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BOURBONNAIS, Ill.--The Bears' rare trade for a Pro Bowl quarterback in Jay Cutler came together when an unusual set of circumstances happened very quickly.

Namely, the Kansas City Chiefs with former New England front office man Scott Pioli beat the Denver Broncos with former New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel.

McDaniels badly wanted to bring Cassel with him to the Mile High City to run his new playbook. When he failed in his trade efforts and Cassel landed with Pioli and former Bears wide receivers coach Todd Haley in Kansas City, things disintegrated quickly with Cutler. Haley and the rest of the coaches in the AFC West just sat back and enjoyed the theater of the disgruntled as McJaygate, what they called the plot in Denver, unfolded over the course of five weeks.

Haley, speaking to me last week for an article in the National Football Post, knew how long the Bears' search for a quarterback lasted. He's willing to take an assist on the Bears' landing Cutler.

"Yeah, I'll take partial credit,'' Haley said of the Bears' once-in-a-generation trade to acquire a Pro Bowl quarterback in his mid-20s. "I pushed hard for Cassel. I didn't know him up close and personal, but I think he has a chance to be good.''

While most other NFL teams are slowly reeling in the remainder of their draft classes with signings that are becoming more plentiful by the day, the Bears have had that business wrapped up for more than a month. The season is fast approaching and the Bears' first training camp practice at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., is two weeks from today. We've already put in our request for an 80-degree day with full sunshine and a light breeze. Individual game tickets go on sale a week from Saturday on July 25 at noon via Ticketmaster phone and Internet outlets.

As our 30-day countdown to camp marches on with little news, we're going to jump around with a few different items this morning. But first, we have a little news.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Bears and Olivet Nazarene have reached an agreement for the team to leave camp following practice on Aug. 20. The contract between the club and the school allowed the Bears to occupy campus through Aug. 21 but school officials asked the team to leave a day earlier to allow them time to prepare for the arrival of the student body of 2,500 beginning Aug. 22. That means the Bears will be at another location for their Aug. 21 walk through in advance of their second preseason game Aug. 22 at Soldier Field vs. the New York Giants. For a complete training camp schedule, go here.

*** KC Joyner was able to sidestep much of the Jay Cutler firestorm he's been at the center of recently in another chat on ESPN.com. It's Joyner's opinion that this could be a better team than the one that went to Super Bowl XLI following the 2006 season.

"Wouldn't you know it, I only get one question in and a Cutler comment gets posted. I'll say this about the Bears - they get a lot of turnovers and have the next Brian Westbrook in their backfield. They went to the Super Bowl with less talent than what they have now. Cutler will hurt them at times but many teams have won with QBs that have high bad decision rates, so they have at least a 50/50 shot at the division."

That is high praise for running back Matt Forte that we detailed here. No one seems up in arms with that comparison by Joyner. By the way, later on in his Thursday chat he clarified that he has Minnesota as the favorite to claim the NFC North, but called them a 51/49 favorite over the Bears.

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The one who got away from Josh McDaniels and the Denver Broncos got paid.

No, Jay Cutler didn't get a new contract.

But Matt Cassel cashed in on Tuesday as he received a $63 million, six-year contract, providing him with more security than the $14.65 million, one-year deal he had after being designated with the franchise tag by the New England Patriots before they traded him. It was the Broncos who hoped to write that new contract, and their failed bid to land Cassel was the launching point for Cutler's departure from Denver.

Cassel will receive $28 million guaranteed and will earn more than $40 million over the first three seasons. With his contract averaging about $10 million per season, he's close to the middle of the pack for quarterback pay. Get used to the big numbers because the Bears will be floating them soon. With more than $17.5 million in available salary cap room, the Bears would like to put a big chunk of that to work this fall with an extension for Cutler, who is signed through 2011 and has a $12 million roster bonus due in that final year of the contract.

Would signing a contract as soon as possible be the best move for Cutler?

He was adamant money wasn't the reason he wanted out of Denver. The Bears are invested in him for the long haul. They didn't swap two first-round picks and Kyle Orton to get Cutler and see how he performs. They've got to be comfortable tacking five new years on to his contract right now. Doing so before the fall deadline to re-negotiate a contract and have money applied to this year's cap makes sense for two reasons:

1. It lets the Bears apply a portion of the deal to this year's cap. There really aren't any other players in line for large extensions. This, of course, assumes a CBA extension is reached and the cap remains relevant.

2. It lets the Bears get Cutler under contract for longer before quarterback deals explode.

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Need proof the NFL is a year-round business? We've got plenty of football news moving toward mid-June with training camp less than eight weeks away. We're going to get to a Four Down Territory Q&A on Monday, so if you have any last-minute questions to submit, get them in. Let's cover seven issues here in a hurry-up offense:

1. General manager Jerry Angelo addressed the health of former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris last week on the team's Web site. Harris has done occasional on-field work in the voluntary offseason workout program. When media was allowed at Halas Hall last Wednesday, Harris participated in positional drills.

"There's no major concern with him,'' Angelo said. "He's going to be up and going at some point here in the OTA's. We feel good about where he's at medically. There's nothing to be alarmed about. This is the offseason. We want to make sure that we take care of our players to the best of our ability and we're always going to err on the side of caution in the offseason. He's got an issue with his knee; we know that. He has to be smart about it, which he is. We've got to be smart about it, which we are. Is his knee pristine? No. it's not. But it's not something that he can't perform well with. We've been real smart about how to bring Tommie along in terms of his training program. He's not the only player. There are customized programs for most of our players because we don't want the wear and tear to happen during the offseason. We just want to be smart about how we bring our players along. We don't want to waste any mileage that players have in the offseason. The wear and tear comes during the season, not the offseason. The offseason is dedicated to conditioning, strengthening and training our players within our offensive and defensive schemes."

OUR SPIN: Look for Harris' work in training camp to be monitored closely and he could see limited action in preseason too. In the past, coach Lovie Smith has kept him off artificial surfaces in preseason and the Bears open the preseason at Buffalo, which uses an AstroPlay field at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bears are counting on big things from Harris after paying him a $6.67 million roster bonus and they're going to preserve him for when it matters most. The next big payoff in Harris' deal is a $2.5 million roster bonus due June 1, 2010. The club would like his balky left knee to be no worse for the wear then. We wrote it here a while back, don't look for players with questionable injury concerns to land rich deals from the Bears again, not after Angelo's comments about closely scrutinizing medical records when it comes to draft picks.


2. ESPN's Sal Paolontonio
reports that the lawyer for wide receiver Plaxico Burress is maneuvering behind the scenes in efforts to reach a plea deal before Burress' next court appearance in New York on June 15.

"Three teams are believed to be serious enough about considering Burress for the 2009 season that they have contacted his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, to inquire about his legal status: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets."

OUR SPIN: The Jets and Bucs both had interest in landing quarterback Jay Cutler. Could the Bears beat them to the quarterback and the wide receiver? Obviously, Burress' legal situation needs to be ironed out before anyone is going to offer him a contract, but that process could happen sooner rather than later. He's still likely to face a suspension from commissioner Roger Goodell. How many games Burress would get is anyone's guess. Ex-Bear Tank Johnson received an eight-game suspension following the 2006 season after the raid on his Gurnee home. There was a provision in that suspension that allowed Johnson to be re-instated after six games. Remember, though, Johnson had a previous weapons arrest during his Bears' career. He was busted outside a downtown nightclub for having a weapon in his vehicle.


Plenty of football news today so we're just sitting down to sift through our mail now. Before we know it, we'll be off to minicamp on Tuesday. Let's get right to it.

Q: If you were general manager of the Bears, what would you give to the Denver Broncos to get Jay Cutler? What would it take to get him? Who else has the best shot of trading for him?

Duane, Parts Unknown

A: When you step back and survey the entire situation and how it unfolded in Denver, it's fascinating. There are a couple things that struck me from the beginning. First, had Josh McDaniels done something to royally hack off Bill Belichick? Did he do something to earn the Mangini treatment? Signing wide receiver Jabar Gaffney away from New England probably didn't go over real well in Foxboro, Mass. That was my immediate reaction, though, how in the world was this thing blowing up and did anything precipitate it. Did anything? I don't know but I can tell you it stinks from here.

My second reaction was what kind of evaluation did the Broncos make of Cutler? Sure, McDaniels feels like he raised Matt Cassel in this league. He probably did. But there are other people involved in the decision-making process there--including one of the more respected owners in the league in Pat Bowlen--and a club doesn't start talking trade for a quarterback it KNOWS is a franchise quarterback. That's just it. Is Cutler a franchise passer? An upgrade over anything the Bears have had since a healthy Jim McMahon? You bet your Ditka sweater. But a slam dunk, bona fide star for the next decade? I don't know. Probably not with the Bears' current offensive core. Cutler went to a Pro Bowl after his second full season as a starter but there's a lot of room for improvement in his game. Before this meltdown there were those in certain league circles who questioned Cutler. So, besides a reunion with Cassel, what was McDaniels' thinking in plotting a trade? You've got to consider some of these questions.

Full day of football with the trip up to Evanston this morning for the Northwestern pro day. There were 32 players from other state schools at the workout too. More on the pro day action later. Right now, let's get into the mailbag. We'll have one more Four Down Territory on Friday--get your questions in now--and then we're going to move to an abbreviated schedule next week with minicamp. Here we go.

Q: I was just listening to the Score and they were saying Tampa was in trade talks for Jay Cutler. If Tampa can be in trade talks for Cutler, why can't the Bears be? Tampa doesn't have a quarterback and the Bears have a higher first-round pick than them. Shouldn't Jerry Angelo at least try to get in there for a quarterback of his caliber? Did he not say fixing the quarterback position was a priority? With all of Angelo's first-round busts would this not be a safe move? Cutler is not Matt Cassel, he has all the good and has shown it, he is a fan of the Bears and has the type of arm and feet you need in Chicago.

Creighton, Parts Unknown

A: I haven't found one report that the Broncos and Bucs have engaged in any recent contract talks involving Cutler. Tampa Bay, of course, was in the three-way deal that was proposed prior to free agency and included the New England Patriots. But nothing indicates Cutler trade talks have happened again. The Broncos finally got Cutler on the horn earlier this week and that didn't go over so well. It will be interesting to see if he shows up next week for the beginning of the voluntary offseason program, a pretty big step under new coach Josh McDaniels.

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Another exciting day of free agency is ahead of us. Let's get right into the action.

Q: Jason Taylor just got released from Washington. What are the chances the Bears would consider him as a one- or two-year stop-gap measure as a left end? Adewale Ogunleye is the Bears' most productive end right now as far as rushing the passer, but given the choice between the two, I would take Taylor, who has gotten it done for several years prior to being moved to outside linebacker in the 3-4. As a 4-3 end, there are few that can match his initial quickness off the ball, and his overall athleticism. His decline in production I think is more related to taking him away from the quarterback, not from any loss of talent or work.

Joe F., Parts Unknown:

A: That seems to be the popular thing to do this offseason, find a name player on the market and discuss whether or not he will wear a blue helmet with a C on the side of it this coming season. You don't have to think twice about this one, Joe. Taylor and the Redskins were in negotiations where the team said it was willing to maintain his salary for this season of $8.5 million provided he found the time to go to work in Ashburn, Va., for 75 percent of the offseason program, or roughly eight of the 13 weeks it's in operation. Mind you, this is a player who skipped workouts last offseason to participate in a television dancing show.

Now, let's think about that for a minute. Taylor isn't going to show up for eight weeks and then play during the season for $8.5 million? Does that sound for a second like a player the Bears would consider? They're embarking on what, to date, appears to be the most significant offseason program since the first once Lovie Smith ran in 2004. He's moved up the starting date to March 16--the very first day teams are allowed to begin this activity. He's setting the tone for not just the offseason program but the season itself and the first minicamp practice at Halas Hall is two weeks from today.

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The opening weekend of free agency has come and gone and the Bears added one player in offensive lineman Frank Omiyale, with offers currently out to two others in Kevin Jones and John St. Clair. There are a couple big names still floating out there--wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is reportedly going to pick his new team some time today--but the fireworks appear to be just about over. Let's get back into the action:

Q: I have a question regarding Matt Cassel. Jerry Angelo has mentioned several times that sitting at the No. 18 pick there won't be an "elite" player available because if that player was "elite" than he would be taken already before the pick. My question is this then--Cassel, regardless if some people think he was just a "system" player with good weapons (Randy Moss and Wes Welker good, that running game...not so much), was an ELITE player in the NFL last year. For the past 20 years the Bears haven't had anything close to an elite quarterback. Why then wouldn't Angelo offer up his first-round pick when he conceded there will be no "elite" players left at pick 18 and grab a guy who was a top five quarterback last year? 

Steve K., New York

A: Fair question. I spoke to a handful of people around the league at a variety of different positions and the consensus was they believe Cassel was a product of the Patriots' system which not only had top talent, as you pointed out, but top coaching as well. The lack of a running game may have contributed to his success, at least his numbers, as Cassel ranked ninth in the league with 516 pass attempts. When you break down the numbers, I'm not sure Cassel was a top five quarterback from last year either. If you're just going by the numbers, I'll take Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, Donovan McNabb, Jay Cutler, Chad Pennington, Aaron Rodgers (yes, Aaron Rodgers) and maybe even Matt Ryan ahead of him. So, maybe he was a top 10 passer last season.

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Jay Cutler is kickin' mad at the Denver Broncos.

He's been showing up for work dutifully the past few weeks, getting to know the new coaching staff and all the time, at least in Cutler's mind, they've been plotting a way to get rid of him.

It didn't happen. A proposed three-way deal that would have sent Cutler to Tampa Bay, a first-round pick to New England and Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel to the Broncos didn't materialize. Not after the Patriots dealt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Chiefs for a second-round pick, the 34th pick in the draft. Bill Belichick's longtime associate Scott Pioli lands two players he coveted.

If the three-way deal was real, we imagine the the Patriots would have taken a first over a second. Don't you? Whether or not the more complicated deal got started too late, who knows? The fact is New England didn't find quite the trade market for Cassel it expected, or at least it hoped for, proof that there are many league insiders out there who feel the first-time starter was a "system player'' who was surrounded by top talent on the field and off with a terrific coaching staff.

Maybe new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who came from New England, wanted to work with Cassel instead of Cutler. Maybe Belichick and the Patriots used a supposed trade possibility to leverage the Chiefs. Know this: Belichick and McDaniels didn't have a Belichick-Eric Mangini fallout. He's not driven to drive his former assistant into the ground, at least not in this setting.

But Cutler tells Mike Klis of the Denver Post that he's miffed. Maybe he's the one who wants out now. Bill Williamson of ESPN.com listed Tampa Bay, Detroit and Chicago as possible landing spots for Cutler. At this point, the Broncos are telling anyone who will listen that Cutler is not available. The team has reportedly schedule a sit down with him in what will likely be the first move by McDaniels to try to mend the relationship.

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John St. Clair isn't the only Bears player to reach the open market that the team wants back.

Add running back Kevin Jones to that list. The Bears have made him a contract offer but there is considerable interest in him right now. Jones told the Sun-Times that most of the teams in need of a back, including Buffalo, Cincinnati, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Tampa Bay have expressed interest in him. It's not known if he has fielded any other contract offers.

Jones said last season that he would like to return to the Bears even though he was used sparingly, getting just 34 carries and being a healthy inactive for a stretch of four games late in the year. He petitioned coach Lovie Smith for a chance to participate on special teams and then got back into the mix.

"I've have been telling you all along, and you may have thought, `This kid is crazy,' during last year, I want to come back to the Bears,'' Jones said. ``I like the staff, I like all the teammates. If you want an example of what an NFL team should be like, the coaching staff, everything, that's it. I'd love to be back but sometimes business gets in the way."

Go ahead and take one veteran quarterback off the list of players Jerry Angelo can pick through.

David Carr, the No. 1 pick of the 2002 draft, has re-signed with the New York Giants, according to the New York Daily News. This reduces the short list of experienced veterans as free agency quickly approaches on Feb. 27. Another possibility also disappeared as Luke McCown re-upped with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two seasons.

Kurt Warner has come and said if he plays next season it will be for the Arizona Cardinals. The Tennessee Titans are working to bring back Kerry Collins. Matt Cassel was already tagged by the New England Patriots.

Matt Cassel speculation in Boston is reaching a fevered pitch after the career backup turned star received notification New England would place the franchise tag on him Thursday and then reportedly faxed a letter to the team Saturday accepting terms of the $14.65 million, one-year contract.

Hey, who wouldn't go for a $14 million raise in a heartbeat? Cassel might be the player most overjoyed by being tagged--ever. No one could blame him.

But it puts the Patriots in a situation where their salary cap of $123 million will be weighted down by $29.27 million committed to two players--Cassel and fellow quarterback Tom Brady. That's 23.7 percent of the cap in two players, and only one of them can play at a time.

Brady's returning from multiple knee surgeries and the wait is on to see what the next move is. Some believe Cassel will be traded. Some believe he's there to stay as insurance. The excellent blog run by Mike Reiss over at the Boston Globe touches all the bases.

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