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The NFL has changed ownership rules that could make it easier for the Bears to remain in the control of the McCaskey family for decades to come.

The Sports Business Journal reported this morning that the league voted two weeks ago at meetings in Boston to ease ownership requirements for a controlling owner that make succession plans easier for family-owned organizations and probably could have made a recent transition by the Rooney family much easier with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Previously, a controlling owner had to own at least 20 percent of the club with family members owning at least another 10 percent. In the revised format, a single controlling owner now need own only 10 percent of the franchise with other family members owning at least 20 percent to get to the same number of 30 percent. Prior to 2004, according to the report, a controlling owner had to have at least 30 percent, a figure that is more challenging with the rising values of franchises.

Forbes estimated the value of the Bears at $1.082 billion in September. So, the difference in a 10 percent stake in the team is in the range of $100 million. This will greatly aid family-owned teams looking to keep the family business in tact. Dallas, New England and New Orleans were cited as other family-operated organizations.

The report states that the Bears have been pushing for eased restrictions for years: "Several years ago, Mike McCaskey, son of 86-year-old Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey approached the league about relaxing its ownership requirements. The league rebuffed him at the time, but at least on paper, a path to ownership now would be easier for him."

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The wobbling economy has hit the NFL hard in some markets but the Bears remain strong.

Forbes released its annual list of franchise values on Wednesday and the Bears came in ninth at $1.082 billion. What's better, the club ranks eighth in operating income at $41.6 million. It's no surprise that Dallas was tops on the list at $1.65 billion, a figure bolstered by the sparkling new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Washington came in second at $1.55 billion and Daniel Snyder was the runaway leader in operating income at $90.3 million, almost $20 million more than the next closest team.

The rest of the top 10 in current value--New England, New York Giants, New York Jets, Houston, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Bears and Denver. Nineteen teams were valued at $1 billion or more, but for the first time in a decade there were franchises that lost value. In fact, eight teams dropped in value, led by the Oakland Raiders, who dipped seven percent to $797 million.

The publicly held Green Bay Packers were 18th at $1.019 billion with an operating income of $20.1 million. Because their books are public, Forbes can obtain great detail on the franchise.

Forbes noted that the Bears are the second most expensive stadium to attend a game at according to Team Marketing Report behind only New England. Forbes characterized the Bears' contract with the Chicago Park District to play at Soldier Field as a sweetheart deal.

The Bears have one of the best stadium deals in the NFL. The team pays $5.7 million a season in rent and gets all football-related revenue at Soldier Field. A big plus for the Bears: $35 million a season from premium seating. The Bears also have one of the leanest operations in the NFL, a tradition that started with the team's founder, George Halas. As a result, the team should still make a fortune this season despite not increasing ticket prices.

But one writer believes the Bears should be doing more, much more with their corporate opportunity. Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, the former longtime NFL writer for Sports Illustrated, released his annual ranking of the owners, or the bottom half of the owners. The top half comes on Thursday. Silver hammers the McCaskey family, ranking them 30th, ahead of only runaway maverick Al Davis in Oakland and Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Lots of good information came out of the OTA on Wednesday at Halas Hall. The Bears wrapped up things with another practice this afternoon that was closed to the media. Let's get right into the mailbag.

Q: The Bears seem to have many question marks entering the season including: How will Jay Cutler adjust to the Bears and will he have enough to back him up should he get injured? Will the receivers step up? Will the offensive tackles stay healthy? Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup? Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback? Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots? I feel most of these things have a pretty good chance of happening. My question then is this: Could you rank these question marks from most to least likely to happen this year?

Nik B., Indianapolis

A: There may be some question marks but certainly this team looks much better than it did in January. It's interesting because there was no buzz or enthusiasm when the team gathered for minicamp in mid-March. When minicamp is within six weeks or so of the Super Bowl, that's understandable. There was real electricity to the OTA on Wednesday, the kind of vibe you're used to getting in training camp. Let's take a look at these issues.

1. Will the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback?

This is far and away the most legitimate and biggest concern on your list. The Bears struggled generating any pressure with the front four last season and that led them to blitz more than any team in the league. They're banking on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli providing a major upgrade. Without an improved pass rush, this defense will struggle to crack the top half of the league.

2. Will the receivers step up?

The team's optimism is based on the success Cutler had with young receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in Denver. Keep in mind the tight ends and running back Matt Forte will play a big role in the passing game as a whole. But, yes, they have to get greatly increased production from the wide receivers.

3. Will the offensive tackles stay healthy?

That's a fair question but a lot of teams are going to be in a bind if one of their tackles goes down, especially the left tackle. Orlando Pace has battled injuries the last three seasons but he played in 14 games last year. Chris Williams will have to play a full season to prove his back is not an issue. The good news for the Bears is they have a veteran backup in place in Kevin Shaffer and some view Frank Omiyale's best position as tackle. So there are alternatives on the roster.

4. Are the defensive backs talented and healthy enough to fill all four spots?

Charles Tillman remains sidelined as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He will be full go well before training camp. This unit should be OK. For the defense to improve, it has to generate a pass rush.

5. Can Kevin Jones be a productive backup?

We wrote on Wednesday that Jones looked fluid running around. Remember, he was still working his way back from ACL reconstruction at this time a year ago. He could be poised to carry the ball 100 times this season.

6. Will [Cutler] have enough to back him up should he get injured?

What team is in good position if it's starter goes down? It would have made sense to us if the team had pursued Byron Leftwich when he was available but we don't see any names out there right now that make us exclaim, `Yeah, if Cutler goes down the Bears are in good hands with fill-in-the-blank.'' At this point, we're convinced a developed Hanie could be as successful (or unsuccessful) as most of the available options and just might be better.


Long day with plenty of non-related football activity. We're happy to get this Fourth Down Territory in before the day is out.

Q: Since the Bears signed the quarterback from Carolina, Brett Basanez, do you see them releasing Rex Grossman? That would just be so awesome.

Nada, Parts Unknown

A: You have nada clue when it comes to the situation, apparently. Grossman is out of contract and will become an unrestricted free agent when the period opens Feb. 27. You cannot release a player you do not have under contract.

Why would it be awesome for Grossman to be released?

It's very apparent he did not fulfill the expectations that the organization had for him, or those that he probably had for himself. Grossman has not been a pariah like Cade McNown was. Grossman hasn't been a former No. 4 overall pick busted twice in five weeks for booze incidents that he was eventually cleared of in court. Grossman didn't get it done. I'm not a Grossman backer, Grossman supporter or Grossman apologist, and you can find those types. I didn't care that he got booed at Soldier Field by hometown fans, who pay for tickets and can do as they please. But I can't understand how he is Public Enemy No. 1 for so many people. Fans are disappointed, understandably, by the Bears' long struggle to right the position. Grossman is just one guy who didn't get it done. It strikes me that he's somehow become the target for the failings of an organization. Grossman didn't draft himself. He didn't sign Jonathan Quinn. He didn't draft McNown. He sure as heck didn't trade for another quarterback from Indiana in Rick Mirer. But people want to see him fall flat on his face, preferably in a puddle of mud. Seems like the blame is being misplaced here. Grossman should get credit for handling himself like a pro during six seasons with the organization. Just remember, he didn't tell booing fans to stay at home and serenade their television set. Who knows if it will work out for him elsewhere. We'll see.

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