We are one-third of the way into May and I don't know if I can recall a year when there has been this much football news hopping at this time of the year. There are some intriguing roster options out there. Let's get right to the mailbag and see if we can sort some issues out.
Q: was released Friday and I know the Bears and Lovie Smith wouldn't mind a productive veteran to round out their linebacker group. Is there any chance Chicago would go for him? Lovie is familiar with him from his days in St. Louis and he led the Rams in tackles last year. Does he play Hunter Hillenmeyer's or is it Nick Roach's spot? Or are the Bears trying to figure out if they're still a draft-driven team?
Sean Q, Arcata, Calif.
A: I don't think there is any question Tinoisamoa will be of interest to the Bears. As Smith likes to say, they're always exploring ways to make themselves a better football team. Given Tinoisamoa's track record with not just Smith but with defensive coordinator Bob Babich as well, he is someone that will surely come up in conversation at Halas Hall. It was somewhat of a surprise move that the Rams let him go last week after he led the team in tackles for four of six seasons but new coach Steve Spagnuolo is seeking bigger linebackers for his system. As Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointed out, Tinoisamoa is listed at 6-1, 240 pounds, but he played at closer to 220 pounds last season. That didn't stop him from leading the team with 135 tackles. Tinoisamoa, who turns 28 in July, became the first rookie in franchise history to lead the team in tackles in 2003, Smith's final season in St. Louis when Babich was with him as linebackers coach. He made 121 tackles and added three interceptions and two sacks. He did so playing strong-side linebacker.
Tinoisamoa moved to weak side in 2004 after Smith departed but went back to strong side in 2005 and made 15 more starts there. He would be an interesting addition and if he came on board you would have to imagine he would immediately be the starter at strong side, pushing Roach to a backup role and putting Hillenmeyer into a position where he would be challenged to make the roster. Roach replaced Hillenmeyer during the season last year and they are expected to battle for the starting job right now, but Hillenmeyer has yet to fully heal up and with Roach promoted over him last year, he has to have the edge going in. Pursuing Tinoisamoa wouldn't alter any draft-driven plans at strong-side linebacker. Hillenmeyer was signed as a waived free agent and Roach was plucked off the Chargers' practice squad. There should be a handful of teams interested in Tinoisamoa and the New England Patriots could be one according to the Boston Globe. The Bears would have to pay some for his services too and the question that would need to be answered is how much the club wants to pay for a two-down player? He may have stayed on the field in the nickel package in St. Louis, but we don't see Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs coming off the field in the nickel package. It's worth keeping an eye on him.
Q: I really like that the Bears are checking out tight end Michael Gaines and seem to be recruiting him to come to Chicago. They missed John Gilmore as a blocking tight end last season more than anyone cared to acknowledge. What are the chances they sign Gaines and fix a mistake from a year ago?
Ralph D., Yuma, Ariz.
A: That's a good question and I wish I could give you a definitive answer. The Bears are entertaining Gaines today at Halas Hall and at this point it looks like they are in competition with only the New York Jets for his services. From the looks of things, the Jets have a much greater need for Gaines than the Bears. Gaines would be in a position to compete and possibly beat out Kellen Davis, last year's fifth-round pick, for a job as the third tight end here. He's not going to pass Greg Olsen on the depth chart and despite the suggestion of some e-mailers, Desmond Clark will not become trade bait if Gaines comes on board. Gaines would be a third tight end and probably the team's best option at the Y position. However, the Jets have Dustin Keller, who enjoyed a fine rookie season, and no other tight ends. They brought in a handful of undrafted rookie free agents but Gaines would face no competition for a job there and could quickly assume the No. 2 role. That being said, Gaines left the Jets after a visit last week without receiving a contract offer. It could be New York is keeping its cards close to the vest and waiting for the Bears to make a move because there really are not many options remaining in free agency. That leads you to the question what is Gaines worth, or what is he worth to the Bears? We might be able to learn something from what the club offered John Gilmore as a free agent 15 months ago. However, we're going to be looking at an offer the club made one of the more respected blocking tight ends in the league. The Bears put a three-year deal on the table for Gilmore with a $1 million signing bonus and they offered him the minimum salary for each season, a package that came to $2.765 million. Tampa Bay had the same signing bonus for him and bumped the base salaries to bring its offer to just more than $3.5 million. Gilmore departed. Now, the interesting thing is that the Bears were willing to offer that contract to Gilmore even though he played just 149 snaps in 2007, or less than 15 percent of the time. It's fair to wonder if the third tight end will be less utilized now with Jay Cutler on board and Olsen and Clark dominating so much of the playing time at the position. That would minimize the value of Gaines' role more. The Bears are not in a position where they are going to pay handsomely for a third tight end who isn't guaranteed a roster spot. Gaines, who has played for three teams in the last three seasons, will not come close to the $10 million, four-year contract he received from Detroit last season, an offer that reportedly included $3 million guaranteed. Our best is the Jets aren't willing to pay that much, either, or else they would have put a contract in front of him when he visited. Certainly he has value to the Bears but at what price? Stay tuned
Q: The recent tragedy at the Cowboys' indoor practice facility led me to wonder about the safety of the Walter Payton Center, the Bears' indoor practice facility. This article about the Dolphins' facility talks about how the Dolphins' facility is an air-supported bubble that is much safer than the Cowboys' facility because it doesn't have a steel frame. My understanding is that the Walter Payton Center has a steel frame. Have any players, coaches or front office personnel expressed concern in the last week about the safety of the Walter Payton Center? Will it undergo additional testing in light of the recent tragedy? Is there any talk of possibly replacing it with an air-supported bubble?
Mark S., Parts Unknown
A: The Walter Payton Center is a rigid structure with a rigid roof. It does not have a fabric-covered roof supported by steel arches or anything like that. In fact, in the last few years the organization replaced the roof of the facility when it was less than 10 years old and upgraded it. A team spokesman said there are no concerns about the building's durability in light of the incident in Dallas. The Bears are pro-active when it comes to storms and their players. The camera operators who tape practice from high above the fields on cranes have lightning monitors with them. At the first sign of trouble, the cranes come down and the players and team personnel head inside.
Q: With all the talk about free safety, I was wondering what Danieal Manning's status is? Is he still a corner, and if so, how come nobody is talking about him as the nickel corner? I hope the Bears aren't just using him as a kick returner as that would be a serious waste of talent and a high second-round pick. Why not put him back at free safety once and for all? He has the best physical tools (speed) for that position on the team and they already have better corner depth than most teams in the league. Why not at least give Manning a shot at free safety?
Andrew G., Parts Unknown
A: The Bears list Manning as a free safety on their roster but he is expected to remain as the nickel cornerback. Smith mentioned Manning as a possibility as a free safety when we asked him about the position at the end of rookie minicamp recently. The Bears have tried Manning at free safety multiple times and it just hasn't worked out real well. Remember the wide-open touchdown Houston's Andre Johnson scored in the season finale last year? It was the result of blown coverage. Granted, Manning had not been playing safety leading into that game. But he excelled in the nickel role last season. Smith has again appointed himself as the position coach for nickel backs and our guess here is Smith wants the best player available for the role. That is probably Manning. He'll play there and remain the kick returner but that doesn't mean the Bears have gotten good return on their investment of the draft pick to this point as you note.
Thanks for all of the participation and thanks as always for reading. We're not exactly sure what our full schedule will be this week but we will get to another Four Down Territory on Tuesday. Get your questions in soon.