Chicago Sun-Times

March 2013 Archives

Josh McCown: "I wanted to be in Chicago"

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Josh McCown was flattered that other teams were interested in him.

But the veteran quarterback only had his eyes on one club.

"I wanted to be in Chicago," McCown told the Sun-Times. "I'm very excited." McCown.jpg

McCown, 33, declined to say which other teams contacted his agent. But McCown said ultimately he was encouraged by conversations he had with new Bears coach Marc Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

"The locker room, and the team. I enjoy working with Jay [Cutler] and listening to some of Trestman's thoughts, and his mindset, it's like, 'Man, that would be a fun situation to work in.'
I think we can be successful," McCown said.

Asked if he will back up Cutler, McCown said, "We'll see but that's my understanding."

Certainly, McCown has Cutler's stamp of approval.

"There are so many different aspects to what he brings to this team, especially for me," Cutler told the Sun-Times late last year. "He's been in a lot of different situations, and he's been in the league a long time. He's had success, he's had down years, and he's just a positive guy.

"It's a grind-it-out league, and you need some optimism and some positivity, and he brings that."

McCown is intrigued about working with Trestman, whom he was familiar with based on his background. He was especially impressed with what Trestman did in 2002 with Rich Gannon, when the Oakland Raiders reached the Super Bowl.

"That gets you excited to see the success he's had with quarterbacks," McCown said. "I had a lot of respect for what Rich did that year and Marc was orchestrating that and had a big part of it.

"I'm looking forward to studying and learning the playbook."

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With quarterback Jason Campbell off to Cleveland to compete for a starting job, the Bears agreed to terms with veteran Josh McCown on a one-year deal to back up Jay Cutler on Friday.

McCown has a strong bond with Cutler, who has praised McCown in the past. Cutler even told general manager Phil Emery last year that he wasn't happy that McCown was released after the 2012 preseason.

Solid offensive linemen usually operate under the radar.

Matt Slauson, who started 48 of 51 games for the New York Jets, was one of those linemen.

But during an October game between the Jets and Houston Texans, Slauson delivered a low, blindside block that took down inside linebacker Brian Cushing.

It was revealed that Cushing suffered a torn ACL and was lost for the season. Cushing.jpg

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the block was "unnecessary."

Slauson was fined $10,000 for an illegal peel-back block.

Asked if he still thinks about that play, Slauson said, "I do.

"I think about it all the time. It was just unfortunate the way it happened, Brian getting hurt. I didn't want it to happen. I was just trying to do whatever I could to win. And unfortunately, it worked out very badly.
It was a frowned upon block. But I think about it all the time, and I'm really sorry the guy got hurt for it."

Slauson said it's hard for an offensive lineman to think specifically about a peel back block "because you're very seldom in that spot."

Slauson said he got Cushing's phone number from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

"I tried," Slauson said of calling the linebacker. "But it didn't work out. I wanted to let him know that I was really sorry. I heard he's a great guy, and I wish him all the best, and I'm sure I'm going to be seeing on the field again."

Matt Slauson "incredibly excited" to join Bears

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Veteran guard Matt Slauson had choices, but the Bears had something working in their favor.

"I've been a fan of the Bears for a long time," Slauson told the Sun-Times Friday after agreeing to terms on a one-year deal. Slauson.jpg

So how does an Oregon native who played at Nebraska come to be a Bears fan?

Well, when he arrived at the University of Nebraska, he figured he could be a fan of the Bears or the Kansas City Chiefs.

He picked the Bears.

"I liked the Bears more, and I grew up watching [Brian] Urlacher play," he said.

Urlacher isn't coming back, but Slauson is excited about the direction of the team.

"With the changes they've made, they have a great chance of winning the division and really doing well. I just hope I can help them," he said. "I'm incredibly excited about it."

Slauson was a sixth-round pick of the New York Jets, starting 48 games. He said they tried to keep him but only offered him a minimum deal.

Matt Slauson on the JEts.jpgThe Bears have signed former New York Jets guard Matt Slauson to a one-year contract.

The 6-5, 315-pound Slauson, 27, started the past three seasons at left guard for the Jets, who drafted him in the sixth-round out of Nebraska in 2009. Bill Callahan, the native South Sider who was the Jets' offensive line coach in 2008-11. According to the Bears' press release, Slauson did not allow a sack in 2012.

''We are excited that Matt will be a Bear,'' Bears general manager Phil Emery said in a statement released by the team. ''He brings physical play and smarts to the offensive guard position and to the offensive line as an overall unit. His size, strength and power will allow him to challenge for either of the starting guard positions.''

With starting right guard Lance Louis signing with the Miami Dolphins this week, the Bears are unsettled at both guard positions. The Bears changed starters at left guard four times last season -- from Chris Spencer (two games) to Chilo Rachal (eight games) to Spencer (one game) to Edwin Williams (two games) and rookie James Brown (three games). Only Edwin Williams and Brown are expected to return in 2013.

The Bears have many options -- including the draft -- but not a lot of experience at guard. The only current guard candidates with starting experience are Slauson (48 games), Edwin Williams (14), Brown (three) and tackle Gabe Carimi (three). For what it's worth, veteran Roberto Garza, who has started the last two seasons at center, has started 140 games at guard. Nothing is off the table with a new coaching staff this season.

Brian Cushing torn ACL.jpgSlauson, a good athlete who was a state champion shot putter in high school with a 34-inch vertical leap, is known for his versatility and durability He started 15 games at right tackles, 19 games at right guard and one game at left tackle at Nebraska.

Slauson was fined $10,000 by the NFL last season for an illegal block against the Houston Texans' Brian Cushing, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL on the play. Slauson was not penalized on the play. But the blindside ''peel back'' block against a defenseless player was outlawed by the NFL last week.

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The Bears announced that running back Armando Allen signed his exclusive rights tender on Thursday morning. He'll back up starter Matt Forte and No. 2 Michael Bush.

Allen, a Notre Dame product, has participated in 17 games for the Bears, gaining 172 rushing yards on 42 carries and scoring one touchdown. He has also has two receptions for 16 yards.

Allen's biggest value comes on special teams. He has seven special-teams tackles with the Bears.

Lance Louis: "I needed a fresh start"

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Lance Louis, a former seventh-round pick of the Bears, developed into a solid starter.

But he's taking his talents to Miami. Louis.jpg

"I just felt like I needed a fresh start," Louis told the Sun-Times. "I went up there and met with those guys, and they really wanted me, and I clicked with the coaches.

"I just felt like they really wanted me to be there."

Louis signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins Wednesday. While he wasn't sure of the terms, he said the Dolphins offer was more than what the Bears offered him.

"Nothing toward those guys, but I felt I needed to start somewhere else," Louis said. "The decision was cool."

Jason Campbell signs two-year deal with Browns

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The Bears wanted to re-sign Jason Campbell, but they also recognized that he'd have options.

On Tuesday night, Campbell agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Cleveland Browns, according to a league source. Campbell Snow.jpg

Terms of Campbell's deal isn't yet known.

"I just thought it is a good opportunity, and it's a young football team that's growing and ready to compete," Campbell told the Sun-Times. "I like the things that they are doing here in trying to turn things around and get going in the right direction."

Campbell said he's also looking forward to the offense that new offensive coordinator Norv Turner will run.

"It's similar to Al Saunders and Hugh Jackson systems I've ran before," he said.

Last season, after struggling with Caleb Hanie, the Bears signed Campbell to a one-year deal that paid him $3.5 million. Campbell, though, lost his only start, a blowout loss to the eventual NFC champion San Francisco 49ers.

Campbell was looking for a chance to compete, and the Browns are expected to give him that opportunity. He'll battle with Brandon Weeden to start. The club overhauled management in the offseason, though, and they could even consider drafting at the position.

With Campbell officially off the market, veteran Josh McCown would seemingly have a better shot of returning to the Bears. But there are several other options, as well, not to mention the NFL Draft.

hayden.jpgThe Bears solidified their secondary Tuesday night, announcing that they've agreed to terms with veteran nickel back Kelvin Hayden.

It was an expected move for the Bears, who indicated long ago that they wanted him to return. Hayden, a Chicago native, hoped to find a starting spot in free agency, but there was an influx of younger cornerbacks after cuts were made across the league.

Hayden, 29, was primarily used as the Bears' nickel back last season. But he did start and play more when starting cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman suffered injuries.

Hayden had four fumble recoveries last season. He started two of 16 games played, recording 40 tackles (26 solo), one interception and three pass deflections. He was also credited with three special-teams tackles.

I don't know why we're late on posting this. But here's Anthony "Spice" Adams' retirement video from last week. It's funny, well done and even very classy, if you think about it.

Enjoy.

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The competition to be the Bears' starting right tackle should be intense in training camp, especially with veteran Jonathan Scott officially back in the mix.

The Bears re-signed Scott to a one-year deal on Monday. Scott started six games at right tackle, taking over for Gabe Carimi when he struggled.

With Jermon Bushrod locked in on the left side, Scott will compete against J'Marcus Webb and Carimi to be the starting right tackle. Webb started every game last season at left tackle.

"I've always been in a situation where I've got to fight to prove my worth," Scott told the Bears' website. "I'm more than willing to accept that role because that's who I am as a person, so it's all good."

Before a question could even be asked, new Bears linebacker James Anderson, a seven-year veteran from the Carolina Panthers, already started talking about how excited he was to be coming to Chicago.

Anderson, who is in Puerto Rico on vacation with his family, spoke to the Sun-Times on Monday morning about joining the Bears in the post-Urlacher era.

Here's some of the highlights:

anderson.jpgThe Bears added another linebacker to their mix on Sunday as they continue to move on from Brian Urlacher. The team announced it signed James Anderson, a seven-year veteran who played his entire career with the Carolina Panthers, to a one-year deal.

Anderson's arrival comes two days after longtime Denver Broncos linebacker D.J. Williams was signed to a one-year contract that could reach $1.75 million.

Williams is projected to take over for Urlacher at middle linebacker, while Anderson replaces strong-side linebacker Nick Roach, who signed a four-year, $13 million contract with the Oakland Raiders.

Tom Zbikowski will sign with the Bears

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Buffalo Grove and Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski is expected to sign with the Bears, according to league sources.

The deal could be finalized later today.

Born in Park Ridge and raised Arlington Heights, Zbikowski was a two-time All-American at Notre Dame in 2005 and 2006, distinguishing himself as a safety and returner. Tom Zbikowski.jpg

A third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, he started 14 games in four seasons. Last season, he started 11 games for the Indianapolis Colts, finishing with 38 tackles, one sack, five passes defended and one interception. He also returned six kickoffs for 123 yards.

Zbikowski has also generated headlines as a professional boxer. He's got a 4-0 record with his last fight in April 2011.

At Buffalo Grove High School, he was a dual-threat quarterback, setting several school records.
Chris Conte and Major Wright are the Bears' starting safeties, but Zbikowski, 27, provides a veteran with starting experience and the versatility to help on special teams.

UPDATE: The Bears confirmed my report. A league source says it's a one-year deal worth the veteran minimum of $715,000.

Anthony Adams files retirement papers

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Anthony Adams NFL career is over.

Adams filed his retirement papers to the Bears and the NFL Friday, he told the Sun-Times. AA.jpg

"It's kind of bittersweet, knowing that I've been playing football since I was 14 and now it's done, and I don't get to run out of a tunnel in front of 70,000 people anymore," he said. "But at the same time, I'm excited about the next chapter in my life."

A standout at Penn State, Adams was a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. After 33 starts in four seasons, Adams signed with the Bears and played five seasons. He started 40 games for the Bears and endeared himself to fans and teammates with his exuberant personality.

Last offseason, Adams started to post comical You Tube videos about being a free-agent.

D.J. Williams signs one-year deal with Bears

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The Bears didn't waste much time, agreeing to terms on a one-year deal with linebacker D.J. Williams, according to two league sources.

Williams, 30, was released after the season, along with former Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie. A long-time starter for the Denver Broncos, Williams has 20 1/2 career sacks, and he's forced 13 career fumbles.

The Bears elected to part ways with Brian Urlacher Wednesday evening, and they may yet sign another linebacker, as well.

Nick Barnett believed to be on Bears radar

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As the Bears look for a new starting middle linebacker for the first time in over a decade, they could wind up with a player who spent nearly a decade with the Green Bay Packers.

It's believed former Packers linebacker Nick Barnett is on the Bears radar. Nick Barnett.gif

He makes a ton of sense for a number of reasons.

First, he probably wants to play for a winner. After injuries largely resulted in his eventual release from the Packers, Barnett rebounded strongly in Buffalo, where he didn't miss a game, generated 242 tackles, five sacks, six passes defended, forced four fumbles and intercepted three passes. An All-Pro in 2007, Barnett's a playmaker.

Second and most important, Barnett is supremely confident. I interviewed him a few times, when he was with the Packers, and Barnett struck me as the sort of player who doesn't back down from a challenge and who will always be himself. Replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker is a daunting task that goes beyond what a player does on a football field, and Barnett doesn't strike me as someone who would be the least bit intimidated. That mindset, frankly, is nearly as important as how the player performs on the field.

Free-agent linebacker Brian Urlacher (yes, that's still odd to write) said his agents have talked to a "bunch of teams."

He wouldn't mention any specifically, but he did note that he preferred to play for a contender. Urlacher Pro Bowl Jersey.jpg

Even within the NFC North.

"Why wouldn't I?" Urlacher said. "Every option is open."

Asked specifically about the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, Urlacher coyly said, "They both had good seasons."

Asked about the Dallas Cowboys, where former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli landed, Urlacher said, "I have no idea.

"But that would be ideal. Anything is a possibility."

Urlacher made clear to the Sun-Times he's not returning to the Bears, but he's also not contemplating retirement.

trestmanfistpump.jpgPHOENIX -- Lost behind the storm that was Brian Urlacher's divorce from Bears was a look inside what new coach Marc Trestman has in store for the Bears' offense in 2013.

Let's be clear about this: The Bears' decision to part ways with Urlacher is another major sign that the Bears are shifting from a defensive-minded team into a more offensive one.

Trestman spoke for more than an hour at the Arizona Biltmore during the NFC coaches media breakfast on Wednesday morning. What he thought of Urlacher took up a good chunk of the conversation, but the main topic was what the offensive guru plans to do with a team that's been offensively challenged for years.

Here are some of the highlights from his lengthy chat:

Bears sign TE Steve Maneri

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The Bears signed blocking tight end Steve Maneri, the team announced.

Maneri was undrafted out of Temple, and he played 19 games for the Kansas City Chiefs. Maneri is 6 foot 6, 280 pounds. He was originally signed by the Houston Texans out of Temple as an offensive tackle, but he was switched to tight end during the 2012 offseason.

Maneri, in essence, fills the void left by the release of Matt Spaeth last week.

Evan Rodriguez arrested in Miami Beach

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Initially, Evan Rodriguez didn't do anything wrong.

He was a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident around 9 p.m. in Miami Beach Wednesday night.

But according to the Miami Beach police incident case summary, Rodriguez didn't cooperate and was eventually charged with resisting without violence and disorderly intoxication.

Here is a timeline provided by the reporting officer.

* Officer told Rodriguez he needed his information. "For what? I don't need this," Rodriguez said, according to the report. "I'm an NFL player. I don't need all the media stuff."

* Officer informed Rodriguez that his information would be entered into passenger section of traffic accident report. He provided it but appeared to be upset.

* Rodriguez walked away then returned after several minutes while another officer was conducting roadside exercises on the driver of the car Rodriguez was a passenger in.

Urlacher_draft_report_026-1.jpgThis is the scouting report on New Mexico's Brian Urlacher from Mel Kiper Jr.'s 2000 Draft Report: "I view him as either a mike-man or OLB, with his overall physical ability and toughness ideally suited for the second line of defense."

Kiper, Jr. had Urlacher rated as the No. 3 outside linebacker prospect in the 2000 draft, behind Penn State's Lavar Arrington and Syracuse's Keith Bulluck and ahead of Michigan State's Julian Peterson and South Carolina's John Abraham.

He also had Urlacher rated as the 11th best player overall, right behind Michigan State WR Plaxico Burress and Virginia RB Thomas Jones and just ahead of Alabama RB Shaun Alexander and Miami (Fla.) TE Bubba Franks.

Note that Urlacher ran 4.59 in the 40 and did 27 reps of 225 pounds at the Combine. Shea McClellin ran 4.66 in the 40 and did 19 reps.

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Brian Urlacher's Greatest Hits -- 2000-13

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Urlacher scores vs. Titans.jpgBrian Urlacher scored five touchdowns as a Bear, but in his prime he was as much fun to watch just darting to one side of the field or the other to make a tackle. From beginning to end, he was a big-play player, one of the greatest Bears of all-time. Here's a top-10 list of Urlacher moments:

1. Oct. 7, 2001: Returns a Michael Vick fumble 90 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to give the Bears a 24-0 lead en route to a 31-3 rout of the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. Two plays earlier, Urlacher had sacked Vick and forced a fumble, but Falcons running back Maurice Smith recovered.

2. Dec. 23, 2007: Returned an interception of Brett Favre 85 yards for a touchdown to put the finishing touch on a 35-3 rout of the Packers at Soldier Field.

3. Jan. 23, 2011: With the Bears trailing the Packers 14-0 in the third quarter of the NFC Championship Game, Urlacher intercepted Aaron Rodgers at the Bears 6 and might have gone all the way for a momentum-changing touchdown had Rodgers not tripped him up at the Bears 45 for a 39-yard return.

Bears Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was surprised when he learned that Brian Urlacher's tenure with the team was over Wednesday evening.

"I don't think anyone ever saw him playing for another team or not playing for the Bears," Tillman said. "I'm shocked like everyone else.

"He was the heart and soul of our team - the defense especially - and he will be missed. I wish him the best. I didn't want to see him go. He still has juice left in the tank."

Tillman said he believes Urlacher can still play 16 games, but he admitted that the business side of football can make things complex.

"The more you understand this game as a business and not let emotions crowd your judgment, the better off you'll be. But it's hard at times," he said. "I just hope that their vision and plan is the right one so we can move forward as a team."

Here's the Bears' full news release, announcing the end of the Brian Urlacher era in Chicago: The Chicago Bears announced today they were unable to reach accord on a contract with LB Brian Urlacher for the 2013 season. Urlacher is a free agent after playing the last 13 years with the Bears.

"We were unable to reach an agreement with Brian and both sides have decided to move forward," Bears General Manager Phil Emery said. "Brian has been an elite player in our league for over a decade. He showed great leadership and helped develop a winning culture over his time with the Bears. We appreciate all he has given our team, on and off the field. Brian will always be welcome as a member of the Bears."

"Over the last 13 years Brian Urlacher has been an outstanding player, teammate, leader and face of our franchise," Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey said. "As Bears fans, we have been lucky to have such a humble superstar represent our city. He embodies the same characteristics displayed by the Bears all-time greats who played before him and he will eventually join many of them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. We thank Brian for all he has given our team and our city. He will always be a part of the Bears family. We wish him the very best."

The eight-time Pro Bowler started 180-of-182 games played in 13 seasons (2000-12) with the Bears recording a franchise-record 1,779 tackles. The ninth overall selection in the 2000 NFL Draft recorded 41.5 sacks, 22 interceptions, 16 opponent fumble recoveries and 11 forced fumbles for Chicago. Urlacher was honored as the 2005 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, the 2000 NFL Rookie of the Year, was a four-time All-Pro (2001-02, 2005-06), a two-time Brian Piccolo Award winner (2000 and 2007) and was named the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner in 2011.

PHOENIX - While his Pro Bowl running has been of the staunchest opponents of the NFL's ban on using the crown of the helmet, Bears chairman George McCaskey is one of the staunchest supporters of the measure that was overwhelmingly passed Wednesday at the NFL Owners meeting.

During a lively discussion on the topic Wednesday, several coaches expressed a concern that the rule would be over-officiated, and McCaskey stood up and provided his take. McCaskey.jpg

"If this means he gets fewer yards, if this means sometimes he doesn't get that first down, then I'm proud to have voted for a rule that might mean less of a chance that he suffers a serious head or neck injury, a greater likelihood that he's available to play the next week," McCaskey told the Sun-Times. "And, most importantly, increases the chances that his post-career health is better."

McCaskey acknowledged that there's the possibility that the rule could be "over-officiated." But he can live with that.

PHOENIX -- A league source confirmed that free-agent defensive end Turk McBride has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Bears. ESPNChicago was the first to report the move.

** Update: The Bears have officially announced the signing of McBride. **

McBride, 27, was a second-round pick in 2007 out of Tennessee. He has spent two seasons each with the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and most recently the New Orleans Saints.

McBride played in just 15 games for the Saints over the past two seasons, recording two sacks. In 2010, McBride had a career-high 5.0 sacks for Lions. Over his six-year career, he has 9.5 sacks.

The Bears are still believed to be interested in re-signing defensive Israel Idonije, who has said that he wants to retire with the team.

Contributing: Sean Jensen

PHOENIX -- The biggest criticism of the Bears' seemingly never-ending attempts to make Devin Hester a legitimate receiver was that it took away from and hurt his effectiveness in the return game.

But that won't happen anymore under new Bears coach Marc Trestman.

Trestman said Wednesday during the NFL annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore that Hester, first and foremost, will work on returning to form as the best kick returner in the NFL. Trestman stressed that right now he's looking at Hester as strictly a specialist.

PHOENIX - Mike Shanahan still believes in quarterback Jay Cutler, whom he drafted 11th overall in 2006, when they were in Denver.

So Shanahan didn't hesitate when new Bears coach Marc Trestman connected with him to ask him some questions about the quarterback. Shanahan.jpg

"I've known Marc for a long time, and he knows I spent some time with Jay, and he asked me a couple of things that I shared with him," Shanahan said. "I know that Marc feels very good about Jay, and I think the world of Jay. He's a very talented guy. I just think he'll get better and better."

Cutler steadily improved under Shanahan with the Broncos, and he earned a Pro Bowl berth after the 2008 season. But after Shanahan's surprise ouster, Cutler was traded to the Bears by Josh McDaniels.

Cutler, 29, enters the final year of his current contract.

Asked how Trestman and Cutler will work together, Shanahan said, "I think it'll work well."

Shanahan didn't elaborate.

urlacherbears.jpgPHOENIX -- Bears coach Marc Trestman was clear as can be. He and his coaching staff still see value in veteran linebacker Brian Urlacher and want him to return.

It's just a matter of getting the right deal for the Bears.

"We evaluated Brian and we think he can help our football team -- no doubt about it, we do. " Trestman said Wednesday during the NFC coaches breakfast during the NFL annual meetings at the Arizona Biltmore."[But] that's the coaching side of it. The coaching side is that we've made an evaluation and feel good about having Brian back. Not just from a locker-room perspective, but as a player on a football team.

"We've established that as a staff and then the rest is the process, the collective process of what is best for the Bears. There is a lot that goes into that. There's more to it than just the football side. There's a lot that goes into it. That's the best interests of the Bears. That's where we are.

"Things have been written and things have been said. I don't know how much is true and how much isn't, but I know that [general manager] Phil [Emery] and [vice president of business administration] Cliff [Stein] are actively working to try and resolve the issue, and I trust that process."

Tom Zbikowski may be on Bears radar

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PHOENIX - Could former Buffalo Grove and Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski continue his NFL career with his hometown team?

Indications are that the Bears may be interested in the veteran safety, who recently was released by the Indianapolis Colts.

The level of interest in unclear but the Bears need to add players in the secondary. At the right price, Zbikowski certainly would be worth adding to their mix at safety.

Zbikowski was originally a third-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

bearsurlachernash.jpgPHOENIX - It was the top highlight of Brian Urlacher's best performance of 2012, a season that ultimately ended in disappointment.

There was the aging Bears middle linebacker deftly maneuvering his way into the end zone after intercepting Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. His return wasn't all that fast, but it encompassed 46 yards and involved some nifty footwork.

Urlacher's future remains murky. The Bears want him back, but at their price. The market for linebackers who are about to turn 35 and have played in one system for most of their career also is nearly non-existent at this point.

But did Titans coach Mike Munchak see a player, who looked like he was at the end of his career?

roach.jpgPHOENIX - Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen was glowing when talking about his newest addition -- former Bears linebacker Nick Roach. Allen even called Roach the "quarterback" of his defense.

"No. 1, when you put on the tape, he's all over the place," Allen said Tuesday during the AFC coaches breakfast at Arizona Biltmore during the NFL owners meetings. "You visually see production, and I think that's one of the first things
that you look at. Anybody that's you've talked to around the league that's either been in the locker room with him or been in involved with coaching him can't say enough good things about him.

"Then you bring him in and you visit with him and you find out just how smart this guy is and you really find out how important football is to him and the level of commitment that he's going to be willing to put forth to not only perform on the field individually, but to take on some of that leadership role that we're looking for in our locker room."

Roach, a six-year veteran out of Northwestern, was the Bears' starting strong-side linebacker, starting 59 career games. He also took over in the middle for the final four games of last season after Brian Urlacher injured his hamstring.

PHOENIX -- Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie didn't need to watch much new tape of linebacker Nick Roach.

Before taking over the Raiders in 2012, McKenzie was a longtime personnel man with the Green Bay Packers, most notably as the team's director of player personnel, so he knew Roach from his days in the Chicago area not only with the Bears but with the Wildcats.

"No. 1 is his versatility," McKenzie said of what appealed to him about Roach. "You don't have to take him off the field. He's athletic enough to play nickel, and he's played all three of the positions before, at some point.

"That's what jumped out."

The Raiders signed Roach to a four-year contract worth up to $13 million, with $5 million guaranteed. The expectation is that Roach will start at middle linebacker for the Raiders. Roach's first-year salary cap number is $1.63 million, according to terms of his contract.

The Bears didn't seem to aggressive in re-signing Roach, who played the last six seasons with the Bears.

For his part, McKenzie - a standout linebacker at the University of Tennessee who played five NFL seasons - gave Roach the ultimate compliment.

"He's done special teams," McKenzie said. He's just a football player. That's the thing. He's just a good, solid football player."

PHOENIX -- The NFL announced a total of 32 compensatory picks were awarded to 16 teams on Monday. But as expected, the Bears didn't receive any.

From the NFL: "Under the rules for compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better compensatory free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive compensatory draft picks.

"The number of picks a team receives equals the net loss of compensatory free agents up to a maximum of four. The 32 compensatory choices announced [Monday] will supplement the 222 choices in the seven rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft (April 25-27)."

PHOENIX -- The NFL made it clear Monday at the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore that questions about a player's sexuality are off limits during interviews.

Commissioner Roger Goodell was absolute in saying that league has a stance on the topic during his press conference in the afternoon, saying that team executives will be educated on the matter.

PHOENIX -- Jason Campbell may get what he wants: a chance to compete for a starting spot.

There are clubs interested in signing Campbell to compete to be the starter while others - like the Bears - want him as a backup, according to a league source said. Campbell Throw.jpg

Currently, the clubs with the most unsettled starting quarterbacks are the New York Jets (Mark Sanchez), Cleveland Browns (Brandon Weeden), Jacksonville Jaguars (Blaine Gabbert), Tennessee Titans (Jake Locker), Philadelphia Eagles (Nick Foles), and Arizona Cardinals (Drew Stanton).

The Bears are believed to remain interested in re-signing Campbell to back up Jay Cutler.

Campbell, 31, was 32 of 51 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions last season, but he lost his lone start against the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football.

PHOENIX -- Bears president Ted Phillips wants linebacker Brian Urlacher to retire with the club, but he's confident he hired the right man to facilitate whether that happens or not.

Bears general manager Phil Emery has insisted that Urlacher would not be "slighted" by the club, and Phillips said that's been the case. T Phillips.jpg

"I think Phil has handled it very well. We'd obviously love for Brian to retire a Bear and we're still hopeful," Phillips said. "But it'll work itself out in time. Sometimes those things take a little longer than you'd like them to."

Phillips said he's been impressed with how Emery communicates with players.

"Phil is always thoughtful, and he's always caring in his approach with every player," Phillips said. "I think he's taken exactly the right approach with Brian and shown him the respect he deserves."

The one club not named the Bears linked to Brian Urlacher is the Dallas Cowboys.

That's because Rod Marinelli, the Bears defensive coordinator, left to become the defensive line coach in Dallas and to help install the 4-3 Tampa Two scheme there.

But Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones seemed to indicate that Urlacher isn't in his team's plans.

"He has a history with Rod, so we've gotten a good indication what that's all about there. You're talking about a Hall of Fame player here, an Urlacher. You don't ever dismiss Hall of Famers in my book," Jones said today. "But obviously it'd be difficult. He plays what Sean plays and to move everything around for a year doesn't really make a lot of sense. But at the same time you don't ever rule it out."

Jones is referring to Sean Lee, the team's 26-year-old middle linebacker. He only played six games last season, due to an injury, but he was viewed as an up-and-coming star after the 2011 season.

In addition, the Cowboys have the least salary cap room in the NFL as they work aggressively to sign quarterback Tony Romo to a long-term deal.

Money, money, money: Brian Urlacher and the Bears

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After he opened free agency with a splash for a second consecutive offseason, Bears general manager Phil Emery warned everyone that the club was "up against the cap" and that they hadn't come to a conclusion on re-signing Brian Urlacher.

Publicly, Emery's made clear he wants the perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker back. But privately, the Bears clearly only want that to happen on their terms. Urlacher S-T.jpg

So what could it be?

I reached out to six league sources, three agents and three league executives, to glean their insight on what type of deal may make sense for both sides. The Bears, for instance, have $5.45 million in salary cap space, and they likely want to bolster their depth at other positions in a clear buyer's market. They intentionally kept the cap numbers of left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett low and they need to set aside between $2 to $3 million for their rookie draft class, although they won't need to worry about that until they start to sign them.

Urlacher, meanwhile, certainly wants to get as much as he can, especially since he made $7.5 million last season, not to mention a $500,000 bonus.

But where is a happy middle ground?

There may not be.

Two sources said Urlacher would be fortunate to command a one-year, $2 million deal based on his 2012 season and the current market. But two others thought the best route may be a deal similar in structure - albeit cheaper - to the one the Washington Redskins gave to middle linebacker London Fletcher in April 2012. He signed a two-year, $10.75 million. Fletcher, 37, played all 16 games last season and finished with 139 tackles, three sacks, 11 passes defended and five interceptions. And while he's not as big a name as Urlacher, Fletcher, remarkably, has never missed a game in 15 NFL seasons.

Zack Bowman re-signs with the Bears

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Zack Bowman is headed back for a sixth season with the Bears, according to a league source.

Bowman will be signing a one-year deal.

A fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2008, Bowman has appeared in 57 games and started 16 games. But he's distinguished himself as an asset on special teams.

Bowman, 28, signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Vikings last year. But he was released just after the final cuts to make room for cornerback A.J. Jefferson, whom the Vikings acquired in a trade.

Upon his return, Bowman immediately made an impact on special teams, particularly after the departure of Corey Graham, a Pro Bowl selection in 2011.

Bears have $5.6 million in salary cap space

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After a flurry of moves to open free agency, the Bears have $5.6 million in salary cap space, according to league sources.

But what does that figure mean? Football Money.jpg

Bears general manager Phil Emery emphasized several times on Wednesday that the club was "tight against the cap."

Here's why.

When free agency started Tuesday afternoon, all NFL clubs had to be under the $123 million salary cap and stay there. The $5.6 million may seem like a lot, but it's not when you consider that they need to allocate about $3 million for their rookie class. In addition, they have to keep some space for practice squad players and potential replacements to account for any injured players.

As I've said numerous times, the Bears can create more space. The most obvious and logical, in my opinion, would be to sign cornerback Charles Tillman to an extension. He enters the final year of his deal, which is due to pay him $8 million. With an extension, the Bears could slash his cap number in half.

Nick Roach agrees to terms with the Raiders

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Linebacker Nick Roach, who began his career in the AFC West, is returning there.

Roach has agreed to terms on a contract with the Oakland Raiders, a league source said, confirming an ESPN Chicago report. Roach 2.jpg

After going undrafted out of Northwestern, Roach was signed by the San Diego Chargers. After they released him, Roach signed with the Bears, and he's started 59 games.

The Bears were interested in re-signing him but appeared lukewarm in their interest. Upwards of 10 teams expressed an interest, but the Raiders convinced him to visit first.

Asked what he was looking for in free agency, Roach recently told the Sun-Times, "Just best overall situation.

"You take everything into consideration, like quality of life, teammates, coaches, chances of winning."

Bears re-sign Nate Collins to a one-year deal

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The Bears have re-signed defensive tackle Nate Collins to a one-year deal, according to two sources.

Collins appeared in nine games last season and finished with 11 tackles and one pass defended.

Collins proved to be a solid backup player for the Bears. Collins, 25, spent his first two NFL seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Collins will make the league minimum of $715,000. He provides depth with the expected release of defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, who was set to collect $300,000 more. Toeaina has refused to take a pay cut.

The Bears don't have a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, but general manager Phil Emery doesn't mind. He'd give it up again if given the chance.

"I would trade those two third-rounders for Brandon Marshall again," Emery said Wednesday at the Walter Payton Center. "I would go back and do that deal."

And he's up for more wheeling and dealing if another team is up for it.

With left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett now part of the Bears after busy first day of free agency, Emery said he's open to listening to teams about trades that would deliver the Bears more picks in return.

On Wednesday, the Bears welcomed free-agent signees Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. Below is the audio from the full press conference.

Source: Lance Louis set to visit undisclosed team

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Lance Louis, the team's top-rated offensive lineman last season, is set to visit another NFL club, according to a league source.

An unrestricted free agent, Louis started 11 games last season and 28 total in four seasons with the Bears. The former seventh-round pick has steadily improved, but he was lost for the season when Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen blindsided him on an interception return by cornerback Antoine Winfield.

Louis, 27, is recovering from a torn ACL.

urlacherside.jpgBears general manager Phil Emery said Wednesday that talks are "ongoing" with some of their unrestricted free agents -- notably linebacker Brian Urlacher -- but admitted that right now his team is "tight against the [salary] cap."

What that means for Urlacher is unknown right now. The Bears have approached Urlacher about returning to Chicago for his 14th season, but there has been little to report after Urlacher's representatives sent an offer to the Bears last week.

One popular theory is that the Bears are waiting for the free-agent market to set Urlacher's value before they respond and a potential deal can be worked out.

News Bears coach Marc Trestman has liked what he's seen on film from Urlacher, who turns 35 in May. In 2012, Urlacher had 88 total tackles, a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

"I think that Brian is a very, very capable player," Trestman said when asked about watching Urlacher on film. "I'm excited about him being part of this football team, if that happens, certainly."

Source: Bears expected to release DT Matt Toeaina

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The Bears are expected to release veteran defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, who is expected to decline a pay cut, according to a league source.

Toeaina was due a $760,000 base salary, with a $290,000 roster bonus and $75,000 workout bonus.

Toeaina is currently in Rome on vacation, a source said.

Once they release him, the Bears will save $1.125 million in salary cap space.

The Bears saved $2.5 million earlier Wednesday by releasing tight end Kellen Davis.

Jay Cutler in action.jpgBears quarterback Jay Cutler, in the final year of his contract, said he is not anticipating the Bears negotiating another extension and has no problem playing out the final year of the contract, making 2013 a ''prove-it'' season.

As Cutler noted, the Bears probably don't have salary cap room to give him te contract he would be looking for. But in Marc Trestman's first year, the Bears are likely to want to see exactly what they have -- or don't have -- in Cutler before committing to him long-term.

''I think that's probably the way we're headed,'' Cutler said Wednesday morning on ''The Silvy & Waddle Show'' on WMVP-AM. ''We haven't really talked about anything. We're upgrading in certain positions. I don't think we really are in a positition to do my deal.

''Phil's got a plan worked out We'll just have to see what happens. I'm perfectly comfortable in the situation I'm in. If we go into it iwth this last year then so be it. I'll play it out and we'll see what happens at the end of the year.

Jermon Bushrod vs. Eagles.jpgAll the pieces are in place for Jay Cutler after the Bears signed two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett in free agency on Tuesday.

''Not a bad day, huh?'' Cutler said Wednesday morning on ''The Silvy & Waddle Show'' on WMVP-AM.

The key addition for the offense is Bushrod, who gives the Bears their most accomplished left tackle since the Bears signed John Tait in Lovie Smith's first season in 2004.

''It makes life easier. That's for sure,'' Cutler said. ''Not only for me, just for game-planning. When you have a guy like that, you can put him over there and ... you don't have to worry about him and the rest of the line can turn and slide the other way. It's a similar situation in Denver when I had Ryan Clady as a rookie. He made game-planning easy for us.''

Jay Cutler and J'Marcus Webb.jpgCutler also is enthused about the addition of Bennett, who signed a five-year, $20-million contract.

''Extremely athletic guy,'' Cutler said. ''[He] played a lot of basketball growing up so he's kind of got that tight end/basketball pedigree that people want. He's really good friends with [Brandon Marshall], so I was talking to him yesterday. B couldn't be more excited to add him to the team.

''I watched a little highlight reel on him today. Explosive guy. He did a lot more blocking as well with the Giants because of their running game. He's that versatile guy taht can do both really well, which is hard to find.''

54urlacherpic.jpg

The Bears have been busy adding players -- tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod -- and clearing some cap space -- cutting tight end Kellen Davis -- since free agency opened on Tuesday.

But so far, not much has been going with their own players, who became unrestricted free agents on Tuesday at 3 p.m. Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach, Lance Louis, Jonathan Scott, Israel Idonjie and Kelvin Hayden are all out there to be had by teams.

Moving on without Urlacher remains a real possibility for the Bears. And it's the loss of Urlacher -- the Bears' defensive leader for more than a decade -- that would have the biggest impact in their locker room.

He flashed potential, and Kellen Davis was given every opportunity to fill the void left by Greg Olsen.

But Davis, a 2008 fifth-round pick, ultimately disappointed.

He had the size, the speed, and he could block and catch. But he struggled with consistency, and his productivity in clutch situations left much to be desired.

In January, after Davis had 19 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, Bears general manager Phil Emery acknowledged that the tight end had a "rough season."

Now he's gone.

The Bears signed Martellus Bennett to a four-year, $20 million contract Tuesday, and they released Davis this morning, a move that will clear $2.5 million in salary cap space.

Last offseason, ironically, the Bears could have signed Bennett to a much cheaper deal. After playing behind eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in Dallas, Bennett wanted a starting job, and he eventually settled on a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the New York Giants. The Bears, meanwhile, signed Davis to a two-year, $6 million contract that included $2.7 million guaranteed.

They didn't get their money's worth.

Now Davis, finishing his five-year stint with the Bears with a solid 11 touchdowns but just 47 catches for 529 yards. Bennett had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns last season alone.

The Bears clearly are better at the position. Bennett is a more proven and consistent run blocker as well as pass catcher. His 40-time isn't as fast as Davis, but Bennett is explosive for his size.

And while defenses ignored Davis, Bennett will command respect, giving the Bears more options on every down, in every situation.

According to a league source, the Pittsburgh Steelers could be an eventual landing spot for Davis. The Steelers have very little cap space, and they have a need at tight end.

More releases and restructures could be on tap for the Bears, after a productive opening day of free agency.

Tuskegee safety William Buford was one of several players who stood out at the NFL's Chicago regional combine this past Sunday at the Bears' Walter Payton Center.

But he's stood out before.

Buford, despite being from a relatively small college compared to some Division I programs, did that at the Raycom All-Star Classic in January.

"The game is played the same way, whether it's a small school or big school," Buford said. "The biggest thing was coming from a small school and being able to hold my own with the LSUs, the Notre Dames, the Alabamas.

"It gives me a mindset -- which was already there -- of being able to compete on a high level. Not necessarily playing for those schools, but still playing at a high level at a high speed. Being around those guys, it just opened your eyes up to the everyday life of somebody that's at a big school.

"The coaches [at the All-Star game], they encourage you to compete. They saw the fight coming from a small-school guy."

The Bears made a big splash on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with tight end Martellus Bennett on a four-year deal and with left tackle Jermon Bushrod on a five-year deal.

Here's what Bears fans had to say about it:

Determined to upgrade the offensive line, the Bears turned to a free agent developed by new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer.

According to a source, the Bears are working on a long-term contract with Jermon Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who has played his first six NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints wanted him back, but Bushrod is going to follow Kromer to Chicago, as the two will be keys in turning around one of the NFL's worst offensive lines.

The Bears were also interested in former four-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, but it's believed his price tag was too high.

"We're very fortunate to get a left tackle in free agency," general manager Phil Emery told the team's website. "It's very difficult to get them in the draft and it's extremely difficult to get them in free agency. To be able to get [Bushrod] was a coup for the Bears."

A fourth-round pick in 2007, Bushrod only appeared in three games his first two seasons. But after Kromer arrived as the Saints' offensive line coach in 2009, Bushrod became a starter and has only missed one game in the four seasons since.

He's started all 16 games in each of the last three seasons.

Bushrod turns 29 in August.

UPDATE: It's a five-year, $35.96 million contract with $17.715 million guaranteed. Bushrod's 2013 salary cap number is $3.01 million, according to a league source.

In search of upgrades, the Bears have been linked to a number of free-agent offensive linemen: Jake Long, Phil Loadholt, Andy Levitre and Brandon Moore.

After seeing some sign elsewhere, the Bears agreed to terms on a five-year deal with left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who is reunited with new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Bushrod developed into a Pro Bowler under Kromer with the Saints.

As for the others, the Bears inquired about Levitre, the best guard available, but, according to multiple reports, he signed a massive, long-term deal with the Titans.

According to the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt, Levitre, who started every game at guard for the Bills since 2009, agreed to a six-year deal worth $46.8 million. There was no way the Bears would be able to afford that without making considerable changes.

The Bears also had an interest in Loadholt, a right tackle with the Vikings. But he re-signed with the Vikings just before free agency opened at 3 p.m.

Long, arguably the best left tackle in the NFL before injuries hindered him, will reportedly visit with the Rams.

bennettmartellus1.jpgThe Bears have agreed to terms on a four-year deal with tight end Martellus Bennett, who had a break out season for the New York Giants in 2012.

Bennett, 26, had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns last season. According to Pro Football Focus' rankings, Bennett (6-6, 265 pounds) was the NFL's fifth-best overall tight end in 2012.

In other words, Bennett is a big upgrade over Bears tight ends Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth and Kyle Adams. The Bears ranked last in receptions by tight ends in 2011 and 2012.

Here's a highlight tape of Bennett found on YouTube:

Minutes into free agency, free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett announced that he's going to be a Bear.

On his Twitter account, Bennett wrote, "I'm proud to say I'll be joining my other brother [Brandon Marshall] next season." He capped it with, "Bear down."

The Bears announced that they've agreed to a four-year deal with Bennett worth $20 million Tuesday evening.

The Sun-Times first reported Tuesday the team's interest in Bennett.

Bennett is one of the top free-agent tight ends and would provide the Bears' offense another weapon.

A second-round pick in 2008, Bennett played behind Cowboys eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in Dallas. After signing a one-year deal with the New York Giants last season, Bennett started all 16 games and finished with 55 catches for 626 yards with five touchdowns. His longest catch was a 33-yard touchdown.

"He's a very good athlete with excellent size," Bears general manager Phil Emery told the team's website. "He's a good receiver who runs good routes."

According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett was rated the NFL's fifth-best overall tight end, ahead of players such as Jimmy Graham (10th), Vernon Davis (9th) and Tony Gonzalez (17th).

As a receiver, Gonzalez was No. 1 and Bennett was 11th. Bennett was ranked 3rd by PFF as a pass blocker and 13th as a run blocker.

Bennett is 6 foot 6, 265 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at the NFL Combine.

If the Bears need salary cap space, releasing tight end Kellen Davis would save $2.5 million.

Bears interested in TE Martellus Bennett

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The Bears have expressed an interest in free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett, according to a source.

Bennett is one of the top free-agent tight ends and would provide the Bears' offense another weapon. Bennett.jpg

A second-round pick in 2008, Bennett played behind Cowboys eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in Dallas. After signing a one-year deal with the New York Giants last season, Bennett started all 16 games and finished with 55 catches for 626 yards with five touchdowns. His longest catch was a 33-yard touchdown.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett was rated the NFL's fifth-best overall tight end, ahead of players such as Jimmy Graham (10th), Vernon Davis (9th) and Tony Gonzalez (17th).

As a receiver, Gonzalez was No. 1 and Bennett was 11th. Bennett was ranked 3rd by PFF as a pass blocker and 13th as a run blocker.

Bennett is 6 foot 6, 265 pounds, and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at the NFL Combine. He's 26 years old.

They're there for the taking now.

With the clock striking 3 p.m. in Chicago, a number of Bears -- notably linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach, offensive linemen Lance Louis and Jonathan Scott and defensive lineman Israel Idonjie -- became unrestricted free agents with free agency officially opening in the NFL.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said he planned on speaking with the agents of Urlacher, Roach, Louis, Scott and Idonije. But no deals were reached before free agency began.

Bears part ways with team chaplain Ray McElroy

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The Bears and team chaplain Ray McElroy have decided to part ways, according to multiple sources.

McElroy had been with the club over five years, and he was very popular with players, leading Bible studies and providing insights and guidance whenever called upon. McElroy.jpg

A call to McElroy Tuesday morning has not yet been returned.

A native of Chicago, McElroy graduated from Proviso West and Eastern Illinois University, where he was a four-year starting cornerback. He was then a fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts, where he played four years, before finishing his career with the Bears and Detroit Lions.

Every summer, he hosts the Ray McElroy Pro Football Youth Camp, and he runs a non-profit called "A Ray of Hope on Earth."

What's become very clear come Tuesday morning is that the Bears are looking at upgrading their offensive line via free agency, which opens at 3 p.m. And one lineman they're keen on is guard Andy Levitre.

A source said the Bears are interested in Levitre, who has started every game for the Bills since being drafted with the 51st overall pick in 2009. He's considered the best available guard.

Bears expected to make a run at Jake Long

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The Bears desire to upgrade the offensive line isn't a secret, and they're expected to be in play for the most prominent one - Jake Long.

A four-time Pro Bowl left tackle and the No. 1 pick in 2008, Long is coming off a rough season, and his market is unclear. He was placed on the IR for the final four games with a torn triceps, and he missed the final two games in 2011 after a torn biceps muscle. Jake Long.jpg

The Bears have at least expressed an interest in checking on the status of some prominent free-agent guards and tackles but what they're willing to spend on the positions or particular player is the multi-million question.

There has been speculation that Long is looking to make an average of $11-$12 million a year, but it would be hard to imagine the Bears paying that.

Long was considered one of the truly elite left tackles earlier in his career, but his play suffered in the last two seasons, when he was sidelined with injuries. According to Pro Football Focus, Long was ranked 47th out of 75 tackles last season. In 2011, he was 21st but second in 2010 and second in 2009.

Long, though, is just 27 years old.

If Long is too expensive, there are several other notable options. Free-agent tackles include Sebastian Vollmer, Andre Smith, Jermon Bushrod, Phil Loadholt, Sam Baker, Eric Winston and Bryant McKinnie. It's believed the Bears have expressed an interest in Bushrod and Loadholt, who would presumably be cheaper than Long.

Three were taken off the market: Branden Albert (franchised by the Kansas City Chiefs), Ryan Clady (franchised by the Denver Broncos) and Will Beatty (re-signed with New York Giants).

Last year, on August 31, the Minnesota Vikings traded a seventh-round draft pick for cornerback A.J. Jefferson then released Zack Bowman to make room on the roster.

Bowman returned to the Bears, providing much-needed help on special teams and even some depth at cornerback.

But on Monday, the Vikings placed the low tender on Jefferson, which begs the question: Could the Bears be interested in him? Jefferson.jpg

While there is believed to be interest in bringing Kelvin Hayden back, the one advantage for Jefferson is that he's only 24 with 14 NFL starts under his belt. Charles Tillman is 32 and Tim Jennings is 29.

In the last two seasons, Jefferson has 103 tackles with 17 passes defended and one interception.

From my recollection, he played fairly well against the Bears last season.

By placing the low tender on Jefferson, the Vikings are only committed to paying him $1.3 million for next season. Any club can offer Jefferson a contract, without giving up any draft picks, but the Vikings have the right to match.

Undrafted out of Fresno State, Jefferson is 6 foot 1, 190 pounds.

Bears have $7.01 million in salary cap space

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On the eve of free agency, the Bears didn't restructure any contracts and have $7.01 million in salary cap space, according to league sources.

The Bears' cap number increased by nearly $3.2 million because of cap adjustments, likely from unearned incentives that had previously been counted.

As I noted Feb. 28, the Bears can create a lot of space -- and in a hurry. Here's the story on different ways they can do that.

The first thing that came to mind for receiver Freddie Barnes when he was back at Halas Hall on Sunday for an NFL regional combine at the Bears' Walter Payton Center was a bad memory.

But the former Homewood-Flossmoor star still left satisfied with his performance.

"I instantly think of when I pulled my hamstring in practice running a deep post," Barnes said while staring out at the Payton Center practice field after the combine concluded.

"Other than that it was fun. I had a good time showcasing some of my abilities and putting the [combine] T-shirts on. It was a good experience."

Blake Hammond figured he lived close enough and had a enough talent and determination to give it a shot. So on Sunday, the Western Michigan tight end and former Lincoln-Way East star woke up at 8 a.m. and drove from his parents' home in the south suburbs to Halas Hall in Lake Forest.

Hammond, a star quarterback at Lincoln-Way East not too long ago, was one of several players with local ties to take part in an NFL regional combine at the Bears' Walter Payton Center. There were 275 players who participated in the combine on Sunday.

There are 13 regional combines for position players and one super-regional combine in Dallas (April 7) this year. In 2012, there were 69 players who attended either a regional combine or the super-regional and were on NFL rosters heading into training camp.

"It's great to see some of the upper-class athletes from the area," Hammond said. "And we had a lot of guys coming in from all over the country, showing us what they got. It's a good showcase of talent, and it's good to be around it."

Vikings ship Percy Harvin to Seattle

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The trade is contingent on a new contract, but the Minnesota Vikings have agreed to trade receiver Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks, according to a league source.

The news was first reported by ESPN and Fox Sports. Harvin.jpg

Harvin had made it clear to the Vikings that he wanted an elite receiver contract, reportedly on par with Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald, who make over $15 million a season.

ESPN reported that there's a window now for Harvin's agent to work out a long-term deal with the Seahawks. Harvin must also pass a physical.

According to Fox Sports, the Seahawks are sending this year's first-round pick (25th overall) and a 7th rounder as well as a mid-round pick next year.

This begs the question: How does this deal compare to the Bears' to land Brandon Marshall last offseason?

Guard Ramon Foster could be on Bears radar

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It's believed the Bears could have interest in guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Moore.

Now add Ramon Foster. Ramon Foster.jpg

Undrafted out of Tennessee, Foster has started 42 of 57 NFL games. Last season, he started all 16 games at right guard for the Steelers.

According to Pro Football Focus, Foster is the 10th rated free-agent guard on the market. Moore is No. 1 and Levitre is No. 2, according to PFF.

Overall, for the 2012 season, Foster was ranked 34th among guards by PFF. Moore was 4th, and Levitre was 9th.

So where did Bears linemen rank? Well, Lance Louis was 47th while Chris Spencer was 50th. So Foster, on paper, would represent an improvement, according to PFF.

Foster is 27 years old, and he's 6 foot 6, 325 pounds.

Foster should draw a fair share of interest, including from his initial team, the Steelers.

Henry Melton accepts franchise tender

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Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton has accepted the franchise tender from the Bears and will sign it in the near future, his agent Jordan Woy said on Twitter.

Last week, the Bears applied the franchise tag to Melton. Once he signs, Melton will be guaranteed $8.45 million, the tender amount for defensive tackles, for the 2013 season. That ensures the Bears don't rescind the franchise tag, which they could do. On the flip side, Melton surrenders the negotiating tool of not showing up for offseason workouts and perhaps showing up at training camp.

Woy, though, made clear that the focus now is on a long-term deal, which could benefit both Melton and the Bears. For Melton, it could guarantee him more than the $8.45 million he's set to get for the 2013 season. And, for the Bears, they can dramatically lower his $8.45 million salary cap number.

"It just feels good to be thought of so highly," Melton told the Sun-Times last week. "Been a long road."

Melton, 26, earned his first Pro Bowl berth after the 2012 season, when he finished with six sacks.

The list of teams lining up for the services of guard Andy Levitre, who has started every game for the Buffalo Bills since being drafted in 2009, should be long.

And the Bears are expected to be included.

Fixing the Bears' woeful offensive line is widely considered to be general manager Phil Emery's No. 1 job for the offseason. Teams are allowed to talk to unrestricted free agents on other teams during a three-day negotiating period, which starts Friday at 11 p.m. Free agency officially begins at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

The Bears announced their offseason schedule on Friday:

March 12 (3 pm CT) New League Year and free agency begins

April 2 Chicago Bears offseason workouts begin (non-field activities)

April 16-18 Veteran Voluntary Minicamp

April 25-27 NFL Draft

May 10-12 Rookie Minicamp

May 13
OTA (organized team activities) Practices begin

June 6 OTA Practices end

June 11-13 Veteran Mandatory Minicamp

The official starting date for training camp will be announced at a later time.

Bears would like Jason Campbell back

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The expectation was that veteran quarterback Jason Campbell would serve as Jay Cutler's backup in 2012 then head elsewhere.

But indications are that the Bears would like Campbell back -- and he's receptive to that possibility. Campbell Throw.jpg

Despite leading the improvement of the Oakland Raiders offense, Campbell was ousted when he was injured then replaced by Carson Palmer, who then head coach Hue Jackson had worked with in Cincinnati.

Campbell didn't get any chances to start or compete early in free agency last offseason, and he elected to join the Bears to work under coach Lovie Smith and alongside Cutler.

He signed a one-year deal worth $3.5 million, including a $2 million signing bonus.

Campbell had a strong training camp and the Bears were pleased with him. But he struggled in his lone start, on Monday Night Football against the San Francisco 49ers. In that game, he was 14 of 22 for 107 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. In that game, he was sacked six times.

With Matt Moore re-signing with the Miami Dolphins, however, Campbell, 31, could become an appealing option for a team that's looking for a veteran to push a young quarterback.

The available free agent class is relatively weak.

The agents for Brian Urlacher provided the Bears contract parameters for a new deal Thursday morning, according to a league source.

Earlier Thursday, Pro Football Talk reported that the Bears and Urlacher were "engaged in ongoing discussions" and Fox Chicago added in the evening that Urlacher's agents made an offer.

The key, of course, is how much the Bears are willing to pay Urlacher, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who has played his entire career with the team.

Veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije said Urlacher has to return.

"You start talking about our defense, Brian Urlacher is the quarterback of that defense. He is the linchpin in what drives us," Idonije said on The Score. "So when you start talking about getting the offense better and then maintaining defensive success, Brian Urlacher has to be a piece of that equation... You take him out of that situation, things just change.

"I think Brian is going to be back and he's a Chicago guy. He's really a big part of the team culture. When I listened to coach [Marc] Trestman talking about men of character, guys who are going to come in and work hard and really embody everything he envisions the team to be, I mean, at the top of that list is Brian. So I think they're going to look to really get him back and ultimately his heart is here. He wants to be here."

Last season, Urlacher was paid $8 million. He'll have to take a steep pay cut to continue his career with the Bears. The question is how much of a cut.

Urlacher has made it clear privately to the Bears and even publicly that he doesn't want to play anywhere else.

But the Bears offer will be important.

At the NFL Combine, I spoke to eight general managers, personnel executives and coaches if Urlacher had anything left. Only one definitively said he did not.

Urlacher's play improved last season, before a hamstring injury sidelined him. And because the Bears will continue with the 4-3 defense, Urlacher still has value to the defense, even if his athleticism has clearly declined.

Besides, what is the alternative?

The Bears don't have anyone on the roster, especially with Nick Roach also a free agent. And the free-agent class at interior linebacker isn't a rich one, other than Dannell Ellerbe, the Baltimore Raven who is expected to land an expensive contract. As for the draft, there are some options but are they ready to step in at a challenging position and start for a team with championship aspirations?

Veteran defensive lineman Israel Idonije wants to play two or three more years in the NFL and he hopes that they're spent in Chicago with the Bears.

That's what Idonije, who has been with the Bears since 2004, said during an interview on 670 The Score with Laurence Holmes on Thursday night. Idonije is set to become an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday and should garner plenty of interest from around the league.

Branden Albert was a player often linked to the Bears.

But not anymore, after the Kansas City Chiefs used its franchise tag on Albert just before the 3 p.m. CST deadline Monday.

The Chiefs, in fact, announced a trio of moves this afternoon. In addition to franchising Albert, they also announced the signing of extensions for receiver Dwayne Bowe and punter Dustin Colquitt.

As for the franchise tag, a total of eight teams used it this offseason, far below the record 21 from a year ago. For a second consecutive offseason, the Bears used the franchise tag.

The franchised players are: Safety Jairus Byrd (Bills), defensive tackle Henry Melton (Bears), defensive end Michael Johnson (Bengals), linebacker Anthony Spencer (Cowboys), offensive tackle Ryan Clady (Broncos), punter Pat McAfee (Colts), Albert and defensive tackle Randy Starks (Dolphins).

The next key NFL date is March 9, when a negotiating window begins for agents and clubs to work toward contracts for free agent players. Free agency officially starts March 12.

Henry Melton receives franchise tag from Bears

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As expected, the Bears placed the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.

While on vacation, Melton was informed of the team's decision.

He's flattered.

"It just feels good to be thought of so highly," Melton told the Sun-Times. "Been a long road and now just want to get a long term deal done and remain a Bear for years to come."

The 2014 franchise tag for defensive tackles is $8.45 million. Melton, though, clearly would prefer a long-term deal. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Melton has established himself as one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL. Just 26 years old, Melton started his collegiate career at Texas as a running back but transitioned to defensive tackle.

Melton has shined the last three seasons for the Bears, culminating in a Pro Bowl berth in 2012.

The Bears utilized the franchise tag for a second consecutive offseason. They did so last year with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte. They were one of the record 21 teams to use the franchise tag, and they were among 12 that secured the player to a long-term deal.

The Bears have until July 15 to work out a long-term deal with Melton, otherwise he'll play the 2013 season for $8.45 million. If the Bears franchise him again next offseason, that base salary would jump to $10.14 million.

Barring a last-minute uptick in negotiations, the Bears will use the franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton by the Monday afternoon deadline.

By doing so, the Bears give themselves until mid-July to work out a long-term deal, as they did a year ago with Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte.

And many league sources expect a similar contract to tempt Melton. Melton Away.jpg

The Bears, in essence, guaranteed Forte consecutive franchise tenders. To use that same strategy on Melton, the Bears would have to guarantee $18.59 million. The franchise tag for defensive tackles, according to NFL Network, is $8.45 million. If the Bears used it again next offseason, Melton would get 120 percent, or $10.14 million.

But will that be enough for Melton, who is 26 years old?

He just completed his rookie deal, which paid him $565,000 last season. He could command more in free agency, but the Bears aren't likely to let him get there.

So will he pass on an extra $10 million and gamble that he'll have another good season?

Last year, a record 21 teams used the franchise tag. As of Friday afternoon, only one -- the Cincinnati Bengals -- used it. Several others re expected, though, before Monday's 3 p.m. CST deadline.

As it stands, the Bears have virtually no salary cap space, if they elect to use the $8.4 million franchise tag on Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton.

Although the Bears are about $12 million under the salary cap, the franchise tag and the space needed for at least the team's top two draft picks ($2-3 million) leaves them virtually no room.

I clearly spell out in this story that the Bears can easily create space by restructuring, extending or cutting a handful of players.

The reality is, it's going to be a buyer's market, and the Bears can create space to afford whatever position they choose. Look no further than the contract the New York Giants got offensive tackle Will Beatty to sign Wednesday.

It's five years, $38.75 million, with $19 million guaranteed. But the Giants structured the deal so it would only eat up $3.55 million in cap space in 2013. The Bears could do something similar for any of the many free-agent offensive tackles out there.

Personally, I think the Bears will make a serious run at two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who worked closely with new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in New Orleans. One would assume his deal would be somewhat similar to Beatty's.

But as Spotrac shows in this posting, Beatty's cap number increases dramatically in the second year and thereafter. That's something the Bears -- and all other teams -- have to be mindful of.

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