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.''
The four Angelo refers to includes Maualuga, Ohio State's James Laurinaitis, and we'll assume Wake Forest's Aaron Curry and Maualuga's USC teammate Brian Cushing are the other two. Well, USC's Clay Matthews has been looking good and it's just a group that many think will produce some impact players. That raises the question of what do the Bears do if one of the linebackers drops to No. 18 and the Bears have a high grade on them? Say they have a higher grade on the linebacker than any other position on the board, and say the difference is substantial. What do you do? Certainly at some point the club will have to begin to lay the groundwork for replacing Urlacher. With the list of needs in place, that's certainly not near the top. Curry figures to definitely be off the board. As far as the others, I don't know if there is a consensus.
Maualuga could make it into the middle of the first round. Laurinaitis didn't fare well at the scouting combine and his stock is going the wrong way. Realistically, both probably would have been better served to have come out as juniors last year. I don't think either one can say they improved their position by staying in school and the lost income is certainly money they'll never recoup. There's no question there will be a few linebackers with pretty good resumes on the board when the Bears choose. They would have to have an excellent grade on one of them to make the move and justify not addressing needs at other positions, that's for sure. The linebacker would then need to have a nice start to his career or pressure would mount. No question.
Q: I've heard that 2010 is an uncapped year if the collective bargaining agreement is not re-negotiated by the end of this football year. But I've also heard that the NFL owners would be unlikely to actually lockout the players until 2011. Why is this? Is the uncapped year still part of the current agreement?
Tom S., Chicago
A: The agreement calls for the final year to be uncapped after the owners voted to opt out early. That is what will make 2010 an uncapped year provided a resolution isn't reached. Yes, owners are making noise there will be a work stoppage in 2011 in the form of a lockout. Players have threatened that if they go to an uncapped year they'll never go back to a salary cap system. Here's hoping it doesn't get to a work stoppage, something that fouled up the sport in the 1980's.
Q: Now that Cedric Benson has ensured the Cincinnati Bengals are going nowhere fast, and he's in a position to show them what he proved to the Bears for so long, that he didn't care, how much money did he run off with?
Charles E., Madison, Wis.
A: The simple answer is Benson collected just under $13.8 million from the Bears from the rookie contract he received as the fourth pick of the 2005 draft. While that seems like a staggering amount for his production--1,593 yards and 10 touchdowns--it's far from the money he could have collected had he maxed out the deal. The total value of the contract was $29.96 million, although to have hit that number he would have had to have been a perennial Pro Bowl back. Benson received a $4 million signing bonus, a $7.1 million option bonus, a $1.44 million roster bonus and then from there is was just base salaries for the seasons 2005 through 2007. When Benson broke his left leg late in 2007 against Denver, it cost him a pretty penny. He finished the season with 674 rushing yards, 27 short of triggering a conditional roster bonus worth $1.73 million. So while the deal contained $16 million in guaranteed money, it wasn't all, well, guaranteed. Benson never reached some easy provisions to trigger some payments and thus left with just less than $13.8 million. He signed in Cincinnati on Tuesday for $7 million over two seasons.
Q: What could possibly be holding up the Bears from re-signing John St. Clair? If they're not going to go out and get another player like Khalif Barnes, why wait around on this?
Jeremy A., Lincoln, Neb.
A: That's a good question and the answer lies somewhere between St. Clair and the organization. The Bears made him a contract offer on Feb. 13. After that, St. Clair's side came back with a counter offer. That's where the process left off, at least as far as I know, so I am not sure you can say any "negotiating" has actually taken place yet. The sides have essentially just exchanged proposals, probably ones that weren't very well received by the other party in each case. I don't have any first-hand knowledge, but a fair guess is St. Clair wants to wait and see what happens in the market. Barnes has been linked to Oakland as a possibility. Here's an interesting list compiled here by the Sporting News list of 10 intriguing free agents under 30, one spot where you will find Barnes. Marvel Smith also remains on the market and he's been linked to Baltimore and Oakland, as well. Perhaps, and this is just an idea, St. Clair gets a better idea of his place in the marketplace after these players sign. Otherwise, maybe he's in a good ol' fashioned stare down with the Bears right now. He knows they don't want to go to mandatory minicamp in less than two weeks with Cody Balogh, an undrafted free agent from Montana last year, lining up at right tackle with the starters. That's not a knock on Balogh, it's just the truth. If the Bears want to look at Frank Omiyale at guard first, they need to get a tackle on board before minicamp.
Thanks for the participation and thanks as always for reading. Fire in your questions right here or by e-mail. We'll dive back into the mailbag again Thursday.