that is younger than St. Clair. Shaffer failed as a left tackle but performed reasonably well as a right tackle, especially two seasons ago.

Adam P. Winnipeg, Manitoba

A: Shaffer would be worth a look but after polling some people around the league, the feeling is there is a chance he will re-sign with the Browns. Shaffer was cut loose by Cleveland on Thursday so the Browns wouldn't be on the hook for a roster bonus that was due today. We first floated the possibility in our blog post on Thursday when we reported that John Tait had officially filed his retirement papers. Tony Grossi, a longtime Browns' beat writer, reports that Shaffer is mulling over a return at a reduced salary.

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Bears scout Marty Barrett made his way to Corvallis Friday for the Oregon State pro day.

Guard Andy Levitre was the main attraction. Projected as one of the top players at his position in the draft, Levitre did the three-cone drill, the workout he opted out of at the combine, coming in under 7.6 seconds. Then he was put through positional drills with most NFL teams present, including line coaches from Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia.

The Bears met with Levitre at the Senior Bowl. They might not be able to snag him unless they spend two high picks on offensive linemen because there is a more pressing need for a young offensive tackle. Levitre could be long gone before the Bears get back to considering another lineman in the draft. But if they like him enough, maybe they reverse fields and go guard first. The last time the Bears selected a guard in the first three rounds was when they chose the recently released Terrence Metcalf in Round 3 of the 2002 draft.

We did not come across this information on our own, so we need to send a thanks out to Mike Sando and Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, but we need to pass it along.

We're less than two weeks away from compensatory draft picks being awarded at the annual NFL owners meeting, and there's a blogger out there who has a strong track record of predicting this stuff. The formula the NFL Management Council uses to dispense these draft picks is secret. No one knows what goes into it, but it's believed to be a combination of the value of a players' contract and playing time, chiefly. The league weights net gains and losses of unrestricted free agents and a total of 32 picks are distributed.

Mysterious Adam has a knack for coming very close to nailing it--he's averaged 23.9 correct out of 32 picks over nine drafts. We don't know how much time goes into such a project--we don't want to to know--but it's impressive work. Check it out because it's full of good information.

Let's get right to it, what does Mysterious Adam project for the Bears? They lost wide receiver Bernard Berrian, tight end John Gilmore and special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and had no gains that would count against them.

The Bears were looking into Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz on Thursday following the Cornhuskers' pro day, according to a report. Scout Teddy Monago was on the scene for the Bears, who could also be checking out offensive tackle Lydon Murtha, who has gained a little steam since the combine.

"As for Joe Ganz, the quarterback who didn't get a combine invite, he said he thought he did well. Ganz held a questionnaire from the New England Patriots as he left the workout and headed to a meeting with the Chicago Bears.

"I thought I threw the ball really well, so I'm really happy with what happened," said Ganz, who measured at a hair over 6 feet. "It's really, really cool to have these guys come up to you and talk to you and talk to you and say you had a good year."

Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams created a buzz last week at his school's pro day when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds. Problem was, it was on the school's basketball court and most observers acknowledged you had to add at least one-tenth of a second to his time.

So, he showed up at Northwestern's pro day Thursday and did one better, running between 4.42 and 4.48 on a much slower artificial surface in the school's indoor facility. The 2008 Buck Buchanan Award finalist, a DuSable graduate, boosted himself even more for the NFL draft.

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Eric Peterman pretty much expected to run a sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash at Northwestern's pro day on Thursday.

Maybe it was the 17 NFL scouts in attendance that were not necessarily expecting that. The WIldcats wide receiver created quite a buzz for himself afterward with times of 4.45 seconds and 4.47 seconds to go with a nifty three cone drill time of 6.58. As one source said, he could have run himself straight into the draft.

"It's kind of what I've been doing,'' Peterman said. ``That's right at what I've been running, maybe just a little bit better.''

Full day of football with the trip up to Evanston this morning for the Northwestern pro day. There were 32 players from other state schools at the workout too. More on the pro day action later. Right now, let's get into the mailbag. We'll have one more Four Down Territory on Friday--get your questions in now--and then we're going to move to an abbreviated schedule next week with minicamp. Here we go.

Q: I was just listening to the Score and they were saying Tampa was in trade talks for Jay Cutler. If Tampa can be in trade talks for Cutler, why can't the Bears be? Tampa doesn't have a quarterback and the Bears have a higher first-round pick than them. Shouldn't Jerry Angelo at least try to get in there for a quarterback of his caliber? Did he not say fixing the quarterback position was a priority? With all of Angelo's first-round busts would this not be a safe move? Cutler is not Matt Cassel, he has all the good and has shown it, he is a fan of the Bears and has the type of arm and feet you need in Chicago.

Creighton, Parts Unknown

A: I haven't found one report that the Broncos and Bucs have engaged in any recent contract talks involving Cutler. Tampa Bay, of course, was in the three-way deal that was proposed prior to free agency and included the New England Patriots. But nothing indicates Cutler trade talks have happened again. The Broncos finally got Cutler on the horn earlier this week and that didn't go over so well. It will be interesting to see if he shows up next week for the beginning of the voluntary offseason program, a pretty big step under new coach Josh McDaniels.

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Pat Fitzgerald had a brief stint in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys so the Northwestern coach knows what the league's initial stand for--``Not for long.''

But he and the nine Wildcats who worked out Thursday on campus during the school's pro day are holding out hope, and there was reason to be hopeful as representatives from 17 schools showed up, including Jeff Shiver, the Bears' Midwest scout and Cleveland director of player personnel Bill Rees. Previously, he served as the Bears' college scouting director.

Running back Tyrell Sutton (above being measured for his height), the only Wildcat invited to the scouting combine last month, helped himself in the 40-yard dash. Clocked at 4.68 seconds in Indianapolis, one scout had him at 4.57 and 4.67 on a slow artificial indoor surface. With his left wrist in a brace from the injury that kept him out of the final four regular-season games last year, he put up 12 reps on the bench at 225 pounds, clearly affected by the injury.

You can cross one name off the list of potential right tackles for the Bears this coming season.

John Tait has turned in his retirement papers as an NFL source said his name came across the waiver wire less than an hour ago. The Bears have placed him on the reserve/retired list.

Tait informed the Bears in January that he was seriously contemplating retirement. No move was official at the time. When the club asked him if he wanted an announcement to be made, he said no, proof that he was going to continue to think it over even if he was mostly sure what path he was going to choose. Now, it's over. Tait, a first-round draft pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1999, walks away from the game after 10 seasons.

Of course, turning in his paperwork doesn't mean a whole lot. Remember, Brett Favre's paperwork was once turned in and we know what that turned into for Green Bay and then the New York Jets.

The Bears got a good look at West Virginia quarterback Pat White on Thursday as college scouting director Greg Gabriel was spotted in Morgantown, W.Va., at the Moutaineers' pro day. White primarily did quarterback drills which is how he turned some heads last month at the scouting combine.

White turned heads again.

"Pat White looked to me like an NFL quarterback," texted an NFL source who attended the event.

No telling if White was what Gabriel was focused on during his visit. West Virginia has a couple offensive linemen worth inspecting in guards Greg Isander and Ryan Stanchek.

The Bears have announced that cornerback Marcus Hamilton has signed his one-year tender as an exclusive rights free agent.

Hamilton will earn $385,000 this season.

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We've gotten a late start on our review of the pro day action today, other than our item on Alabama left tackle Andre Smith earlier this afternoon. Sometimes actual football news gets in the way of digging around.

There were a couple big ones today with Oklahoma State, Maryland, Tennessee and as we mentioned Alabama all holding workout sessions for their draft-eligible players. These are big sessions that most every NFL team is going to cover, so we're not unearthing anything real surprising here. It's not believed the Bears were at Oklahoma State.

*** At Maryland, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey reportedly put on a show in positional drills. One guy to keep an eye on there is guard Jamie Thomas. The Bears are believed to be keeping an eye on him, and they're certainly monitoring Heyward-Bey.

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Busy day of football activity, and we're going to tidy up action from the day in another post here shortly with a few interesting things, so be sure to check back. Right now, let's jump into the mailbag and Four Down Territory.

Q: What did you think of the signing of Josh Bullocks? Is he more likely to start at free safety than Craig Steltz or a rookie? Is he not that highly regarded to sign an inexpensive one-year deal at age 26 or was he just caught on a bad Saints defense? If he was a quality player, would he have been a priority for New Orleans? Does this signing make it more likely the top picks will be at offensive tackle, wide receiver and defensive end, especially because (as you pointed out) the team has had success drafting defensive backs on the second day?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: We've got a lot to chew on here. My best guess right now is that Bullocks eventually finds himself in a three-man competition for the starting job with Steltz and a yet to be drafted rookie. What round the rookie comes in and how Steltz fares will obviously dictate to a degree Bullocks' chances, but right now he's got the best skill set to play the position. The Bears didn't have a free safety until he was brought on board. And, who knows, perhaps Steltz winds up in a situation where he competes with Kevin Payne for the starting gig at strong safety. Don't discount that possibility either.

Josh Bullocks is excited about the opportunity to get right to work with the Bears. He'll be able to do that starting Monday when players report for minicamp orientation, which is basically to take physicals. Then three days of practices start the next day. He'll be in the mix immediately at free safety.

"If you've got a great defense and the guys upfront are applying pressure to the quarterback like the Chicago Bears have been doing, and you've got good corners, it allows the free safety to go in and make plays and get interceptions," Bullocks said this afternoon. "That just makes my job as the free safety easier when you've got great defense around you."

Bullocks had three other opportunities but chose the Bears because he wanted to be a part of a top defense, one that will have to be on the rebound. Fixing the hole at free safety is obviously one of the team's top concerns, and his addition will not rule out the team selecting one in the draft.


The Bears have signed safety Josh Bullocks to a one-year contract, a league source said.

Bullocks gets $525,000 guaranteed, and will add depth to the secondary immediately.

The hope is that he can win the starting free safety job. Bullocks started his first three seasons in New Orelans.

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As the questions continue to mount for Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith, so does the possibility that the talented mountain of a man will do a freefall through the first round of the draft.

Not long ago, he was seriously being mentioned as a possibility for the Detroit Lions with the No. 1 pick. If not to Motown, most had him going in the top five picks.

Now, Smith could be making a move down the board, quite a ways down the board, and could be in play for the Bears when they select 18th.

Early results from Smith's pro day today in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where it is believed Bears' scout Mark Sadowski is on hand, are not good. Remember, Smith blew out of the scouting combine in Indianapolis last month without telling anyone. He said he was going to work out on his pro day. That hasn't gone so well so far. His 40 time was 5.28 seconds. While that's not real significant for offensive linemen, it gives you a general idea about his athleticism. More alarming was just 19 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds. This is a player who was known for his tenacity and muscle on the field. However, those are not numbers that are going to bury him. In comparison, Chris Williams ran a 5.21 40 last year and put up 21 reps on the bench press.

The Bears have released veteran guard Terrence Metcalf.

A third-round draft pick by Jerry Angelo in 2002, Metcalf made 25 career starts with the Bears.

He was expected to be the starting left guard last season until arthroscopic knee surgery in training camp sidelined him. Then, he was suspended for four games for violating the league's policy on anabolic steroids and related substances.

Oklahoma and Auburn were not the only places the Bears showed up at on Tuesday.

Scouts also surfaced in Lawrence, Kan., at the Kansas pro day and in Seattle at Washington's pro day.

At Kansas, the Jayhawks had some linebackers on display--Joe Mortenson, Mike RIvera and James Holt. Rivera and Mortenson have battled injuries the last few seasons but did well.


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Oklahoma offensive tackle Phil Loadholt worked out Tuesday at the Sooners pro day in Norman, Okla., and it is believed the Bears' Southwest scout Chris Ballard was on hand.

That's no surprise. The OU pro day is one of the big draws every year. Minnesota coach Brad Childress was on hand. Loadholt, who worked out at the scouting combine last month, put up 26 reps on the bench at 225 pounds. He checked in again at 6-7, 332 pounds, which is what he measured in Indianapolis. He substantially improved his broad jump to 8 feet, 9 inches, 10 inches better than his effort at the combine.

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If it rains like this next week, the Bears will have no chance of practicing outside at Halas Hall for the minicamp. Before we get washed away here, or buried under a pile of safety and receiver questions, let's dive into the mailbag.

Q: Now that the first wave of free agency has passed and the Bears still haven't addressed their need for a starting free safety, do you think there's a chance they might still bring back Mike Brown? Brown seems to be the best option remaining given his knowledge of the defense, and I doubt Jerry Angelo will find someone in the draft that can contribute more, at least in the immediate future.

C. Washington, Kokomo, Ind.

A: This is just one of a handful of inquiries we've had about Brown recently. You're the lucky one to have yours selected.

No, I don't see any way the Bears have a change of heart and reach out to Brown. When they made the decision to move forward and not offer him a contract, that was a clean break. It's one Angelo nearly made a year ago. Yes, Brown had value when he was on the field last season but he's a strong safety and strictly a strong safety. Remember, the coaching staff made that switch to get him closer to the line of scrimmage midway through the season. Brown isn't the answer to their strong safety needs. The second half of the season was also when Brown had trouble finishing out games. You'll recall he couldn't finish three games and then was placed on inured reserve before the season finale at Houston. The Bears were in the playoff hunt. If they felt Brown could help them in the playoffs, he would have remained active. That tells you a little something about what was at least a four-week injury, right?

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We're already into the second week of free agency and the action has pretty much slowed to a trickle. The Bears are gearing up for their mandatory veteran minicamp, which begins on the soonest date possible, Monday, March 16. The players will take physicals that day and then three days of practices begin the following day. There's no drama this time around. Remember, Brian Urlacher made threats that he wouldn't show last year, upset at stalled talks for what eventually became an $18 million, one-year extension. Let's jump into the mailbag and see what we have.

Q: If we all agree that the Bears need a wide receiver and will more than likely target one in the draft, why have they not as of yet re-signed Brandon Lloyd to, at the minimum, a one-year deal to take the Marty Booker spot? They will still have a roster spot available for a rookie in the draft. Lloyd, despite being hurt, was productive when in the lineup and much more reliable than Rashied Davis for Kyle Orton.

Eric, Orlando, Fla.

A: I'm not sure reliable is an adjective I'd use to describe Lloyd. In fact, I'm not sure that word has ever described him in his NFL career. You have to climb into the Way Back Machine and go back to Weeks 12-14 of the 2005 season to find the last time Lloyd caught three or more passes in three consecutive games. I'd say that's a fairly simple measurement for reliability of veteran wide receiver. Lloyd suffered a minor knee injury in Week 4 last season against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was told he would be sidelined two to four weeks. He took five, six if you count the bye week, and made it known to everyone he wasn't going to be back on the field until he was 100 percent. Upon returning, Lloyd made seven catches in six games before breaking out with four receptions for 34 yards in the season finale at Houston. At least Davis was on the field.

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We've tracked down the proof the Bears were at the Georgia Tech pro day.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution captured Southeast scout Mark Sadowski here with his Bears' cap on and armed with his stop watch.

Defensive end Michael Johnson was the main attraction. Here is another story about him off the event and it sounds like the workout went well for him.


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Lovie Smith
has said it time and time again. Jerry Angelo has repeated it for years.

You can't have too many defensive linemen.

Perhaps to that end, the Bears were represented today at Georgia Tech's pro day. The Yellow Jackets have defensive end Michael Johnson, one of the better prospects in the draft. Johnson has a rare combination of size at 6-7, 266 pounds, and athletic ability. He was timed in the 40-yard dash at 4.68 seconds at the combine. He's got the long arms and quickness to come off the edge and create instant problems for the offense.

We've got the numbers for the contract signed by new offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, the Bears' first free-agent acquisition.

The base value of the four-year contract is $11.5 million and with escalators it is believed to max out at $14 million. We don't know the parameters for those escalators and the amounts or what triggers the payouts. We do have a grasp on the rest of the deal. With roughly $31 million in cap room entering free agency, the Bears chose to put the bulk of the money for Omiyale in the first year of the deal. He will be paid $6.3 million this season, or more than half of the total base value of the contract.

That is the kind of payoff that makes it very clear the Bears plan on him being a starter this season, whether the club will say that or not.

Interesting tidbit this morning on profootballtalk.com.

The Bears will likely be opening the 2009 season on the road. At least according to an official U2 Web site they will be. The band has a list of dates and sites for its upcoming U2 360 Tour and the first North American date is Saturday, Sept. 12 at Soldier Field. That's one day before the first Sunday of the NFL season. Of course, the schedule will open on Thursday, Sept. 10, but the Bears are highly unlikely to be hosting a game that night. Typically, that date goes to the defending Super Bowl champion.

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Had an interesting conversation with a defensive coach from another team at the combine last month. He talked about the cover-two defense and the core positions that fuel it. It was a good discussion and what he did was rank the core positions for the scheme.

The cover two has lost some of its glitter recently and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have thrown it overboard in favor of a scheme with bigger players under new defensive coordinator Jim Bates. Some of the Tampa Two's best teachers--Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin and Herm Edwards--will not be in the NFL in 2009. The Tampa Tribune's Ira Kaufman takes a look at the trend of teams switching to a base 3-4 scheme, including the Green Bay Packers.

Three teams from the Tampa Two tree of defenses finished in the top 11 last season. Minnesota, which is a hybrid Tampa Two with the Williams Wall at defensive tackle, was sixth. The Buccaneers came in at No. 9 and Indianapolis was No. 11. The Bears, of course, stumbled to finish 21st.

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What's left in free agency? The answer is not much. Here is a list of remaining players in free agency with four years of experience.

Offensive tackle Khlaif Barnes (above) has broken off talks with Oakland and San Francisco. The assumption is that could point Marvel Smith toward Oakland. Smith, who has been hampered by back injuries the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, has reportedly drawn interest from Baltimore and Oakland. Barnes is believed to be close to signing with an unnamed team and a source ensured us late Friday night that the Bears are not in play for the ex-Jacksonville Jaguar.

TCU had a surprise for the 40 or so NFL representatives, including Bears scout Chris Ballard, who showed up for the school's pro day on Friday.

Inside linebacker Jason Phillips was on crutches after undergoing surgery to repair a slight tear in his meniscus. Turns out he suffered the injury at the combine but it's not believed to be serious, and he did enough good things there that it shouldn't affect his draft status too much. Phillips is considered one of the better inside linebackers in a draft that's pretty strong at the position.

Kevin Jones said all along he wanted to return to the Bears and, you know what, he wasn't blowing smoke in an attempt to grab a sweeter deal elsewhere. Let's jump into the last Q&A for the week.

Q: Finally Jerry Angelo has made a second move in free agency and brought back running back Kevin Jones. At this pace, he'll have the team's holes filled by the middle of summer. Tell me I don't have to wait another week for his next move. Please.

Trent H., Missouri

A: Sorry, I 'm not going to make any promises I can't deliver on. But I would imagine--no one from either side has discussed this with me--that the Bears desire to have offensive lineman John St. Clair signed by this time next week. Will it happen? Who knows. Oakland will reportedly sign Khalif Barnes, taking another tackle off the market. Marvel Smith has been in contract talks with Baltimore. Pretty soon St. Clair will be one of the few linemen remaining on the market with tangible experience, especially as a starting tackle. The market is beginning to settle and it ought to make it easier for St. Clair to get a gauge on his value.

A week later, the Bears have their second free-agent signing.

This time they lured back veteran running back Kevin Jones as he agreed to a $3.5 million, two-year contract Friday afternoon. Jones is looking forward to being a bigger part of the offense in 2009 after he saw only limited playing time last season, getting just 34 carries and only 21 after the season opener. But the former first-round pick maintained all along that he wanted to return and did so after a recruiting trip to Buffalo where the Bills offered him a contract.

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Bears Hall of Famer George McAfee has passed away at the age of 90.

McAfee played eight seasons with the Bears after being a star at Duke. He was a member of the 1940 championship team that defeated the Washington Redskins 73-0. That was the first of three title-winning teams he played for during a career that was interrupted while he served the country in World War II.

"George McAfee helped establish the proud tradition of the Chicago Bears. His versatility led to his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as he played offense, defense and special teams on three championship teams (1940, 1941 and 1946)," the Bears said in a statement.

"George also served his country in the Navy during WWII. We are proud to have him as an integral part of our history and are saddened by his passing. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

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Q: I just saw the news on T.O., and I'm sure everyone's asking if he's a fit for the Bears. Let me guess, he's a locker room cancer, too much of a media side show, too costly, and too old to wear navy and orange, right? Personally, I think they should buy a popcorn maker for Halas Hall, because T.O. would be worth his weight in free agency dollars. It would instantly give the Bears a legitimate No. 1 option, plus, it takes away a major need come draft day. Jerry Angelo could focus on bolstering either line or get a top tier free safety. Perhaps a stop in Chicago could help bring T.O. back down to earth (attitude-wise, not numbers-wise). Am I dreaming?
 
Jared S., Chicago

A: Yes, Jared, you are dreaming.You can go ahead and put the Bears with the Eagles and Chiefs among the top three most unlikely destinations for Terrell Owens. As I've tried to stress in other posts, the player would have to want to join the Bears too. Does anyone picture Owens seeing Halas Hall as a good fit? OK, good.

The collection of displaced football professionals continues to grow.

Torry Holt wants to join the group. Soon.

The veteran St. Louis Rams wide receiver reportedly has asked to be released. The Rams owe Holt a $1.25 million roster bonus on March 17 and are believed to be looking to cut their salary cap and get younger by moving on. The problem is with Holt's contract they have not had any success finding a taker. Why trade for a guy when he's going to reach the open market where you can write your own contract?

That brings us to the possibility Holt would be a fit for the Bears. Before we go forward, we're going to estimate the chances of this marriage happening are slim. Real slim. But we'll make our case later. Holt, who turns 33 in June, led the Rams in receiving last season even as they worked to phase him out and promote exciting rookie Donnie Avery. Holt finished with 796 yards on 64 catches with three touchdowns. It snapped a streak of eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for him. To put that in perspective for a second, the Bears have had 10 1,000-yard receivers in their entire history.

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In a quiet free agency period for the Bears, longtime NFL coach and front office man Pat Kirwan raised the volume around Halas Hall with his comments Tuesday on Sirius NFL radio.

The sounds you heard were fans screaming in protest.

Kirwan and co-host Tim Ryan had a caller on the line who wanted to discuss the Bears. The caller said he was mostly supportive of general manager Jerry Angelo but was frustrated by the lack of moves this offseason, specifically pointing to wide receiver and safety as issues that were not being addressed. Kirwan, who has known Angelo for more than two decades, came to the defense of Angelo quickly. What it turned into, however, was something completely different. Instead of trying to interpret this for you, and paraphrase what was said or try to tell you what was meant, we're just going to lay out the transcript from the ``Movin' The Chains'' show in Sirius:

"Jerry came to Chicago as a proven entity, all right,'' Kirwan said. "He ran the drafts in Tampa, all the drafts that had all those great players. So he came with credentials. The next thing is he brings the team to a Super Bowl. That's on his resume now in Chicago, with Rex Grossman under center that team got to a Super Bowl. The other thing is, if you're a real Bear fan, you know that this is not exactly the most generous spending team in the history of football. So he's got restrictions and restraints and he's not going to [say], `Hey, I'm trying to sign this guy but my owners won't let me,' You think he's going to say that? No.

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There was some more movement today in free agency with Laveranues Coles landing in Cincinnati and Matt Birk, the Pro Bowl center from Minnesota, heading to Baltimore, which was able to re-sign Ray Lewis. Let's get to the mailbag:

Q: It's never good to start a statement like this, but call me crazy. If USC's Rey Maualuga drops to Chicago at 18, would the Bears let that thought cross their minds? Would they consider him? Mock drafts have him going anywhere from fifth overall to the end of the first round. Does it make sense to draft the top-rated inside linebacker in the draft even though the Bears have Brian Urlacher? Would the Bears allow themselves to look into the future at that all-important-in-Chicago position, or do they just have too many needs to address? I keep hearing Jerry Angelo say that he's trying to put Chicago in position to draft the best player available, regardless of position. Does he mean any position except middle linebacker?

Sean Q., Eureka, Calif.

A: That's a good question and it's good for a couple of reasons. First, the position is pretty well stacked this season and general manager Jerry Angelo addressed just that at the combine saying as many as five linebackers could be selected in the first round.

"[You] won't see as good a group as this linebacker cast, as many as five and really quality,'' he said. "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.''

Tennessee found a pretty promising defensive end in the second round last year when the Titans drafted Jason Jones.

Now, there's another player coming out of the MAC school that the Bears are keeping a close eye on.

The team is expected to bring in offensive tackle T.J. Lang for a visit some time after his pro day later this month, according to a report.

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Cedric Benson, freshly minted with a $7 million, two-year contract that will make him the starting running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, called himself ``fully rejuvenated'' Wednesday morning appearing on Waddle & Silvy on ESPN AM-1000.

Benson told hosts Tom Waddle and Marc Silverman that he is looking forward to facing the Bears in the regular season in 2009. He didn't have any regrets on his time with the Bears, which was cut short in June after his second drinking-related incident in Texas in a five-week span. Eventually, Benson was cleared of charges stemming from his boating and driving arrests but not before the Bears had pulled the plug on the fourth overall pick of the 2005 draft and not after the Bears had dropped $13.8 million on Benson.

Buffalo might produce some intriguing NFL prospects in 2010 in wide receiver Naaman Roosevelt and running back James Starks, but Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel is at the school's pro day today, a source on the scene reported via text message this morning.

The main attraction is quarterback Drew Willy, the only player from the program who was invited to the scouting combine last week.

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Every year there are a host of players who complain about not getting an invite to the scouting combine.

Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams, the DuSable product, is one who can make a very good case this year. But he did something about it when his opportunity came Tuesday at his pro day in Macomb, Ill.

With 14 teams in attendance, according to one source, Williams was clocked as fast as 4.46 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Now, the problem with the time is it was run on a basketball court. But if you add one-tenth of a second to compensate, or even a fraction more, you're talking about a linebacker running a sub 4.6 time in the 40. That would have put him in very good company at the combine with other outside linebackers, and there is little doubt Williams will be drafted.

Kevin Jones listed the Buffalo Bills as one of the teams interested in him on Saturday and that interest has materialized into a visit. Profootballtalk.com reports that Jones will visit the team at its Orchard Park, N.Y., headquarters on Wednesday.

The Bears have made a contract offer to Jones with hopes of bringing him back to share the workload with Matt Forte and Garrett Wolfe. The Bills could potentially offer a situation with more play time. Marshawn Lynch finds himself in legal trouble for the second consecutive offseason and Fred Jackson is the only other back in place. Buffalo had tried to lure Fred Taylor before he signed in New England.

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Another exciting day of free agency is ahead of us. Let's get right into the action.

Q: Jason Taylor just got released from Washington. What are the chances the Bears would consider him as a one- or two-year stop-gap measure as a left end? Adewale Ogunleye is the Bears' most productive end right now as far as rushing the passer, but given the choice between the two, I would take Taylor, who has gotten it done for several years prior to being moved to outside linebacker in the 3-4. As a 4-3 end, there are few that can match his initial quickness off the ball, and his overall athleticism. His decline in production I think is more related to taking him away from the quarterback, not from any loss of talent or work.

Joe F., Parts Unknown:

A: That seems to be the popular thing to do this offseason, find a name player on the market and discuss whether or not he will wear a blue helmet with a C on the side of it this coming season. You don't have to think twice about this one, Joe. Taylor and the Redskins were in negotiations where the team said it was willing to maintain his salary for this season of $8.5 million provided he found the time to go to work in Ashburn, Va., for 75 percent of the offseason program, or roughly eight of the 13 weeks it's in operation. Mind you, this is a player who skipped workouts last offseason to participate in a television dancing show.

Now, let's think about that for a minute. Taylor isn't going to show up for eight weeks and then play during the season for $8.5 million? Does that sound for a second like a player the Bears would consider? They're embarking on what, to date, appears to be the most significant offseason program since the first once Lovie Smith ran in 2004. He's moved up the starting date to March 16--the very first day teams are allowed to begin this activity. He's setting the tone for not just the offseason program but the season itself and the first minicamp practice at Halas Hall is two weeks from today.

There wasn't much down time between the end of the scouting combine last week and the beginning of the pro day circuit at colleges across the country.

Miami is the first major school to have its event last Thursday, although the Hurricanes don't have much in the way of pro prospects for this draft. Ball State also conducted its pro day on Friday although quarterback Nate Davis did not work out after participating at the combine. You can pick up bits and pieces here and there when it comes to news from these pro day sessions.

The Bears were definitely at the Florida Atlantic workout, which was held Feb. 26. We've found visual proof here with Southeast scout Mark Sadowski armed with a stop watch and decked out in team apparel. Sixteen teams showed up for the workout and FAU linebacker Frantz Joseph might have been the headliner. He's been among the nation's leading tacklers the last two seasons but is a little slow and projects purely as a middle linebacker. The hope is, at least at FAU, that Joseph will be the first player from the school drafted.

If not having to face T.J. Houshmandzadeh twice a year is a good thing for the Bears, then they dodged a bullet this afternoon when the veteran wide receiver chose to sign with the Seattle Seahawks.

The Minnesota Vikings put a full-court press on the former Cincinnati Bengal and tried to strike a deal over the weekend, a move that would have made the formidable Vikings' offense even more challenging. But when Houshmandzadeh left town late Sunday night without a deal, chances were he was headed elsewhere.


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The opening weekend of free agency has come and gone and the Bears added one player in offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, with offers currently out to two others in Kevin Jones and John St. Clair. There are a couple big names still floating out there--wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is reportedly going to pick his new team some time today--but the fireworks appear to be just about over. Let's get back into the action:

Q: I have a question regarding Matt Cassel. Jerry Angelo has mentioned several times that sitting at the No. 18 pick there won't be an "elite" player available because if that player was "elite" than he would be taken already before the pick. My question is this then--Cassel, regardless if some people think he was just a "system" player with good weapons (Randy Moss and Wes Welker good, that running game...not so much), was an ELITE player in the NFL last year. For the past 20 years the Bears haven't had anything close to an elite quarterback. Why then wouldn't Angelo offer up his first-round pick when he conceded there will be no "elite" players left at pick 18 and grab a guy who was a top five quarterback last year? 

Steve K., New York

A: Fair question. I spoke to a handful of people around the league at a variety of different positions and the consensus was they believe Cassel was a product of the Patriots' system which not only had top talent, as you pointed out, but top coaching as well. The lack of a running game may have contributed to his success, at least his numbers, as Cassel ranked ninth in the league with 516 pass attempts. When you break down the numbers, I'm not sure Cassel was a top five quarterback from last year either. If you're just going by the numbers, I'll take Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler, Chad Pennington, Aaron Rodgers (yes, Aaron Rodgers) and maybe even Matt Ryan ahead of him. So, maybe he was a top 10 passer last season.

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Jay Cutler is kickin' mad at the Denver Broncos.

He's been showing up for work dutifully the past few weeks, getting to know the new coaching staff and all the time, at least in Cutler's mind, they've been plotting a way to get rid of him.

It didn't happen. A proposed three-way deal that would have sent Cutler to Tampa Bay, a first-round pick to New England and Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel to the Broncos didn't materialize. Not after the Patriots dealt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round pick, the 34th pick in the draft. Bill Belichick's longtime associate Scott Pioli lands two players he coveted.

If the three-way deal was real, we imagine the the Patriots would have taken a first over a second. Don't you? Whether or not the more complicated deal got started too late, who knows? The fact is New England didn't find quite the trade market for Cassel it expected, or at least it hoped for, proof that there are many league insiders out there who feel the first-time starter was a "system player'' who was surrounded by top talent on the field and off with a terrific coaching staff.

Maybe new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who came from New England, wanted to work with Cassel instead of Cutler. Maybe Belichick and the Patriots used a supposed trade possibility to leverage the Chiefs. Know this: Belichick and McDaniels didn't have a Belichick-Eric Mangini fallout. He's not driven to drive his former assistant into the ground, at least not in this setting.

But Cutler tells Mike Klis of the Denver Post that he's miffed. Maybe he's the one who wants out now. Bill Williamson of ESPN.com listed Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago as possible landing spots for Cutler. At this point, the Broncos are telling anyone who will listen that Cutler is not available. The team has reportedly schedule a sit down with him in what will likely be the first move by McDaniels to try to mend the relationship.

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John St. Clair isn't the only Bears player to reach the open market that the team wants back.

Add running back Kevin Jones to that list. The Bears have made him a contract offer but there is considerable interest in him right now. Jones told the Sun-Times that most of the teams in need of a back, including Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay have expressed interest in him. It's not known if he has fielded any other contract offers.

Jones said last season that he would like to return to the Bears even though he was used sparingly, getting just 34 carries and being a healthy inactive for a stretch of four games late in the year. He petitioned coach Lovie Smith for a chance to participate on special teams and then got back into the mix.

"I've have been telling you all along, and you may have thought, `This kid is crazy,' during last year, I want to come back to the Bears,'' Jones said. ``I like the staff, I like all the teammates. If you want an example of what an NFL team should be like, the coaching staff, everything, that's it. I'd love to be back but sometimes business gets in the way."

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