Chicago Sun-Times

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The scouting combine begins a week from today in Indianapolis, and two weeks from now teams and agents will be sitting next to their phones waiting for free agency to begin. Let's get right into Four Down Territory.

Q: I've heard that the quarterback crop coming out next year far exceeds that of this year. Could it be that Jerry Angelo has decided to wait until next year to draft that franchise quarterback the Bears so desperately need? Seems to me this would give Kyle Orton one more chance to prove himself. Plus, why waste a draft pick this year on a quarterback that isn't NFL ready when you can see a bumper crop of quarterbacks available next year. Of course, I thought that Atlanta's QB Matt Ryan wasn't that great of a draft pick, and look how that turned out.

Joe, Metropolis, Ill.

A: I think you're trying to play connect-the-dots with the Bears and the quarterback position and as we know that's a dangerous game. Committing to Orton as the quarterback for 2009 doesn't have anything to do with the talent available at quarterback in this draft or next.

TAMPA, Fla.--It doesn't look like Bears rookie running back Matt Forte will be chosen as the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year, which will be announced Thursday. Forte is one of five finalists for the award along with Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson and Houston running back Steve Slaton.

In fact, word is honors will belong to Flacco. A source said Flacco is flying in to Tampa and that's likely to collect hardware at the noon press conference announcing the winner. The winner was chosen by fan vote.

But Forte hasn't been forgotten during the week. Pittsburgh running back Mewelde Moore, who preceded Forte at Tulane, was asked about the Bears' star and whether or not they keep in touch.

The mailman was a little delayed today but here we go:

Q: You seem to be locked into the idea that the Bears will sign a veteran quarterback of marginal talent to come in and wear a visor behind Kyle Orton after what may or may not be a half-hearted competition during training camp. The names Chris Simms, Byron Leftwich, J.P. Losman, J.T. O'Sullivan, Jeff Garcia and on and on and on do nothing for me. I'm accepting of the fact that Kurt Warner will probably re-up with Arizona. What about Matt Cassel? Why no Cassel discussion? Didn't Jerry Angelo say he wouldn't rule out anything?

Ivan M., Wicker Park

A: Fair questions, Ivan. Certainly Cassel has to be on the radar of every team out there seeking a quarterback solution. That rules out one team in the NFC North, Green Bay. All indications at this point are that New England will slap the franchise tag on Cassel, a $14 million proposition which means the Patriots will have $27 million tied up in him and Tom Brady alone under the 2009 cap. There's considerable speculation that New England will tag Cassel with the intent of trading him, likely for draft picks as the Patriots look to infuse their roster with some youth. There are a couple of things at play here, the most significant being Brady's health. He tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee and has battled an infection as well. If Brady isn't going to be available in 2009, and we're not suggesting that is the case, then it would be difficult to see New England shipping off Cassel. Brady's status is a source of great debate these days.

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