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The cyber mailbag has been getting stuffed in e-mail and on my Twitter account.

Are the Bears in play for Terrell Owens?

My initial take on T.O. to the Bears is NO, but keep in mind that the N in NFL stands for never rule anything out.

Before we go any further, let's get to the genesis of these e-mails and the rampant speculation that is all over the Internet. ESPN's Adam Schefter speculated that the Buffalo Bills could look to trade Owens before the NFL's trading deadline, which is next Tuesday. Schefter's short item starts out: "About a week before the Oct. 20 NFL trade deadline, the Buffalo Bills are not shopping wide receiver Terrell Owens." Then, he goes on to explain why it would be a good idea for the Bills, who could lay off roughly $4 million of the $6.5 million contract Owens signed with Buffalo this season.

The Bills are going nowhere in 2009, only to an offseason rebuilding with a coach not named Dick Jauron, but they built energy in their club and fan base by surprisingly signing Owens after he was cast off in Dallas. Do they want to admit failure and deal away the one player who spurred ticket sales? You've got to keep in mind the issues Owens caused in Dallas and before that in Philadelphia when you consider the idea of adding him to a locker room that Lovie Smith likes right now, one that is calm, veteran and clear of pretty much anything in the way of controversy. A ripple in the Bears locker room occurs when tight end Desmond Clark announces on his Internet radio show that he has a fractured rib. That's controversy for the Bears.

Owens has 12 catches for 202 yards and one touchdown for a miserable Bills' offense. He turns 36 in December, and he simply doesn't get off press coverage at the line of scrimmage like he did before. Scouts will tell you he doesn't have to be defended the way he did three or four years ago. If the production of the Bears' wide receivers has not been a surprise to the team, then it has been a surprise to everyone not residing at Halas Hall. Devin Hester, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett are all on pace to have more than 750 yards receiving, something no trio in franchise history has accomplished. Is any receiver going to the Pro Bowl? Probably not. But the Bears are far ahead of where many upset they didn't swing a trade for Anquan Boldin figured they would be.



Owens is a big target at 6-3, 224 pounds, and he could probably excel with Jay Cutler throwing him the ball. Cutler likes big targets, and he's not the least bit surprised that Kyle Orton has found success with Brandon Marshall in Denver. Throw it up for a big receiver and watch him go get it. Cutler likes big receivers and it's one reason he took to Devin Aromashodu in training camp and preseason. Owens would offer that dimension to the offense, one it really has not been getting from tight end Greg Olsen, who was supposed to have a breakout season.

Got a good question in the mailbag last week and I thought it would make a good post on its own.

Q: Could you please explain what a No. 1 receiver is. Is he the one that catches most of the passes? Can he be a No. 1 if he doesn't catch 100 in a season? Is he the one that leads the team in receiving yards? Perhaps he's the "go to guy?" The most reliable? Best hands? Is he the fastest receiver on the team? Is it similar to having a No. 1 defensive end, or maybe an offensive tackle or guard. Is there such a thing?

Is it better than having two or three equally talented and dependable receivers? Wouldn't it be better to keep a secondary guessing who's gonna get the ball? Could a tight end be a No. 1 receiver? If not, why? Basic terminology says there is a tight end and a split end. I understand how it has changed to wide out, and could the slot receiver (the back in a pro set formation?) be a number 1? How many NFL teams actually have a number 1 receiver?

In all seriousness, I don't understand and wish someone would explain it. Although I've always heard the term and thought I understood, I really don't. I'm sure I'm not the only one out here. I think there are an awful lot of people that only pretend to understand because it's cool to throw around cool terms in a conversation and are ashamed to admit that they don't.

Please help,
Pete J., Mt. Prospect

A: Well, Pete, I'm not going to claim to be the No. 1 authority on this subject, and I think it's fair to say a No. 1 wide receiver is many things to many different people. Let me just say that the definition of No. 1 wide receiver, in my book, is an elite wideout who could start for any team in the league. I like to think of a No. 1 wideout being a "blue" in scouting terms, and a blue is an elite level player who could start for all 32 teams. By that definition, of course, it's fair to say the Bears do not have a No. 1 wide receiver. A blue receiver is going to be someone who can stretch the field vertically and has all of those traits you rattled off. A No. 1 wide receiver is one who had a chance to impact the game on every down. He can't be a guy who just catches a lot of balls, or gets a lot of catches in the red zone. He needs to be a player that on a weekly basis the opposing defense is very concerned about. Right now, the Bears don't have one. They're hoping they can forge that player between Devin Hester and Johnny Knox.



Would it be better to have a No. 1 or three equally talented and dependable receivers? To each his own, but you can sign me up for the elite talent every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Blues are the players that make the biggest difference on Sundays. Remember when the Carolina Panthers came in to play the Bears in the 2005 playoffs? Can you name the wide receiver who started opposite Steve Smith? Keary Colbert. The Bears knew who was getting the ball and they couldn't stop him. Smith has been an elite talent for a long time. If you're referring to the Bears, I'd be careful saying they have three equally talented and dependable receivers at this point. Devin Hester has been good. Earl Bennett and Knox basically have four games of experience each. They've been productive thus far and all three are on pace for a little more than 750 yards receiving.

The sudden emergence of rookie Johnny Knox through the first two games has raised an interesting question about a wide receiver that had a breakthrough during training camp and preseason--Devin Aromashodu.

Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake jokingly referred to Aromashodu as Wally Pipp and Knox as Lou Gehrig, a funny analogy but one that doesn't fit. Aromashodu can't be Pipp because he hasn't been out on the field with the Bears in the regular season yet. It's impossible to lose a gig he never had. But on the fields of training camp and in preseason, he quickly emerged as one of Jay Cutler's preferred targets. At 6-2, 201 pounds, he has good size, and the relationship was evident at the very beginning of camp. It was cemented in preseason when Cutler actively worked to feed him the ball.

But a slight quad pull sidelined Aromashodu for the season opener at Green Bay, creating an opening on the game day roster for Knox, who otherwise appeared destined to be inactive. He took the opportunity, and a few passes from Cutler, and ran with them. The Bears have only dressed four receivers for the first two games--starters Devin Hester and Earl Bennett--Knox, and Rashied Davis. It's going to be hard to justify bumping up another wide receiver when you consider special teams needs. Davis is a four-phase contributor on special teams, and that matters. He forced the game-ending fumble against Pittsburgh on the kickoff coverage unit. It's clear Cutler wants to see Aromashodu at some point, but the wideout will likely have to prove useful for special teams coordinator Dave Toub. Fourth and fifth wideouts have to be major special teams players.

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Saving the biggest puzzle for last, we conclude our position-by-position training camp previews with, what else, the wide receivers.

Projected starters: Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami; Earl Bennett, 6-0, 204, 2nd season, Vanderbilt

Others

Devin Aromashodu, 6-2, 201, 3rd season, Auburn
John Broussard, 6-1, 181, 2nd season, San Jose State
Rashied Davis, 5-9, 187, 5th season, San Jose State
Juaquin Iglesias, 6-1, 205, Rookie, Oklahoma
Derek Kinder, 6-1, 202, Rookie, Pittsburgh
Johnny Knox, 6-0, 185, Rookie, Abilene Christian
Eric Peterman, 6-1, 202, Rookie Northwestern
Brandon Rideau, 6-3, 198, 3rd season, Kansas

Projected depth chart

WR: Hester, Davis, Knox
WR: Bennett, Iglesias, Rideau

2009 salary cap numbers

Devin Aromashodu $465,200
Earl Bennett $595,409
John Broussard $390,200
Rashied Davis $1,581,666
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Juaquin Iglesias $554,900
Derek Kinder $319,416
Johnny Knox $361,060
Eric Peterman $310,666
Brandon Rideau $465,200

Number of wide receivers on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 6

Projected number of wide receivers on 2009 roster at start of the season: 6

The skinny: From general manager Jerry Angelo on down the Bears know they don't have this position where it needs to be. Angelo acknowledged the Bears would have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver had they not traded the pick to acquire Jay Cutler. Then, he tried to trade for Anquan Boldin when the draft began. Finally, the Bears did enough snooping around on Plaxico Burress to earn their Jr. Inspector Clouseau badge. Think right about now Burress wishes now he'd done his couple months in the pokey? It looks highly unlikely that Burress will help Cutler and the Bears this season and that puts the onus on Cutler to make some of these players better. Ideally, the Bears would be in a situation where they would only keep five receivers on the roster, but if Iglesias (third round) and Knox (fifth round) earn roster spots, as expected, they'll probably need to try to cover for the inexperience with numbers. Say what you want, and we're not demeaning any of the players at this position, but it's a quantity over quality matter here. Quite frankly, that could help Rideau in his bid to win a job.



So how much better can Cutler make the Bears' receivers? There is certainly something to a quarterback making a wide receiver better but he's not the difference between Eddie Royal's 91 catches as a rookie last season in Denver and Bennett's 0 catches as a rookie last season. Cutler isn't going to clone Brandon Marshall in the Olivet Nazarene dorm rooms, either. He can make the receivers better and that starts with them developing a trust and a rapport. Cutler has to know what the receiver is going to do before he does it. That comes with reps, lots of them.

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We come to our second to final position-by-position breakdown as we close in on packing our bags and heading to Bourbonnais, Ill., and the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. This morning we target special teams.

Projected starters: K Robbie Gould, 6-0, 185, 5th season, Penn State; P Brad Maynard, 6-1, 188, 13th season, Ball State; LS Pat Mannelly, 6-5, 265, 12th season, Duke; KR Danieal Manning, 5-11, 202, 4th season, Abilene Christian; PR Devin Hester, 5-11, 190, 4th season, Miami.

2009 salary cap numbers

Robbie Gould $2,905,200
Devin Hester $6,885,833
Pat Mannelly $962,200
Danieal Manning $885,200
Brad Maynard $1,392,280

Number of specialists on the roster at the start of the 2008 season: 3

Projected number of specialists on 2009 roster at start of the season: 3

The skinny: The Bears didn't get the kind of electric scores they grew accustomed to from Hester, but they still scored on special teams in 2008. Manning ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, Brandon Lloyd and Garrett Wolfe both scored on blocked punts and Zack Bowman scored on a muffed punt. Alex Brown also blocked a 38-yard field goal try by Green Bay's Mason Crosby in the Week 16 meeting with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. The Bears went on to win in overtime. So, it's not like Dave Toub's unit was without major contributions. No one can pinpoint exactly why Hester lost his edge in the return game. He averaged 21.9 yards on kickoffs where he saw about every gimmick imaginable and was worse on punts, averaging only 6.2 yards. There are a handful of theories, all of them probably valid in part. The biggest reason is pretty simple--Hester got a lot more work on offense and that took away from his return game. The stats certainly support that thinking. Hester was on the field for 631 offensive snaps last season vs. 226 in 2007. He had 121 special teams snaps in 2008 vs. 182 in 2007. Another key factor to consider is the turnover the Bears had on special teams. Playing without Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo for the first time, Hester's return units lacked the mojo they had enjoyed previously. Ayanbadejo wasn't just a tremendous player, he was a leader and knew when the group needed an infusion of energy.

Still, special teams remained solid and wound up finishing eighth in the composite rankings compiled by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News after back-to-back No. 1 finishes. Manning would have been the NFC's Pro Bowl return man if he would have been promoted before the Nov. 16 game at Green Bay. He led the league in kickoff returns at 29.7 yards, and his success may lead opponents to approach him differently this time around. The coverage teams were solid but not as good as they have been in the past.

Who says you need a Pro Bowl wide receiver to win the Super Bowl?

Not Rick Gosselin, that is for sure.

The veteran Dallas Morning News' scribe did an interesting breakdown of Super Bowl winners from 1991 to present and how the makeup of offenses has changed. History proves you don't need an elite receiver to win the Big Game, not anymore any way. It's good news for the Bears, right? They have nine wideouts on their roster right now and two of them have more than seven career catches--Devin Hester and Rashied Davis. The other seven--Devin Aromashodu (7), John Broussard (4), Earl Bennett (0), Juaquin Iglesias (0), Johnny Knox (0), Derek Kinder (0) and Eric Peterman (0)--have 11 combined receptions. Yes, more than half of the receivers on the roster have not caught a pass in the NFL making position coach Darryl Drake's job about as important as anyone's entering this season.

"Neither of the last two Super Bowl champions - Pittsburgh in 2008 or the New York Giants in 2007 - had a Pro Bowl wide receiver that season. Neither had a Pro Bowl quarterback, for that matter. The Steelers finished 17th in the NFL in passing and the Giants were 21st.


"When the New England Patriots won back-to-back titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons, their top wideouts failed to crack the NFL's top 30 in receiving those seasons. Deion Branch finished 42nd in 2003 and David Givens 40th in 2004. Baltimore's top wideout in its 2000 championship season was Qadry Ismail, who finished 68th in the NFL.


"Only two NFL champions in the 2000 decade lined up a Pro Bowl wide receiver in their Super Bowl seasons - Troy Brown for the Patriots in 2001 and Marvin Harrison for the Indianapolis Colts in 2006. The rest preferred quantity over quality on the flank."

Gosselin provides a chart comparing the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 2000 through 2008 to the top wideout for the Super Bowl champs from 1991 through 1999. Five wideouts from the 1991 to 1999 group made Pro Bowls. Two in the more recent group were selected, including Harrison for Indianapolis in 2006, the year the Colts defeated the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.

There are some key points made in this story but the question right now is not if the Bears have an elite wide receiver for new quarterback Jay Cutler. The burning question is whether or not the Bears have enough wide receivers worthy of regular playing time in the NFL? I doesn't matter if you have Cutler or Kyle Orton at quarterback, you're not going to make a living pushing the ball downfield to tight ends and running backs.

What can a dominant receiver mean in the postseason? Consider Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald, whose four-game postseason run included 30 receptions for 546 yards and seven touchdowns. To put that in perspective, Hester was the only Bears wide receiver with more yards in 2008, and the Bears haven't had a wideout score that many times since Marty Booker had eight touchdowns in 2001.

Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes was the third wide receiver to claim Super Bowl MVP honors in the last five years. You might not need a Pro Bowl wide receiver, but you have to have one who can perform big on the sport's grandest stage. It's been 12 years since a running back was named Super Bowl MVP.


*** Over at the National Football Post, Matt Bowen likes the addition of strong-side linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to the Bears' defense, but the thing that jumps out from this read is his assessment of new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"I doubt they'll disappoint with new D-line coach Rod Marinelli, who's gotten rave reviews from former players I've talked to as well as Bears GM Jerry Angelo. "The best teaching coach in the league," I've heard more than once.''

The Bears injected a little youth into the line with third-round pick Jarron Gilbert and fourth-round selection Henry Melton, but otherwise they're hoping to rediscover their swagger of 2005 and 2006 with virtually the same personnel. Some have questioned the ability of Marinelli to come in, wave a magic wand and make it happen. Bowen and other league insiders believe Marinelli can make it happen, and everyone knows the hard work Marinelli has ahead for the linemen. We've written it before, we'll write it again, pay attention to the individual D-line drills in training camp.

*** It seems that the last month or so has been one projection followed by one list followed by another projection. Well, here's another list ... this time ESPN's John Clayton puts together the top five general manager-coach combinations in the NFL. He ranks Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith fourth.

"Lovie Smith-Jerry Angelo, Chicago Bears: This one might surprise some because Angelo isn't a vocal general manager and the Bears, as a team, usually slip under the radar. They stay in contention most years in the NFC North, and made it to the Super Bowl in 2006. Angelo made one of the biggest moves of the offseason, acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler, who could take the Bears to 11 wins. In the meantime, Smith has taken over the play-calling duties on defense and expects an improved, more aggressive unit this fall."


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Going over the Bears' 80-man roster right now, one position of need really jumps out at you. We're not covering any new ground when we write that they are banking on considerable production from multiple unproven players at wide receiver in 2009. Donald Driver beat us to the punch on that already.

Earl Bennett is a projected starter with zero NFL catches. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox are being counted on and the Bears are hoping they don't require a "redshirt year'' that some in the organization say Bennett had. Then you have starter Devin Hester and veteran slot receiver Rashied Davis. Brandon Rideau could also figure in the mix and he has virtually no NFL experience.

But if Lovie Smith could make one personnel move right now, import one player to his roster, would it be a receiver? Maybe. But think back to five years ago when Smith was first on the scene. The Bears went to training camp at Olivet Nazarene University and before they got out of there Smith made up his mind, he needed a pass rusher to make his defense go. We've heard Smith say it every year as the draft approaches, he can never have enough players who can get to the quarterback.

Well, the price for an elite pass rusher just went up. A lot. All of a sudden you've got multiple pass rushers (Dwight Freeney's $72 million contract is standing up just fine) making more money than some top passers, a trend that is sure to change and maybe before the Bears get around to doing a deal for Jay Cutler. Consider the joy among edge rushers this week:

*** Terrell Suggs beat the deadline that comes with the franchise tag to sign a longterm contract in Baltimore. He bagged $63 million over six seasons, the same money Matt Cassel got in Kansas City this week. According to reports, Suggs will receive $38 million guaranteed and his total bonus money in the first two years of the deal is $33.1 million, just shy of the $34 million in bonus money Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning had in his contract.

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The game of baseball lends itself to endless statistical analysis. You could just talk numbers from now until Tuesday's all-star game about the struggles of the Cubs without even mentioning the sideshows that have dominated the season to this point on the North Side. There is a statistical explanation or trend for everything.

Football isn't broken down in quite the same way, or at least it has not been in the mainstream. But the good folks at Football Outsiders are doing all they can to introduce some new tools for examining the game. Just this past week they released the Football Outsiders Almanac in PDF format. The actual book should be available in a few weeks on Amazon.com. This is the same publication that previously was Pro Football Prospectus.

If you put stock in their work you can call your travel agent. Football Outsiders projects the Bears to win the NFC this season. That's right, they have the Bears returning to Miami three years after losing Super Bowl XLI there.

"We have them with the highest projected record of any team in the NFC,'' managing editor Bill Barnwell said. "Thanks to improvements along the offensive line and a defense that we expect to be much healthier."

The addition of Jay Cutler has a little bit to do with their forecast as well. We've done a little light reading through the 517-page book and it's loaded with some very interesting analysis, some of which we will touch on right here and more of which we'll get into later this week and as we get closer to training camp. The PDF version of the book is available on their Web site here if you want to check it out yourself.

The statistic at the center of almost everything Football Outsiders does is DVOA--Defense Adjusted Value Over Average. It's not quite as simple as yards per carry or even the often misleading passer rating. What DVOA does is put yardage gained into better perspective. An eight-yard pass on third-and-10 isn't very helpful. It's going to lead to a punt. But a one-yard run on third-and-one is effective, right? A one-yard one on third-and-one vs. the Williams Wall or the Pittsburgh Steelers is more impressive, too, than say an identical outcome vs. Detroit. DVOA evaluates every single play during the NFL season and strips out plays such as Hail Mary passes, kneel downs, spikes, and every play is studied after adjusting for down, distance, situation on the field and the quality of the opponent. So every third-and-one play across the entire league is analyzed. Every third-and-12 is studied. Every snap for all 32 teams goes under the microscope. The DVOA is the percentage vs. the league average. So a 10 percent DVOA is pretty good. A running back with a 10 percent DVOA is doing 10 percent better than the league average. On defense, a negative DVOA means a team is allowing fewer yards than the league average.

So where do the Bears stack up? Well, it's been since 1995 that they had a positive DVOA on offense. Erik Kramer's big season when he passed for 3,838 yards and 29 touchdowns hasn't been replicated since. In fact, no Bears' passer has come close. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had a 17.7 percent DVOA that year as an offense, which is tremendous production. Last year, they were minus-4.3 percent, similar to the minus-4.2 percent they registered during the Super Bowl season of 2006. The worst during their 14-year stretch in which they had just the one positive season (1995) came during the Terry Shea Experiment of 2004 when the Bears were at minus-36.5 percent, worst in the league.

Defensively, the Bears fared much better last season than their total defense ranking of 21st, which measures just yards allowed. When Lovie Smith says there is more to defense than yards allowed, perhaps he has his DVOA in mind. The Bears' DVOA on defense in 2008 was minus-6.8 percent, which ranked seventh. That was one spot better than where they were in 2007. Football Outsiders' system had the Bears as the second-ranked defense in the league in 2006 at minus-19.7 percent and tops in 2005 when they were minus-21.5 percent. The lowest they have finished under Smith was ninth in 2004. We'll get into a few reasons why the DVOA was solid last season a little later on.

Thought it would be interesting to turn back the clock a year and look at some of the storylines surrounding the Bears at that time and how they turned out.

We ran a list of 10 issues facing the organization entering training camp in the print edition last July. We'll include a short synopsis of each one.

1. QB derby. Amid swirling rumors that the Bears may have interest in Chris Simms as a No. 3 quarterback, we still don't know who the No. 1 will be. Leave it to the Bears to do this.

ONE YEAR LATER: What a difference that one year makes. The addition of Jay Cutler via trade with the Denver Broncos makes this the most-anticipated training camp in years. While quarterback carousels dominated camp news in the past the hope is that Cutler will lock down the position for close to a decade. That doesn't mean Cutler won't be a daily storyline in camp. Prepare for QB stories written every which way.

2. Defense first. The Bears plummeted to 28th in team defense last season and it's yet to be determined if it was an injury-induced aberration, or a signal that Bob Babich could be on the hot seat.

ONE YEAR LATER: That defense didn't perform a whole lot better in 2008 and injuries were not reason to blame. Babich has effectively been demoted and Lovie Smith will now call the plays on defense. This remains a valid question moving into 2009. Can the Bears' defense return to championship form? The Bears have tried changing players, they've invested heavily in many players and they've certainly shuffled through an inordinate number of coaches on the defensive side of the ball. Next to come under real fire could be the defensive scheme if things don't change. Rod Marinelli represents the fourth line coaching for Smith entering his sixth season as head coach. Babich will be the third linebackers coach in as many seasons. Jon Hoke becomes the fourth secondary coach.

3. Face of the franchise. This could all of a sudden become the No. 1 storyline if Brian Urlacher's ongoing contract squabble blows up. Even if he isn't in camp--and who knows what the chances are for this--he'll be game ready come the regular season because he's a workout warrior. Some have been concerned about a decline in play because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, but at the end of last season Urlacher was playing as well as any defensive player in the league.

ONE YEAR LATER: Urlacher's contract demands were met with an $18 million, one-year extension but Cutler could fast become the face of the franchise. Now two years removed from the Pro Bowl, Urlacher is being paid like an elite player. Perhaps he will benefit from Smith running the defense.

4. Line dance. None of the other rebuilding phases on offense will be particularly successful if the overhauled line doesn't mesh. Rookie Chris Williams will be the key and his development in the coming weeks at left tackle is critical.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears managed to do fine on the line last season and Williams had nothing to do with the success. Line coach Harry Hiestand has quietly done a terrific job for several seasons and there's another rebuilding project in the works that finds Williams on the right side this time. The key this time around could be keeping left tackle Orlando Pace healthy but the emergence of Williams is essential not just for this season but for the longterm. The good thing is the Bears have plenty of depth here.

5. Born to run. There certainly won't be a distraction this summer with Cedric Benson having to answer a myriad of questions unrelated to his failed efforts to live up to his status as the fourth pick in the '05 draft. Matt Forte certainly won't be under pressure to exceed Benson's production. It's about replacing Thomas Jones, remember him? Forte is a gifted runner who the Bears believe is a first-round talent.

ONE YEAR LATER: The Bears were on the money when they said Forte was a first-round talent. Preserving him will be key this season as he wore down by season's end. Forte can be one of the top backs in the league while still sharing some of the work with a rejuvenated Kevin Jones.

Jay Cutler is ready to roll with the wide receivers he has on the roster right now.

Really, what else could the Bears' new quarterback say Wednesday afternoon when the team completed its offseason program. Players will show up Thursday, but the final day is usually reserved for a bowling outing. There will not be any more work on the field.

"I'm 100 percent comfortable [with the wide receivers],'' Cutler said. "I think we added some depth with some younger guys and then some of the older veterans are stepping up and playing well. So I think we've got more than enough to compete.''

It's easy to link Cutler with his former teammate Brandon Marshall, who has made it public he would like to be traded out of Denver. The Bears would seem more likely to pursue a guy like Plaxico Burress. With the Broncos already holding the Bears' first-round pick in 2010, the Bears don't have a lot of ammunition to trade. Then, they would have to hand Marshall the contract he's seeking that has him upset in the first place. Marshall has had more off-field trouble than Burress, who faces gun charges in New York.

"I haven't talked to Brandon Marshall,'' Cutler said. "He's a great player, Brandon is, and I played with him for three years, put up a lot big numbers with him, and wherever he ends up, obviously he's going to be successful. Whether or not it's here, that's up to the guys upstairs, but as of right now, I'm 100 percent happy with what we've got."

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With Kyle Orton's perceived top target looking more like he wants to play elsewhere, the Denver Broncos brought in a guy who looked like he was on his way to being Orton's top target last season.

Denver reeled in Brandon Lloyd, signing him to a contract Monday afternoon. He's no replacement for Pro Bowl performer Brandon Marshall, but he gives the Broncos someone Orton is familiar with heading toward training camp. Lloyd jumped out last summer in the preseason game at Seattle when Orton went to him repeatedly in the two-minute offense. They continued to work well together through the first four games of the regular season when Lloyd was easily the club's leading receiver. But a minor knee injury in Week 4 put him on the shelf and whatever chemistry they had together fizzled before Lloyd returned six weeks later. It came as a surprise to no one when Lloyd exited at the end of the season after his one-year deal expired.

What also didn't come as a surprise was the report out of Denver earlier today that Marshall told Broncos owner Pat Bowlen "I think I'd like to be traded."

Sound familiar? Star player wants out of the Mile High City? Unlike Jay Cutler, Marshall's beef is over money. He boycotted the team's mandatory minicamp over the weekend, and has been a no-show for voluntary OTA's. It's not that Marshall would have been on the field. He is still recovering from April 1 surgery to his hip.

When there is news of a disgruntled star wide receiver, the idea that he could come to the Bears isn't far behind. It will be that way from now until the Bears land a No. 1 wide receiver. In fact, the idea of Marshall has been floating around since, oh, about a half-hour after the Bears dealt for Cutler on April 2. If you think Cutler has a rapport with Earl Bennett, that's nothing compared to how he worked with Marshall. The Broncos would be hard-pressed to justify dealing Marshall, but no one thought they were actually going to cut ties with Cutler. You don't have to read between the lines with coach Josh McDaniels. He wants Marshall.

"All we can say about this is we're going to do everything we can to reconcile the situation so that Brandon returns to the field," McDaniels said. "Until then, we're going to concentrate on the players that are here."

Marshall is set to enter his fourth year in the league and the final year of his contract. That doesn't mean he's destined to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. First, if there is no CBA extension, Marshall will be a restricted free agent in 2010. Second, the Broncos would be foolish not to place the franchise tag on him if he is headed toward the open market. Julius Peppers wanted out of Carolina. That doesn't mean the Panthers wanted to see him go. They tagged him. Denver isn't going to let Marshall walk away for nothing.

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It's wide receiver fever today. Catch it! Let's get right to the mailbag.

Q: Huge Bears fan from New Zealand. Probably the only one in New Zealand so your columns are much appreciated. My question is of course about the wide receiver position. I think the Bears will do fine with what they have but why not improve? What about Matt Jones? The Bears don't have great height at the position and it is known that the coaches love speed. Matt Jones is a monster and ran a 4.37 at his combine in 2005 (even though he might not play as quick in pads). Getting named the beast at the combine shows he has talent. No problem with his hands and he had 65 receptions last year while missing four games. He has experience and is a No. 1 receiver. He would give Devin Hester and the other young receivers time to develop. Also he is 26 and has to be the best option apart from Anquan Boldin. However, I know the Bears probably say they equally value a clean record which is maybe why they haven't touched him. But he has been cleared of any game suspensions and only a fine by the NFL. Will this lead to more interest? I think improving is more important than getting someone with some bad history. A 26-year-old, 6-6 receiver with experience. Why not?

Michael S., New Zealand

A: While Jones has recently been in Arkansas working through a court-mandated program, he's spent much of the offseason working out at the IMG facility in Florida. Jones is said to be in terrific shape and the hope is that he will have multiple offers to choose between. Obviously, the Bears would be a team he'd probably be interested in joining when you consider the depth chart, Jay Cutler and, well, the depth chart. But the later it gets, the less chance there is the Bears get involved with Jones, who learned recently that the NFL will not be imposing any more sanctions against him. You make a good point that he might not play as fast as he timed several years ago. While he was very productive last season in Jacksonville, which has a run-oriented attack, Jones was a possession receiver. We pointed out the work done recently by our friend Eric Edholm over at Pro Football Weekly. He noted that of Jones' 166 career receptions, three have gone for more than 39 yards. However, few consider Jones to be a true No. 1 receiver. While we think Jones would provide an upgrade instantly for the Bears, the Bears believe rookie Juaquin Iglesias can be a productive possession receiver. Perhaps that is a role they have in mind for Earl Bennett as well. If they go outside for a receiver at this point, chances are greater it will be Burress. Unlike Jones, Burress has a whole tangle of issues to sort through, including court issues and then a likely suspension imposed by the league. Stay tuned.


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