Chicago Sun-Times

March 2012 Archives

Bears sign WR Devin Thomas to one-year deal

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The Bears have signed receiver Devin Thomas to a one-year deal, the team announced Wednesday night.

Thomas was a second-round pick of the Washington Redskins in 2008 out of Michigan State, where he had an eye-popping junior year, wit 79 catches for 1,260 yards and eight touchdowns.

In the NFL, though, he's mostly been a special teams player; he has 43 career catches for 468 yards and three touchdowns.

In the NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers, Thomas had two fumble recoveries, one of them in overtime to set up the game-winner. He also returns kickoffs, although he hasn't scored a touchdown and has a modest career average of 24.1 yards per.

He is 6 foot 2, 221 pounds.

Bears coach Lovie Smith had a simple explanation for why his club signed veteran running back Michael Bush.

It wasn't to send a message to Matt Forte, and it wasn't to discourage Kahlil Bell.

"I feel comfortable with Kahlil in the No. 2 role," Smith said. "But wouldn't we even be stronger, with Kahlil still here, and Michael Bush? It's just about the strength in the numbers, as much as anything.

"Look at what Kahlil Bell has done," Smith said. "When no one else wanted Kahlil Bell, we brought him into our place. We've played him, and we've kept him for a reason. The combination of Matt Forte and Kahlil Bell is good. But Matt Forte, Kahlil Bell and Michael Bush is even better."

Smith, though, expressed gratitude for Marion Barber, who retired after his one and only season with the Bears. Barber did several positive things last season, but he had two key gaffes in the Bears loss in Denver.

"First off, Marion Barber was great for our football team," Smith said. "Didn't know anything about him. But he came in and did everything I wanted him to be. It was hard to talk to him about calling quits and moving on with the next phase of his life. But as far as the role Michael is going into, it's a similar role. But Michael brings even more."

Smith said Bush is a complete back, one capable of running between the tackles, outside of the tackles, catching passes out of the backfield, blocking and even making people miss.

"You're trying to improve your ball club. That's what we're trying to do. We lost a good player in Marion Barber, and we tried to replace him with a good player, and we did that with Michael Bush," Smith said.

Smith did say Bell needs to protect the football better.

"We're concerned. Kahlil can't fumble the ball that much, as well as he played, especially in that Green Bay game. He put the ball on the ground twice," Smith said. "You can't do that. And he knows that. That's something for him to work on. There's a process you go through."

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In Lovie Smith's eyes, the Bears are fine standing pat on the offensive line.

"We like the group of offensive linemen we have right now, with what we're going to do with them, we think we can be very successful with them," Smith said. "With that said, you're always - right up until the opening week - if there's someone who can improve us we're going to look at it seriously."

Smith said, in essence, the Bears are getting two new players.

"Chris Williams in there. Gabe Carimi in there. I'm excited about getting them back into the mix," the Bears coach said of two players who missed most of the 2011 season.

The Bears addressed several key holes during free agency, adding a No. 1 receiver (Brandon Marshall), a No. 2 quarterback (Jason Campbell) and a No. 2 running back (Michael Bush). They also have re-signed a couple players and added a few other free agents.

But questions remain about the quality of the Bears offensive line. While he didn't close the door on possibly adding to the unit, Smith also insisted that he's comfortable with his current group. And he -- on several instances -- backed left tackle J'Marcus Webb.

First, Smith said Carimi's rehab is going well and that he will be ready for offseason activities. But when asked if Carimi will remain at right tackle, Smith said, "Good starting spot would be the right side, then we'll see how it all plays out, see who we end up getting.

"We feel comfortable with J'Marcus at left tackle. Gabe could probably play left tackle. But we have plenty of time for all of that. That'll work itself out."

Last season, though, Webb struggled mightily at left tackle. He had 15 penalties and, according to Pro Football Focus, allowed 12 sacks, the second-highest total among NFL tackles. In defending Webb, though, Smith suggested the young player -- a former seventh-round pick -- didn't get enough help.

That was what others around the league said was a key problem: Offensive coordinator Mike Martz counted on Webb to handle defensive ends alone far too often.

"I'd say any tackle can look bad at times. There are some things you have to do to help him out a little bit more, at times, which we plan to do," Smith said. "So you can make a case and throw out stats on what he did. But, I think it's hard for all tackles by themselves in the league to block Julius Peppers from time to time. We feel we've got a good plan at the left tackle position. I'll say that."

Asked if they could still bring someone in, Smith said, "We'll keep all options open right now.

"But, if we end up playing J'Marcus Webb at left tackle, we'd feel comfortable with that."

Meanwhile, Smith said Williams could play any position but center.

"Except for center, which he played a little bit in college, you could make a case for him at guard or tackle," Smith said. "Maybe a better case at guard, but you could say tackle, too.

"All those things will answer themselves a little bit later on."

My belief is, Williams could be given an opportunity to compete with Webb at left tackle. Between Lance Louis, Chris Spencer and Edwin Williams and a possible draft pick, the Bears should be able to do fine at guard. And Roberto Garza, who signed a contract extension late in the season, will return at center. Williams could be tossed into the guard mix, but he may be given a chance to push Webb at left tackle.

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Bears coach Lovie Smith said he's optimistic that Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte's contract status will be resolved in the next couple of months.

"My glass is always half full," Smith said from the NFC coaches breakfast this morning. "Everything you've ever heard from us, Matt Forte is our running back. In the offseason, negotiations go on. That's the time to take care of your contract situation, in the offseason. That's where we're at right now.

"Matt Forte hasn't missed anything that we've had here," Smith said later. "I think it's a little bit early. This is the offseason, and these things go on in the offseason."

Here are a few more questions and answers related to Forte:

Q: Do you wish Matt Forte's displeasure was more reigned in?
A: We're grown men, that make men decisions on how you want to handle a situation. I don't get too deep into that. I look at the offseason as a time to negotiate. You do it different ways.

Matt's been here a long time. He doesn't feel good about his contract situation, so he voiced that. It's no more than that. I don't make too big a deal about it. I've been in Chicago for a long time. I've seen a lot of contract situations go on.

In the end, if you know the person, you normally come to a good understanding, and that's what we'll do.

Sean Payton disappointed in himself

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PALM BEACH, Fla. -- New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who attended Naperville Central and Eastern Illinois, spoke candidly about his role in his team's bounty scandal Tuesday morning at the NFL Owners meeting.

"You're disappointed in yourself that it got to this point then then I think we're trained as coaches to begin preparation right away," Payton said. "I find myself reflecting on it. You go through a lot of emotions."

Payton was suspended a year for his role in the bounty scandal, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the coach has until April 2 to file an appeal.

Payton hasn't decided whether he will or not.

"I'm trying to get through all of that very quickly and then I think by the end of this month we'll make the decision on that," he said.

As for rumors that he's asked Bill Parcells to coach the Saints, Payton said he speaks to his mentor every offseason.

"We'll be considering all options," Payton said.

As for his future, Payton said he certainly would return to the Saints for the 2013 season.

Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips told the Sun-Times Monday evening that the club has made Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte a "strong offer" and the they're hopeful he'll accept it.

"I think not only do we appreciate him and have told him so, but I think the offer we've made him shows that, too. Now, different people can disagree on the ultimate value," Phillips said. "But we feel we've made a strong offer to him, and are still hopeful he accepts it."

Forte expressed his frustration after the club signed Michael Bush to a four-year contract late last week. But, Phillips said the team needs a "complementary" back and reiterated that the Bears have no intention of trading or parting ways with Forte.

"Matt Forte is our No. 1 running back. He's been told that, and he knows that. We all know that. He's going to be a Bear for 2012, at least," Phillips said. "He knows he has a long-term offer on the table, and we hope, at some point and time, he chooses to accept that."

Asked about some trade rumors, Phillips said, "I'm not going to comment on rumors.

"But, they're all just rumors. Matt, who's been a big part of our team, we want him to be a big part of our team this year."

Phillips said Forte has been excellent for the club, both on and off the field.

"If he continues to play the way he has," Phillips said. "I hope he continues to play here a long time."

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Earlier today, in an interview with reporters at the NFL Owners meeting, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross noted how much accessible and open his organization would be toward the media.

Only there was one topic he wasn't too interested in addressing.

A longtime Dolphins season-ticket holder told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel about a recent conversation in which Ross told him that his team was going to release him, if they couldn't find a trade partner.

"[Ross] said they had been shopping [Marshall] for a couple weeks," Jason Lawrence told the Sun-Sentinel. "Nobody would return their phone calls about getting him. If Chicago didn't take [Marshall] they would have ended up cutting him very shortly after that, and got nothing."

Asked about Lawrence's comments Monday, Ross said, "Brandon Marshall, that's history.

"We want to go on," Ross said. "We wish him the best. That's really behind us. It was a trade. He wasn't cut. We feel like we got fair value and we think the football team is better for it."

The Dolphins received a third-round pick this year, as well as a third-round pick in 2013.

Former Bears cornerback Zack Bowman will see plenty of his former teammates next season.

Bowman signed a one-year, minimum contract with the Minnesota Vikings, a league source confirmed.

ESPN first reported the news earlier today.

A fifth-round pick out of Nebraska in 2008, the Bears gave him ample opportunities to earn a starting spot opposite Charles Tillman. In 2009, he started 12 games and intercepted six passes. But he lost his standing the next season, and he's struggled to assert himself since.

The Vikings didn't guarantee Bowman any money, as part of his contract, and they're giving him a chance to compete for playing time. They also expect him to be a contributor on special teams.

With Bears future in doubt, Barber retires at 28

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The Marion Barber era ended with a Marion Barber touch Friday. He's not just done with the Bears -- he's done with the NFL.

One day after the Bears signed Michael Bush to back up Matt Forte, Barber settled the matter of his future with the team by retiring at age 28, the Bears announced Friday.

Barber played his first six seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, rushed for 422 yards on 114 carries (3.7 yards per carry) and scored six touchdowns in his lone season with the Bears.

''I want to thank everyone who gave me the opportunity to play, and I'm very thankful to have had the chance to suit up for two of the NFL's most storied organizations,'' Barber told, the team's official web site. ''I want to thank everyone who helped me become a better player.''

Bears lose special teams ace Corey Graham to Ravens

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The Bears have lost another special teams ace to the Baltimore Ravens.

Pro Bowl special teamer Corey Graham followed the path of Brendon Ayanbadejo, said Friday he will sign with the Ravens.

Graham, a fifth-round draft pick in 2007, led the Bears in special teams tackles with 22 last season and also was second on the team with three interceptions in a late-season nickel back role. That might have sealed his fate with the Bears. Graham said after the season he was looking for an opportunity to play cornerback and was unlikely to get that with the Bears. Graham started nine games at cornerback in 2008, but did not fare well and was replaced by Zack Bowman in 2009.

But he flourished in the special teams role and finally made the Pro Bowl last season. The Bears had interest in bringing him back, but in the same role as he played last season.

New Bears running back Michael Bush was sympathetic to Matt Forte's contract situation. But, ultimately, Bush still decided Chicago was the best opportunity for himself.

"I can understand where the guy is coming from. Everything they've asked, he's done," Bush said of Forte. "You want to be rewarded for your success. But that has nothing to do with me.

"I'm just glad I'm on this team."

A former fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders, Bush had his best season in 2011, when he gained 977 rushing yards with Darren McFadden sidelined with an injury. Bush also scored seven touchdowns and posted 418 receiving yards.

Also weighing an opportunity with the Cincinnati Bengals, Bush picked the Bears, noting he was impressed with coach Lovie Smith and his assistant coaches.

He was complimentary of Forte.

"In the past, I've been waiting for my turn, to help my team. The rotation is going to be very good. He wants both us to make a lot of plays," Bush said. "I think there's enough carries to go around."

Bush didn't have a chance to get a starting job. But, he still landed a more than respectable contract, a four-year deal worth up to $14 million, including half of that guaranteed.

Clearly, though, Bush didn't dismiss the fact that Forte could hold out. Forte showed up on time last year at training camp, although he considered sitting out a while. He's not currently under contract, so he won't be subject to fines. But, he does have a one-year, $7.74 million franchise tender from the Bears. He can stay away from the team until Week 10 and still get credit for the 2012 season, but he would forfeit the pay checks from any games he misses.

"My job is to come here and play ball," Bush said. "I'm just going to do what I do."

Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte wasn't too thrilled about the Bears once again signing another player at his position.

On Thursday, the Bears announced the signing of Michael Bush to a four-year deal, one that's worth $14 million, including $7 million guaranteed.

"There's only so many times a man that has done everything he's been asked to do can be disrespected!" Forte wrote on his verified Twitter account. "Guess the good guys do finish last."

It's unclear exactly what sort of contract Forte is seeking. Currently, he has a one-year, $7.7 million franchise tender in front of him. But, based on recent signings, Forte may be seeking a contract that averages at least $8 million a year. Former general manager Jerry Angelo was resistant to handing Forte a market-level contract, and his replacement, Phil Emery, apparently has taken a similar mindset.

Yet, the Bears have invested heavily at the position, paying plenty to secure backups. The previous three (Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber) collected $13.3 million for four combined seasons.

What did the Bears get?

A combined 38 games -- with just two starts -- and 260 carries for 798 yards and nine touchdowns. That's an average of 3.06 yards per carry.

Former Bears tight end Greg Olsen, who had his issues with Angelo, defended Forte.

"Why keep paying backups big [money] every [year]? Crazy!" Olsen wrote. "Matt deserves better."

Bears agree to terms with RB Michael Bush

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The Bears have agreed to terms with former Oakland Raiders running back Michael Bush on a four-year contract worth a reported $14 million.

The 6-1, 245-pound Bush, a fourth-round draft pick out of Louisville in 2007, played in 62 games in four seasons with the Raiders, starting 16 starts over the past three seasons. He rushed for 977 yards on 256 carries (3.8 yards per carry) with seven touchdowns last season.

With his versatility, Bush could be the best complementary back the Bears have had since Matt Forte became their starter in 2008. Bush has the size to score inside the 5-yard line -- he has 15 rushing touchdowns over the past two seasons, including 13 from the three yards or less. He is a productive receiver -- he had 37 receptions for 418 yards (11.3 per catch) and a touchdown last year. And he can carry a heavy load as a No. 1 back -- he had 30 carries for 157 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers and 30 carries for 109 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings in back-to-back road games last season.

With Kahlil Bell being tendered as a restricted free agent, it appears Marion Barber's short career with the Bears is over. Bush also gives the Bears a viable option should the worst-case scenario ensue in negotiations with Forte on a long-term contract.

Devin Hester isn't going anywhere

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When the Bears signed Pro Bowl special teamer Eric Weems, some speculated that perennial Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester could be in trouble.

That's absurd.

The Bears value special teams as much as any other team, and they saw an opportunity to add a player who is versatile. Besides, new general manager Phil Emery knew Weems well, having served as the college scouting director in Atlanta, when the Falcons added him as an undrafted free agent out of Bethune-Cookman.

Weems can be a gunner, he can return punts and kickoffs. He can also serve as a backup slot receiver.

So how will this affect Hester?

In reality, the Bears didn't get as much out of their kickoff return unit as they are accustomed to. Johnny Knox was solid, but Hester mostly handled the role and had modest results. A drop off from what Danieal Manning had done before leaving via free agency.

With Johnny Knox's status still unclear, Weems provides another proven, capable player, who can ease the burden on Hester. The Bears will probably give Hester a chance to get snaps at receiver and -- ever mindful of his snap count -- they'll have him focus on punt returns and perhaps have Weems be the primary kickoff returner.

Weems didn't excel last season, but he averaged 27 1/2 yards per kickoff in 2010, when he also returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown. That season, he had five returns of 40 or more yards.

There was a mix-up last week, because of a escalator Hester had in his contract. But that $10 million escalator was only triggered IF he reached certain marks as a receiver. He obviously did not.

Hester was brilliant for most of last season, but he staggered to the finish because of a few injuries. There's no reason to think he won't be a difference maker in 2012, which is why Hester will remain in a Bears jersey.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said his is currently in negotiations with the agent for Matt Forte on a long-term contract and is hopeful the two sides can reach an agreement before the 2012 season.

''We feel good that we've talked and we'll continue to talk,'' Emery said Friday. ''Obviously we want Matt to be a Bear for a long term. We're excited about him in 2011 and beyond.''

Emery would not address the possibility that Forte might hold out because he is unhappy with the franchise tag, which will guarantee hi $7.7 million for the 2011 season.

''Looking forward to Matt being here in 2011 and beyond and we're working towards that resolution,'' Emery said.

New Bears receiver Brandon Marshall insisted today that he doesn't expect any fallout from an incident at a New York nightclub early Monday morning.

During a press conference at Halas Hall, Marshall said he couldn't go into much detail, citing a pending legal issue, but he expressed confidence that he wouldn't face any punishment from police or the NFL.

"In due time, the truth will be out, and we're excited about that," Marshall said. "Given my history, I definitely understand the concern and the questions."

A woman told the New York Post that Marshall "cold-cocked" her in the left eye. Marshall's attorney, Harvey Steinberg, denied that in a statement Tuesday night.

Asked if he's fearful of being suspended by the NFL, Marshall confidently said, "Absolutely not.

"No fear at all. Once it has taken its course, I think you will see things totally different, and we're excited about the process... I understand and I get the perception out there. Those are the seeds that I've planted early on in my career up until last year."

Marshall said his wife is recovering and "doing fine." Steinberg said in the statement that she was hit in the face with a bottle at the nightclub.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler also defending Marshall, whom he played for in Denver.

"I know him as a person. I know him off the field, and I know what kind of guy he is and what he brings to the table not only on the field but as a person in the locker room," Cutler said. "He's a special guy."

Cutler said he also has no qualms about helping be responsible for Marshall.

"Yeah, I'll take that responsibility," Cutler said. "Brandon will take that on as well. He knows what he's done wrong in the past. Any support I can give him, I'm there for him."

Are the Bears on Kamerion Wimbley Watch?

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The Bears will probably be paying close attention today, to see if the Oakland Raiders release outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley.

According to The Sideline View, Wimbley is due a significant roster bonus today at 4 p.m. EST, so the Raiders may release him to avoid paying it.

Wimbley, who signed a five-year, $48 million contract in August 2011, was also scheduled to make a base salary of $11 million in 2012.

If he's released, the Bears could be one of the teams interested.

Strike that: the Bears SHOULD be one of the teams interested.

Anyone with a vested interest in the Bears surely recalls the 2010 preseason game, when Wimbley sacked Jay Cutler four times in the first half.

Wimbley is mostly viewed as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme. But, he's an intriguing athlete, at 6 foot 4, 255 pounds. He could play strongside linebacker, where the Bears have a vacancy, and he could also play right defensive end, opposite Julius Peppers.

In other words, Wimbley could be a jack of all trades type of player for the Bears.

Not including Israel Idonije's one-year contract, the Bears have $12.9 million in salary cap space.

The question, of course, will be how much the Bears would be willing to pay.

Wimbley is 28 years old, and he has 22 1/2 sacks in the last three seasons. But his last double-digit sack season (11) was in 2006, when he was a rookie for the Cleveland Browns.

After missing out on free agent defensive end Jeremy Mincey, the Bears re-signed defensive end Israel Idonije to a one-year contract late Thursday. But since it was clear the Bears were seeking an upgrade at the position, the focus of their search for a defensive end now turns to the NFL draft, where Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is expected to be available if the Bears' maintain their 19th pick in the first round.

Idonije, 31, has played in 118 games over the past eight years with the Bears and has started the last two seasons at defensive end opposite Julius Peppers. While he has been an effective overall player in that role, his sack total dropped from eight in 2010 to five in 2011.

The Bears courted Mincey and thought they had him until Mincey re-signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- a four-year, $20 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.

''It was a good fit [with the Bears],'' Mincey told reporters. ''Who wouldn't want to play beside Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher? They're a first-class organization. They do things right. They got a lot of good pieces to make it happen.''

Pro Bowl DE Mario Williams to sign with Bills

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Pro Bowl defensive end Mario Williams was worth dreaming about for the Bears. But it wasn't to be.

The Bears chances of pairing Williams with Julius Peppers to form a potentially devastating defensive line were slim once it became apparent that too many teams were willing to break the bank to sign the 6-foot-7 Williams.

And sure enough, the Buffalo Bills overwhelmed Williams with an offer that reportedly will make Williams the highest paid defensive player in the NFL -- in the range of six years, $96 million with $51 million guaranteed, according to the Buffalo News.

Williams had planned to visit other teams after leaving Buffalo. But the Bills were determined to not let that happen. And it did not.

The Bears still have $25 million remaining under the salary cap, sources have indicated. But it doesn't look like they'll be splurging on a defensive end. The only question is whether they'll re-sign Israel Idonije or try for a potential upgrade in free agency or the draft. With Williams out of the picture, that's all there is left.

Bears looking at Raiders free-agent RB Michael Bush

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Free agent running back Michael Bush will visit the Bears on Wednesday prior to visiting the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter has reported.

Bush, 27, a fourth-round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, has been a part-time starter for the Raiders the past three seasons. The former Louisville standout has been particularly effective scoring inside the 5-yard line -- not a Bears strength in recent years. Bush has scored 15 rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons -- 13 of them inside the 5, including 10 TD of two yards or less.

In 2011, Bush scored six touchdowns of two yards or less. Bears running backs scored two, both by Marion Barber.

The agent for Brandon Marshall cautioned not to rush to judgement on the new Bears receiver and downplayed any potential problems for him.

"He's fine, and he's going to be fine," agent Kennard McGuire told the Sun-Times. "Honestly, we're focused on the trade, and him being in Chicago and coming in and being a part of a team that's winning."

On Tuesday, the Bears traded a pair of third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl receiver. Asked about the timetable of the trade, McGuire said, "[Dolphins general manager] Jeff Ireland and I have always stayed in contact on Brandon.

"I give Jeff a tremendous amount of credit for working with me. He and I have always been aligned with what we were wanting and looking for with Brandon. That's being a part of a situation that works with his skill set and what he brings to an organization."

While speculation had been that the Dolphins wanted to ship him out of Miami, McGuire's comments suggest that Marshall was also ready for a change.

And he couldn't be happier to reunite with quarterback Jay Cutler and former position coach Jeremy Bates in Chicago.

"He's coming to such a historic organization, and playing under coach Lovie Smith and being reunited with Jay Cutler and Jeremy Bates speaks volumes about his level of excitement, and how enthused he is about this opportunity," McGuire said. "That's his focus. And his only focus is winning."

As for the incident in New York last weekend, McGuire said people need to be wary to rush to judgment.

"Let's not forget that Brandon and his wife are victims," McGuire said. "Brandon has my unflinching and unwavering support."

Bears bring back McCown -- for shot at No. 3 QB spot

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Here's another sign the Bears' fortunes have improved since last season: Josh McCown, who started at quarterback in the Bears' regular-season finale against the Vikings in the Metrodome -- and led them to a victory -- will battle for the No. 3 spot on the roster in 2012.

The Bears signed McCown to a one-year contract Wednesday, a day after signing veteran Jason Campbell to a three-year contract as a backup for Jay Cutler. With Caleb Hanie out of the picture, Nathan Enderle, the Bears' fifth-round draft pick last season, is the fourth quarterback on the roster and likely will have to beat out McCown for the No. 3 job.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler cast his support for new and former teammate Brandon Marshall on Wednesday.

In an interview with ESPN 1000, Cutler said Marshall was "bummed" about the news of his involvement in an incident at a New York City night club early Monday morning.

"Let's not judge him quite yet," Cutler said on the Waddle & Silvy show. "I know he has a checkered past and Brandon is the first one to stand up and admit to that. But I know deep down he's a good guy. He made some mistakes. But going forward I see nothing but bright things for the guy."

Cutler said his "sole mission" will be to keep Marshall out of nightclubs in the early hours.

"He doesn't really go to the clubs at 4 am., I don't know how this stuff happens to him," Cutler said. "It just does sometimes. He'll be fine. I'm fully confident in saying that."

Cutler said new general manager Phil Emery is a "detail guy" and that he couldn't imagine him approving of the trade, if he suspected there were serious problems.

"I find it very hard to believe he'd pull the trigger on this knowing that something wrong happened and Brandon was at fault," Cutler said.

Cutler said he will personally do what he can to help Marshall stay out of trouble.

"That's not a problem with Brandon right now. He's matured. He wants to do the right thing. It's just a shame that his past still haunts him, but that's what happens, everyone makes mistakes," Cutler told ESPN 1000. "Brandon is still learning from them and growing, and like I said, we have a heck of a guy, a heck of a player and I think Phil made quite a splash on Day 1 (of free agency)."

Bears sign former Pro Bowl KR Eric Weems

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The Bears continued their flurry of free agency activity under first-year general manager Phil Emery on Wednesday, signing former Pro Bowl kick returner Eric Weems to a three-year contract.

Weems, 26, has averaged 25.7 yards per kickoff return over the last three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons. He made the Pro Bowl after the 2010 season, when he returned two kicks for touchdowns -- a 102-yard kickoff against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a 55-yard punt return against the Carolina Panthers. Weems also returned a kickoff 102 yards for a tie-breaking touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs that season.

Weems averaged 23.5 yards on 24 kickoff returns in 2011, with a long return of 37 yards. He averaged 9.8 yards on 32 punt returns, with a long return of 42 yards.

The move is likely protection against Johnny Knox's potentially prolonged recovery from a broken back he suffered against the Seahawks last Dec. 18.

Emery was the Falcons' director of college scouting when Weems was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Behtune-Cookman University in 2007.

The Bears will host free-agent cornerback Kelvin Hayden, his agent Fletcher Smith confirmed early Wednesday morning.

ESPN first reported the visit.

Hayden, who attended Hubbard High School in Chicago, played at Joliet Junior College before transferring to the University of Illinois. A second-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2005, Hayden had his best season in 2007, when he started all 16 games and intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles.

But his most memorable play came against the Bears, when he returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

Hayden, who turns 29 in July, hasn't played an entire season since 2007. Last season, he played eight games for the Atlanta Falcons, picking off two passes.

Hayden is 6 foot, and nearly 200 pounds. He was a former teammate in Indianapolis with Tim Jennings, who just signed a two-year contract with the Bears just before free agency started Tuesday afternoon.

New Bears receiver Brandon Marshall is dealing with the fallout of an incident at a New York night club Monday morning.

What exactly happened isn't clear.

Marshall's lawyer, Harvey Steinberg of Denver, issued a statement through Fox Sports.

"On March 12,2012 Brandon Marshall was the key note speaker at a charitable event in New York. After the event was over he, his wife and close friends attended a function at a local club. While at the function a fight broke out NOT involving Mr. Marshall or his friends. While attempting to leave to avoid the melee Mrs. Marshall was struck in the face by a thrown bottle. She suffered serious injury. While attempting to leave and take his wife to the hospital, the mayhem continued outside. Finally Mr. Marshall was able to take his wife to the hospital where she was treated for serious injuries. Mr. Marshall is hoping to assist authorities in regards to this matter."

The New York Post, though, has a different story.

In fact, the Post reported in this story that Marshall "cold-cocked" a woman in the left eye around 4 a.m. The newspaper also said that Marshall was being escorted out of the club, after getting into a "fight" with an unknown athlete.

The league surely will monitor this situation.

The Post cited sources as saying the Bears were not aware of the incident before trading two third-round picks to the Miami Dolphins Tuesday afternoon. But, it's believed the Bears and Dolphins were aware of the incident before executing the trade.

Bears and NFL spokesperson weren't available for comment early Wednesday morning.

While they are believed to still be a player for Mario Williams, the Bears did make an effort to sign defensive end Jeremy Mincey Tuesday night.

Mincey drew plenty of interest, after notching eight sacks last season for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But he ultimately signed a four-year deal worth up to $27.2 million, with $9 million fully guaranteed, according to the Carroll County Times.

On his Twitter account, Mincey wrote, "Chicago!!! What a great organization. But, Gene Smith fought for me in a Very Tough fight....PROUD TO BE A JAG!"

Smith is the Jaguars general manager.

Mincey was originally a sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots. But he was released and ended up with the San Francisco 49ers, on their practice squad. He was signed by the Jaguars in December 2006, and he played in six regular-season games in 2007 and posted one sack.

Last season, in 15 games, Mincey had eight sacks and was among the league leaders in quarterback pressures.

On Tuesday, the Bears picked up the the final three years of the extension Brandon Marshall signed with the Miami Dolphins during the 2010 offseason.

What remains is $27.5 million. That means the average per year is $9.16 million. Meanwhile, Vincent Jackson signed a five-year, $55.5 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That means the average is $11.1 million.

But here's a look at the production of the two players. Jackson is a year older, and he's played one more NFL season. But, Marshall has out-produced him in catches and yards.

In 92 career games, Jackson has 272 catches for 4,754 yards with 37 touchdowns. He's been selected to two Pro Bowls.

In 91 career games, Marshall has 494 catches for 6,247 yards with 34 touchdowns. He's been selected to three Pro Bowls.

That means Marshall has 222 more catches and 1,493 more yards than Jackson. That's quite a bit.

So is Jackson worth nearly $2 million more per season than Marshall? And, what is the value of two third-round picks?

Please weigh in.

Bears trying to sign Jason Campbell as backup QB

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After struggling at the backup quarterback position last season, the Bears are negotiating a contract with longtime NFL starter Jason Campbell, according to a league source.

The 25th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, Campbell was traded in April 2010 to the Oakland Raiders for a fourth-round pick.

He has a career 82.8 passer rating.

Last season, Campbell got the Raiders off to a 4-2 start before breaking his collarbone. The Raiders then traded for Carson Palmer. But the Raiders just missed the playoffs.

Campbell is 30 years old, and he's played for a lot of different coaches throughout his career.

After Jay Cutler went down with a broken thumb, the Bears turned the offense over to Caleb Hanie, who flashed some potential in the NFC title game. But, Hanie struggled mightily, and he won't return.

Josh McCown, who finished the season, is an unrestricted free agent, and Nathan Enderle remains on the Bears roster.

UPDATE: The Bears signed Campbell to a one-year deal worth $3.5 million, with a chance to earn more through incentives, according to a league source.

Bears re-sign Tim Jennings to a two-year deal

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Just before the start of free agency, the Bears re-signed cornerback Tim Jennings to a two-year contract.

Terms were not disclosed.

Jennings has started 28 of the 32 games in which he's appeared for the Bears. Before that, he played six seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

For the Bears, he's had 153 tackles, six tackles for losses, three interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Jennings was signed to a modest contract by the Bears. But he stepped into the starting role when Zack Bowman never grasped the starting spot opposite Charles Tillman. While he's only 5 foot 8, Jennings has been a tough, durable player for the Bears.

Bears give RB Kahlil Bell minimum one-year tender

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Bears coach Lovie Smith has spoken very highly of running back Kahlil Bell.

But on Monday, the Bears tendered the minimum qualifying offer to Bell, a restricted free agent, at a cost of $1.26 million. For about $700,000 more, the Bears could have placed a second-rounder tender on Bell. That way, if another club signed Bell, they'd have to concede a second-round pick.

Would another team do that for Bell? Most likely not. But, as it stands, the Bears would get nothing if another team signs Bell now. It appears the Bears want to let other teams set the market for Bell, since they haven't made any headway toward a longer term deal with him.

But, the $1.26 million tender does allow the Bears to match any offer from another club.

The highest tender for a restricted free requires a first-round compensation worth $2.74 million.

So what of Marion Barber's future? He's due a $1.9 million base salary next season. But, he doesn't have any roster bonuses due or anything, so the Bears can cut him at any point before the regular season opener. At this juncture, he seems likely to be released, which would cost the Bears about $250,000 in dead money.

The Bears have an obvious need at cornerback, and they'll likely spend at least one draft pick on the position in April.

But if the Bears are looking for a cost-effective gamble, they should consider former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin.

I covered Griffin his first four seasons in the NFL, when I worked for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. When healthy, he's a more than solid fit to play in a Cover 2 type of defense. He's certainly not a shutdown corner, but he loves to hit, and he has a knack for forcing fumbles. Not in a manner like Charles Tillman. But pairing a healthy Griffin and Tillman would give the Bears a pretty intimidating pair of starting cornerbacks.

The top free-agent cornerbacks are Cortland Finnegan and Brandon Carr. In the Bears defense, Carr would be a better fit. But, he could command a pretty sizeable contact, while Griffin could be a modest gamble. Perhaps the Bears could give him a contract that pays him like a third cornerback, with a modest signing bonus, but include incentives that will reward him if he earns a starting spot.

The Vikings released him because he was set to make $4.1 million in 2012. He was benched late in the season, and ESPN 1500 in the Twin Cities reported that he's already sold his house and mentally prepared himself to play elsewhere next season, even though the Vikings may be interested in bringing him back at a lower salary.

Griffin tore his ACL in his left knee in the NFC title game during the 2009 season, then returned for 2010. But, he tore the ACL in his right knee less than a month into that season.

He's 29, and he doesn't have a ton of interceptions. But, he's forced 14 fumbles.

The NFL announced that the salary cap modestly increased to $120.6 million over the weekend. And including Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte's $7.7 million franchise tag, the Bears still have $24 million in salary cap space, according to a league source.

That's the most in the NFC North, but the Minnesota Vikings aren't too far behind, after a weekend purge that included the release of cornerback Cedric Griffin, perennial All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson and guard Anthony Herrera.

According to Pro Football Talk, the Green Bay Packers were $5.4 million over as of Sunday, and the Detroit Lions were $11.5 million over.

With $24 million in space, the Bears have the flexibility to make one major signing, ie. defensive end Mario Williams or receiver Vincent Jackson. Keep in mind, the Bears will need to set aside several million to sign its rookie class and account for any injury during the season.

A pair of two-time Pro Bowl players in their prime will become free agents, and they could fill huge needs for the Bears.

But will the Bears make another big splash, like they did with Julius Peppers two years ago?

One thing is clear: the Bears could do just that, with more than $30 million in space, if the salary cap doesn't change from the 2011 season.

New Bears general manager Phil Emery has been on record as saying he wants to build through the draft, but he didn't exclude a foray into free agency. And this year, it's a buyer's market.

While the Bears didn't make the playoffs, they could be an appealing team to prospective free agents for a number of reasons.

Typically, teams don't let players like Jackson and Williams become free agents. But, with whopping one-year salaries ($13.7 million for Jackson and $22 million for Williams), the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans just couldn't place the franchise tag on them.

"We did not like the franchise number; never did," Chargers general manager A.J. Smith said, according to the team's website. "Vincent will enter the market, and we will see what happens. We would like to have him continue on with us, but other teams now will enter the picture."

Jackson has had some off the field issues. But he started all 16 games last season, catching 60 passes for 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. He not only possesses excellent speed, the 6 foot 5 receiver also knows how to use his size to his advantage. If the price tag gets above $10 million per year, will the Bears want to invest that much in Jackson?

Williams, meanwhile, has 53 sacks in six NFL seasons.

The thought of pairing Williams and Julius Peppers together would be downright scary. Like Peppers, he's an asset as a rusher and run defender. Throw in Henry Melton and Stephen Paea, and the Bears would have quite a fearsome foursome up front.

While they could afford both, the Bears probably would only land one, then bargain shop in a free-agent pool that has plenty of quality players.

Marshawn Lynch, a two-time Pro Bowl running back, has signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $31 million.

The deal includes $18 million in guarantees, according to the website Pro Football Talk. Monday was the deadline for club's to use the franchise tag.

The Seahawks announced the signing Sunday evening.

The agent for Bears Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte certainly took notice. Surely, the Bears did as well.

So how does this contract impact negotiations between the Bears and Forte's agent? It probably helps Forte's agent. If those numbers hold up, that's significant money.

At present, the Bears have committed $7.7 million to Forte for the 2012 season. They have until July 16 to sign him to a long-term deal.

Should the Bears take a look at Carl Nicks?

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The New Orleans Saints, still reeling from the expose of the bounty program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, were forced to use the franchise tag on quarterback Drew Brees when they could not reach agreement with Brees on a long-term contract. That means that both wide receiver Marques Colston and two-time Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks will be available in free agency.

The Bears passed on Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters last season after Waters was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs at the start of training camp. Waters signed with the Patriots and made the Pro Bowl for the sixth time last season -- in part because of former general manager Jerry Angelo's desire to let his younger players develop. (An ironic tack considering the Bears' inability to develop any offensive linemen during Angelo's tenure -- or to even keep the best prospects healthy -- was a major factor that led to Angelo's firing after last season).

Bears place franchise tag on Matt Forte

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The Bears announced Friday evening that they've placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

The deadline to make the move was Monday afternoon.

Forte's agent, Adisa Bakari, issued a statement.

"It is not a surprise at all," Bakari said. "Matt's a phenomenal running back, whether as a ball carrier or receiver. There are few players who share his skill set."

New Bears general manager Phil Emery also offered a glowing statement of Forte.

"Matt is an important part of our football team and we chose to utilize the franchise tag to ensure he remains a Bear," Emery said. "We believe in Matt as a player and a person. Our intention is to continue to work to find common ground and keep Matt as a member of the Chicago Bears in 2012 and beyond."

The franchise tag for a running back is worth $7.7 million, more than a $7 million raise for Forte from what he made in 2011. But, Forte and Bakari have been pushing for a long-term deal, which would provide him long-term security and provide him more guaranteed money.

ESPN's Adam Schefter is reporting that the Tennessee Titans will not place the franchise tag on former Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan, an unrestricted free agent.

The 5-10, 188-pound Finnegan, 28, is an aggressive corner who memorably fought with Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson in a 2010 game. Johnson has had some huge games against Finnegan and the Titans -- 11 catches for 207 yards and a TD in 2008; 10 for 149 yards and two TDs in 2009.

But Finnegan gets his shots in. He intercepted a pass intended for Johnson and returned it 99 yards for a TD in 2008. And in two games since their brawl, Johnson has eight catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Finnegan. The Titans won both games.

Bears cut good guys Anthony Adams, Frank Omiyale

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The Bears released defensive tackle Anthony Adams and offensive lineman Frank Omiyale on Thursday. Neither move was a surprise as the two affable veterans and former starters saw their roles diminish significantly as the 2011 season unfolded.

Bears general manager Phil Emery was complimentary of both players in announcing the moves.

''Cuts are never easy, but are a part of the evaluation process," Emery said in a statement released by the Bears. ''We appreciate all that Anthony and Frank gave the Bears organization both on and off the field during their time in Chicago. We wish them the best moving forward.''

Should the Bears take a look at Mike Wallace?

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The Steelers will not use the franchise tag on Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Wallace because of salary-cap limitations, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Thursday. Wallace is a restricted free agent, meaning another NFL team could sign him to an offer sheet and the Steelers would receive a first-round draft pick if they choose not to match the offer.

The 6-0, 199-pound Wallace had 72 receptions for 1,193 yards (16.6 per catch) and eight touchdowns in 2011. His production dropped significantly in the second half -- Wallace averaged 104 receiving yards in the Steelers' first seven games (36-730, 20.3, 5 TDs) and 49 in their final 10 games (39-489, 12.5, 3 TDs), including three catches for 26 yards in the Steelers' upset loss to the Broncos in the playoffs.

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