Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, March 10: A change of heart with Mike Brown?

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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?

There's not a person I know around the team who doesn't have high regard for Brown. It makes sense to move forward without him, however. No one can say what Brown has left in the tank. Everyone wants to see him continue but how can you have faith in the guy? I think if the Bears believed they could be confident about Brown moving forward, they would have offered him a deal. And again, Brown doesn't solve the free safety issue. Let's get that clear.


Q: Gerald Sensabaugh has signed with the Dallas Cowboys now on a one-year deal and the list of veteran secondary help, specifically at safety, is down to just a few names. I've read the Bears are interested in Darren Sharper to add depth. If not him, are the Bears interested in Roy Williams? Williams has had some arm injuries but provided he's healthy wouldn't he help? Can they sign someone?

Stephan K., Seattle

A: More safety questions. I never heard any indications the Bears could become a player for Sensabaugh. The one axiom that repeats itself every offseason is you never say never when it comes to the NFL. Raise your hand if last week you would have predicted Terrell Owens to be a match for Dick Jauron, Ralph Wilson and the Buffalo Bills. However, any connection that may have been made between Sharper and the Bears was merely a ploy by the player to drive up his price elsewhere or create a market for himself. The Bears were not in the market for Sharper, who like Brown, is best at strong safety at this point. It wouldn't matter if Williams' broken right forearm is as good as new. The issue with him is with his legs and his mobility. He's a serious liability in coverage. That's what the Bears are trying to avoid at safety and it's a good reason to seek an upgrade over Craig Steltz. The one thing the Bears probably feel they have done pretty well with is drafting defensive backs on the second day of the draft.

2002--Bobby Gray, fifth round. He stuck around for a little bit and it was kind of confusing when you had Gray, Mike Green and Mike Brown all in the secondary at one time.

2003--Todd Johnson
, fourth round. He was a serviceable strong safety who was a core special teams player.

2004--Nathan Vasher, fourth round. Made it to a Pro Bowl in his second season.

2005--Chris Harris
, sixth round. Harris or Adam Archuleta? Yes, they goofed on that evaluation.

2007--Kevin Payne, fifth round. Looks like he'll get the first crack at the strong safety job.

2007--Corey Graham, fifth round. He figures to have a leg up as the starter at right cornerback.

2007--Trumaine McBride, seventh round. It's no small feat for a seventh rounder to stick around for two seasons.

2008--Craig Steltz, fourth round. Right now, it looks like he opens minicamp as the free safety. We'll see next Tuesday.

2008--Zack Bowman, fifth round. He'll be in the mix for a backup job somewhere.

Jerry Angelo had his opportunity to strike for a playmaking safety. He could have dealt linebacker Lance Briggs to Washington in 2007 in exchange for the sixth pick in the draft, which he could have used to select LSU safety LaRon Landry. Keeping Briggs was the right move. The Bears need a free safety. Signing a player who cannot play free safety--like Williams or Sharper--doesn't solve the problem. Square peg. Round hole.


Q: What are your thoughts on how the Bears will improve what may have been the worst wide receiver group in the NFL last season? Many of the options in a weak free-agent market have signed on elsewhere. It seems unrealistic to expect dramatic improvement simply from elevating Earl Bennett (who for whatever reason could not get on the field last year) and adding a first-day draft pick who likely will not be one of the top-three prospects at the position given the Bears' draft position. Historically, rookie receivers generally don't make much of an impact that first year. In a make-or-break year for Kyle Orton in his contract season, are they going to give him some more weapons?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: This is a popular topic right now. You make some solid points because depending on your running back, who led the team in receptions, and tight ends is no way to prop up a passing game. From the outside looking in, it appears the Bears are working to strengthen their running game. They've fortified the offensive line and will probably do more if they re-sign John St. Clair and select a tackle high in the draft. They're not going to pay Kevin Jones $2 million this season to get a good view of the games. But, yes, Orton needs some more help. The Bears' quarterbacks have for years. Now, the offensive production didn't really dip last season with Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, but that doesn't mean it was acceptable. At this point, I don't know what you do other than hope for some improvement from within. More important than Bennett is going to be the development of Hester. He needs to get better first and foremost. But beyond that, I don't have any magical answers here. I'm not going to tell you the Bears are going to chase Torry Holt when (not if) he's cut loose from the St. Louis Rams if I don't think it will happen. Am I ruling it out? No. It looks like there could be a sizeable market for Holt right away, including the New York Jets and Tennessee. Remember, the Bears could run down the block waving cash at him all day but if he's not interested in the Bears, all they're going to do is get exhaust fumes in their face. This question can be posed about 20 different ways. I wish I had an answer that provided a better picture of the future.


Q: My question still remains. With the lack of young, solid starting wide receivers that are or were on the list of unrestricted free agents, I still cant understand the lack of interest in Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals recently acquired Bryant McFadden, meaning the needed a cornerback. The Bears had perfect trade bait in Nathan Vasher and draft picks which could have helped fuel a trade for Boldin. I understand Jerry Angelo's philosophy in building through the draft and not overpaying for 30-plus-year-olds or underachieving role playing wide receivers but why would they not try to acquire this young solid starter? Yes, he is going to demand a large contract but so is a rookie wide receiver drafted in the top 20. They have the cap room to give Boldin the contract he wants and it eliminates the need to draft and or develop a rookie wide receiver or a second-year receiver like Earl Bennett. If the Bears want Devin Hester to develop into a true No. 1 receiver he needs a solid contributor on the opposite side not a another project. If they made the trade they could then concentrate on getting line and secondary help in the draft. Why not Boldin?

Joe Q., Parts Unknown

A: Joe, you put together a compelling case and make some observant points. If the Bears could eliminate some of their real needs before the draft it would make life easier for them in the draft. I completely agree that paying for a known quantity like Boldin is a far smarter investment than throwing dollars at a rookie wide receiver in the draft. Now, picking at No. 18 the Bears are not looking at the kind of burdensome contract they had to write Cedric Benson in 2005, one that took nearly $14 million out of the McCaskeys' vault.

But your argument falls apart in a couple key areas, kind of like the Bears' playoff chances crumbled before their eyes in Houston in the final week of the regular season. Let's just assume, or better yet, pretend for a minute the Cardinals are indeed interested in moving Boldin.

"The Bears had perfect trade bait in Nathan Vasher ... "

Perfect for who? The Bears and no one else. What type of trade value do believe exists for Vasher right now? He's an awful long ways removed from one Pro Bowl season. He's played in 12 games over the last two seasons. I'm not saying Vasher, at 27, cannot turn things around and be a very good cornerback in this league again. But he hasn't been able to do the first thing, which is stay on the field, lately. Vasher and what bounty of draft picks brings Boldin? McFadden, a starter for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, is going to compete for a starting job in Arizona. Do you realistically think the Cardinals are going to part with one of the top-10 receivers in the game for Vasher and draft picks? Why trade Boldin when you can get McFadden without parting with compensation? They signed him to a $10 million, two-year contract. That's a modest price if he turns into a starter for there after he missed a handful of games last season with a broken forearm.

At this point, I don't believe the Cardinals are going to try to trade Boldin. It doesn't make a lot of sense to trade away one of the best players in the game. He's got two years remaining on his contract. It would be a better move to see if they can, at some point, work out a new deal for him.

You make some other good points about developing Hester with an unknown across from him. I agree. You just can't call Vasher "perfect trade bait" or even just "trade bait" at this point. That looks like a sweetheart deal from the Bears' perspective because it is.

Thank you for all of the participation and questions. We'll get back to the mailbag and Four Down Territory again on Wednesday. Send in your questions.


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16 Comments

Absolutely no better than .500 in 09.Angelo's picks are going to catch up w/ him. Hope I'm wrong (about the .500 record that is)...

Brad,

What do think of Orlando Pace as a Bear?

I feel sorry for Brad Biggs. He covers a team that doesn't make any news, so he has to borrow news from other teams.

I truly believe that Jerry Angelo is now paying for his draft mistake of taking Cedic Benson, by having the McCaskeys take away his "open checkbook", he can no longer try to buy hinself a winner, he must draft one, and if that`s the case, then Jerry is as good as gone. He has proven time and again, that he cannot make the right pick in the first round, that will help the team progress toward being a playoff caliber team, and the McCaskeys are now taking notice of this fact. I believe that Virginia McCaskey has already said those words that we all have been longing to hear, " Mr. Phillips, please find a replacement for Mr. Angelo". I am also getting the feeling that Mr.Angelo will be trading down from the 18th pick, because, "we just felt that we could get better value by moving down a few places, and still the getting the player we had targeted( or whomever is the rated player at that pick), and even add a couple of additional picks as well." (Translation)
"We have no idea of who to pick, so were going to take the best available when it`s our turn."

Q#1 Why not bring back Brown as backup to Payne at Strong Safety, utilizing Brown as mentor to both Payne and whomever the new Free Safety will be? It is apparent that Angelo thinks Steltz can be the Free Safety, I don't but he does. Then if we draft a starting caliber free safety or a developmental free safety in the draft, you are covered at both positions. At strong safety last year Brown was the hardest hitting guy on the team, made some great plays and contributed over 100 tackles.

Brad on the entire Defense last year who had a better year than Mike Brown? Maybe Alex Brown and Briggs, certainly not Harris or Urlacher or either corner or Ogunleye. Nose tackle nope. The Defense sucked last year in general, but Brown played well for the majority of the year.

Without Mike Brown back, the only chance this D has next year is by moving Tillman to Free Safety with Graham and Vasher at each corner and Manning at nickel, no Manning is not capable of free safety and kickoff return, maybe if he is off the return team? Payne is the strong safety, do the Bears really believe that Steltz is a free safety, he is way too slow although he might be a good strong safety? And do the Bears truly believe they are going to draft the next starting free safety this year, yeah right, maybe if they trade down to get him, but not at #18 and the best ones will be gone by the second round. Kevin, the Notre Dame kid is looking better all the time at free safety.

Remember Lovie has the Tillman thing in his mind. He said no, no never but then he also said, you would have to check out his shoulders first to even consider this move. Guess what he is considering this move and he would be smart to make the move of Tillman to free safety.

Brad,
I believe all teams are required to spend up to a certain percent of the salary cap on players contracts. How much is each team required to allocate to players contracts and where do the Bears stand compared to most teams? Also, out of curiosity, what team allocates the most toward player contracts?
Thanks,
Dave from Iowa

Brad why are Zack Bowman or Corey Graham not being considered for the FS job? Both have the size and speed to play the position and both are better in coverage than Steltz. I can get not moving Graham over if the Bears plan on him being the number 2 CB, but what harm could it do to try Bowman there? At least it gives some in house competition at the position. It's a speed oriented defense it would nice to have some actual speed in the secondary.

Bowman: 6'1" 200 pounds 4.38, 40
Graham: 6'0" 195 pounds 4.42, 40

Steltz: 6'1" 205 pounds 4.59, 40
Payne: 6'0" 220 pounds 4.60, 40
Payne was a FS in college and my guess is thats the position he was drafted to play "oops".

"2007--Trumaine McBride, seventh round. It's no small feat for a seventh rounder to stick around for two seasons."

Thats not true. Special teams is the magical land were late round draft picks and misfit players go to find a home.

Almost forgot Brad, how have the Bears fortified there offensive line? I am curious because they don't have a starting RT and so far have lost two starters from last year and gained 1 backup who has played one game in 4 years. Is that really your idea of fortifying the line?

You said?
"They've fortified the offensive line and will probably do more if they re-sign John St. Clair and select a tackle high in the draft."

If it's and but's, were candy and nuts my friend, the Bears would have a great team.

So Brad, who you crappin?

Creighton:

I could see Graham at Free Safety if Vasher can get back to form and Tillman on the other corner, although I still think Tillman seems a step slower than a few years ago and may be a better fit at Free Safety.

Bowman is an injury risk, has not stayed healthy one year since college sophmore days, better at corner.

How bout Ogunleye for Boldin? Throw in necessary draft picks to even the deal if needed. Ogunleye is a decent pass rusher not great. Throw in a draft pick or two to sweeten the deal. I believe Arizona is in need of DEs. Then we can draft a DE instead of a WR in the first 2 rounds to replace Ogunleye and compete with Anderson for the starting job.

"Brown isn't the answer to their strong safety needs."
Um, I assume Brad meant he's not the answer at free safety. If he could stay healthy he's far better than any strong safety they have. Unfortunately, he can't stay healthy. But Dalilama has it right: the Bears should have kept Brown as a backup and player/coach. With his leadership skills, dedication to winning and to the Bears, and football intelligence, cutting him was just another typical idiotic move by a team that shows no gratitude toward players who deserve it.

"They've fortified the offensive line ..."
Huh? By signing one backup lineman? And St. Clair isn't even signed yet. If anything, the line could be worse than it was last year. Chris Williams had better pan out or this line will be a disaster.

Creighton,

What Brad meant is that the bears added another abled body to the offensive line. That is how I read it. I expect and I think Brad expects for the Bears to draft a right tackle on the first day of the draft. Why are you trying to pick a fight where there is no fight needed.

On Zack and Corey consideration for FS job. Firstly, that would make the corner position a little weaker. Second, you are looking at a one year experiment, not knowing if it will work or not. Don't think it is an experiment? Dare I say the word Hester? How about moving Manning around to different positions over the years to try to fit him in.

Dave,
You can find most of your answers to players salaries here..

What is behind the NFL Salary Cap?
Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, however, players are guaranteed a minimum of 50% of Total Revenues at least through 2009.
http://www.nflplayers.com/user/template.aspx?fmid=181&lmid=237&pid=0&type=l

GSH: "How bout Ogunleye for Boldin? Throw in necessary draft picks to even the deal if needed. Ogunleye is a decent pass rusher not great. Throw in a draft pick or two to sweeten the deal. I believe Arizona is in need of DEs. Then we can draft a DE instead of a WR in the first 2 rounds to replace Ogunleye and compete with Anderson for the starting job."

Umm, hate to point out the glaring flaw in your plan but the "necessary draft picks to even the deal if needed" would have to be at least a 2nd-round pick. I keep seeing people overvaluing the talent on the Bears. Who in the hell would swap a premium, 28-yo WR with 3 Pro-Bowls for a 31-yo pass rusher who hasn't made the Pro-Bowl since 2003 and has had only 2 double-digit sack years in his 8-year career? Let's be realistic.

Dahlilama: "Remember Lovie has the Tillman thing in his mind. He said no, no never but then he also said, you would have to check out his shoulders first to even consider this move. Guess what he is considering this move and he would be smart to make the move of Tillman to free safety."

In that you just answered your own question. Why would you ever consider taking your best CB with TWO BAD SHOULDERS and moving him to Free Safety? He goes from a position of light-contact to the possibility of having to make contact on every single play. How is that a smart move?

"Gee Charles, you're shoulders are so banged up you couldn't make it through last season? Oh, I know! How about we move you to a position that has twice as much contact involved that'll help right?!?"

Where'd you get your PHD, Dr. Mengala?

Val I know what Brad meant, but this place has been duller than dull of late so I have been stiring the pot so to speak. People have been asking the same questions over an over I just thought I would mix it up a little.

Coach, Dahli I don't expect the Tillman move many know I have been talking about it for a long time as I see Tillman as an excellent FS playing as a decent CB. I like Graham at the position if Vasher comes back but I am not expecting Vasher to return to form. I hope he does but I don't see it.

Besides I droped Tillman to FS along with his shoulder, I don't think he is that good of a Corner, he plays in a friendly scheme to corners much like it is friendly to the WIL LB. Corners in the T2 don't have to cover as much but need to be better aginst the run, they are very much like FS's on other teams. He gets killed in man coverage and the better WR in the league usually eat him up. That is not a number one corner. Yes he has lost a step but so has most of the defense.

Da Church:

SOmetimes you actually make some good suggestions about the Bears. But what I do not get is why you think it is OK to just take personal shots and inject insults at people all the time? Don't you realize that by calling people names or infering their lack of football acumen, that they are stupid only exemplifies your own ignorance.

Chuch why can't we just argue football and keep the personal stuff on the sidelines with Terrell Owens?

Church, you actually make a good point about Tillman's shoulders and I do agree that his shoulders would have to check out fine after surgery for him to be considered as a free safety.

As for contact at Free Safety vs Corner? I would rate the contact at both as about the same. The corners are always tied up on just about each play and in the mix, the Free Safety need to make the big hits over the middle and down the field and be the last stop of a running back gone wild, but the Strong safety is the position that really takes the pounding, not Free Safety.

Graham could be a great Free Safety but I believe of the three corners Vasher, Tillman and Graham that he is becoming the best if he isn't already?

Brad,
w/ the pot being stirred in Denver,(and I know you posted a couple days ago how it will never happen) can a Cutler deal still be in the makings?

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on March 10, 2009 2:15 PM.

Four Down Territory, March 9: Could Brandon Lloyd catch on again? was the previous entry in this blog.

Boomer Sooner: Bears check in on OU, Loadholt is the next entry in this blog.

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