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.
"So he is a little bit bound to his draft picks where you've got to exhaust every opportunity to make that guy work before you surrender and try something else. I just want to get that framework up there before we start killing Jerry,'' Kirwan continued. "Tim and I have a personal experience, we know Jerry pretty well. Jerry is not going to sit there and hold court with the media and give you everything you wanted to know because he's got too many sensitive subjects and he's got too many issues where he can't expose to you what he wants to do and I'm not going to cite the one that we had a conversation with him about, but he was absolutely sick to his stomach that something might be going on that he couldn't control because he didn't have the cash to do it.''
Now, the first thing to note here is that Kirwan didn't go into detail of when this conversation took place with Angelo, who has been on board nearly eight years. He didn't say it was this week, last week, this offseason, this year, or if it took place in some previous year. What this insinuates is that Angelo has been inactive at one moment, at least, when his hands were tied by higher management or ownership. Because of money. That's tricky business, or thrifty business as the case may be.
When reached Wednesday, Angelo declined comment on Kirwan's remarks. Through a spokesman at Sirius, Kirwan also declined an interview request.
A team source did say that Angelo has not been prevented from making any move this offseason because of financial considerations. Thus far, the Bears have one signing to show for free agency--offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, who signed a four-year contract worth between $11.5 million and $14 million. They're not the only team to be doing more looking than shopping when it comes to free agency.
While Angelo declined comment to the Sun-Times, he did discuss free agency on the team's Web site Wednesday. Specifically, he addressed why the Bears were bystanders in the T.J. Houshmandzadeh sweepstakes and why they were not a player for veteran safety Brian Dawkins.
"Houshmandzadeh is a fine receiver. Would we have entertained him? Yes, but we wanted to see what his marketplace was. In this case, we felt like [what he received from the Seahawks] was an exorbitant amount of money. Remember, he was a No. 2 in Cincinnati. That's not to say that what Seattle did wasn't right for them; their situation is different in my mind than ours. They had an inordinate amount of injuries with receivers and they felt like they needed to get somebody that was established and healthy.
"A lot of teams would have liked to have had Houshmandzadeh. But he's going to be 32 in '09 and the price that you're paying for that receiver we felt was very high. You have to look at economics when you look at players. Who doesn't want Houshmandzadeh? But you have to look at the economics: What are the implications to the cap going forward and what does that prevent us from doing in other areas within our team and/or in free agency?
"With Brian Dawkins, he's 35 years old. He's a great player, but Philadelphia put a limit on what they were going to pay him and they know him the best. You have to understand that it's not just, `Do you want the player?' Certainly there are players out there, but at what cost? And what does that cost do to your salary cap and to other things you may want to do internally and/or in free agency?
"You have to be patient as you go through this process. It's not a matter of not wanting to spend the money. The cap is how you want to allocate the money. When we look at a player, we have to put a value on that player, and then we have to stay disciplined to stay within those parameters. With 14 players being franchised, it makes free agency less attractive, and the players that do get out in free agency are making an exorbitant amount of money because it's a supply and demand business.''
To put the contracts in perspective, Houshmandzadeh received a $40 million, five-year deal from the Seahawks with $15 million guaranteed. Dawkins also got a five-year deal, and while the length is not as significant, Denver guaranteed $7.2 million of a $17 million package.
Team president Ted Phillips discussed the franchise's vision last month when also addressing the ticket price freeze. He said the weakened economy would not affect Angelo's football budget.
"The short answer is no,'' Phillips said. "We've set that budget for the cash that we can spend on players. It's typically pegged right around the cap and so it will be again this year."
Maybe a more significant figure to look at in this instance is committed cash. That's a figure the NFL Management Council keeps for every team. It tracks how much money a team pays out to players every season, including base pay, bonuses, incentives, the works. The salary cap is a different figure. For instance, Cedric Benson will count more than $2.5 million vs. the Bears' cap this season, but the running back won't receive a nickel from the team. They're not committing any cash to Benson in 2009.
This past season, the Bears ranked at the bottom of the top half of the league in committed cash. The belief is they were 16th. It's a figure that moves around from year to year. During the 2006 Super Bowl season, the Bears were in the bottom seven. No team spent more on extensions for their own players this last year than the Bears with Angelo writing more than $185 million in contracts with more than $50 million guaranteed. The Bears just didn't spend on players outside Halas Hall.
According to a report in the Washington Post, the Redskins entered the 2008 season No. 1 in the league in terms of committed cash at $747 million since 2000. They were followed, in order, by Indianapolis, Baltimore, Dallas and New England in the top five. The Colts, Ravens and Patriots have combined for five Lombardi Trophies in that time. Of course, New England owns three of them, but the Redskins haven't sniffed the title game. Neither have the Cowboys.
Here are the top 13 teams from 2008 in terms of payroll, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle last month:
1. N.Y. Jets
2. New Orleans
10. N.Y. Giants
12. St. Louis
13. San Francisco
Three of those teams reached the postseason. Seven had coaching changes after the season.
The Bears have contract offers out to running back Kevin Jones and offensive lineman John St. Clair. Say what you want, just don't say you were surprised. Angelo made it clear entering free agency the Bears were not going to be lavish spenders. He hasn't stood alone in assessing what has been a watered-down crop of available players either.