1. The Lance Briggs situation has gone from challenging to worse now that the linebacker has formally asked the Bears to be traded, news the Tribune's Vaughn McClure broke Friday morning. Only one thing is going to make this matter go away: money. Briggs said he was going to wait until the season ended to push hard for a trade. Then he met with general manager Jerry Angelo. That meeting prompted him to change his mind and escalate the situation, with agent Drew Rosenhaus sending an email to the club with Briggs’ intentions, per the player.
What’s surprising is that for the second time in five weeks, the Bears have had a situation spill very publicly with a high-profile player. The club was unable to re-sign center Olin Kreutz, a captain, at the start of training camp after 13 seasons with the organization. Like Briggs, Kreutz is a six-time Pro Bowl performer. It’s not often the front office has business like this and strained emotions leave the walls of Halas Hall.
This problem isn’t going away no matter how much the Bears want it to and no matter how often Briggs says he’s going to give his all. There is no way this isn’t going to affect him in everything that happens on the job. He’s a human being with highly charged emotions about this. It’s his livelihood and he believes with 60 percent of the money paid out in the first three years of a $36 million, six-year contract, he needs more. No one is going to change Briggs’ mind. The contract was designed to give him what he wanted: a frontloaded deal with money right away. The Bears were the winner at the back end of the deal.
Briggs can cite comparables all over the league, but the Bears consistently will go back to one thing: He was an unrestricted free agent when he signed the contract. He had a chance to maximize his earnings. Of course, that’s not going to sit well with Briggs.
Is there a solution? Perhaps, but that’s up to the Bears and Briggs likely will need to show some patience. Brian Urlacher didn’t get a new deal in 2008, he got an extension. He was five years through a nine-year contract when the club appeased him with a one-year extension worth $18 million. How was Urlacher’s extension paid out? He was given a $6 million signing bonus. He had $1 million tacked on to existing base pay in the remaining four years on his contract and then 2012 was added on at a total values of $8 million with $500,000 of it available in a workout bonus.
Here is how it broke down:
Urlacher’s one-year extension in 2008
$6 million signing bonus
2008 base pay $3.95 million plus $1 million added in extension
2009 base pay $4.95 million plus $1 million added in extension
2010 base pay $6.15 million plus $1 million added in extension
2011 base pay $7.35 million plus $1 million added in extension
2012 base pay $7.5 million and $500,000 workout bonus
What would work for Briggs? If the Bears were moved to consider this type of resolution, start with a $10 million or $12 million one-year extension and spread the money out in similar fashion, adding an extra year to the deal at $5 million or $6 million.
Would Angelo and the Bears consider that? Probably not before this season is over, if at all. Briggs has created quite an issue.
2. Final cuts are coming. Some dreams are ending permanently.
The Bears must reduce their roster from 79 to 53 by Saturday’s deadline (running back Harvey Unga has a roster exemption on the reserve/left squad list), meaning 26 players need to be removed. The vast majority will be young players who are waived.
The Turk is lurking. The Turk is the person responsible for summoning those who are being released. He is the messenger. It could be a phone call. A knock on a door. A tap on the shoulder.
“It’s the worst part of the job,” said Jeremy Snyder, a scout for the Montreal Alouettes who handled the chore when he was an assistant in the Bears' front office. “You see the kids come in, especially when they’re young and they’re rookies, they’re happy because their dream is being realized. The undrafted guys are just happy to be with a team.
“Then, when a couple weeks roll by and the cuts start to happen, you see everyone’s faces start to change, especially when they see you because I got to sign them. I helped them do their paperwork, I’d have small talk with them and see where they were and gauge them quickly and get a quick snapshot of them. After a while, the veterans get to them and they understand what my final job really is for them -- I am going to have to come get them.”
Tribune contributor Matt Bowen hid in his room as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2000. All of the draft picks and rookies were on the same floor in a dorm at Western Illinois during training camp, which lasted longer then.
“When he got off the elevator, people would yell, ‘Turk is coming,' ” Bowen said. “And everyone would run and hide. It was like cockroaches fleeing. He’d come around right before curfew and everyone would be on the floor. He’d grab a couple people and kill their dreams.
“Everyone got super quiet because they wanted to hear what door he was knocking on. You talk about people being nervous. You’re praying he doesn’t knock on your door and when he knocks on the door next to you, you jump.”
The process isn’t fast, and the Turk has to escort the player throughout Halas Hall until he’s out the door and on the way to O’Hare or wherever he’s staying. That could mean visits to the equipment manager and trainer and then a full tour upstairs with personnel folks and possibly multiple coaches. The Turk guides them every step of the way.
One time, Snyder searched the building high and low for a veteran linebacker who was being cut. The linebacker had left the building thinking he had made it through. It was a scramble to get him to return to be released. Snyder had to cut Bryan Anderson, an offensive lineman who was a seventh-round pick in 2003, multiple times. Each time it was more laborious.
“It was inevitable,” Snyder said. “And he should have gotten used to the process.”
“(Paul) Edinger was the hardest one to do,” Snyder said. “It wasn’t because I liked him, but you knew how the team felt about him. He was well liked by all of them. And if you remember in OTA’s they had that kicking competition with the Jets guy (Doug Brien). The day that he was cut, Paul actually beat him in the kicking contest.”
Your reward, Paul? Goodbye.
What advice would Snyder give someone tasked with the responsibility of rounding up players and herding them out the door?
“Be professional and understand that you are crushing someone’s dreams at that moment in time,” he said. “Try to put yourself in their shoes and how you would want to be treated.”
Above all else, keep in mind one thing about the entire process.
“Everyone feels like dog (dung),” Snyder said.
Even the Turk.
3. A deal the Bears are motivated to get done sooner rather than later is an extension for running back Matt Forte. But one has to wonder if before long Angelo is going to play the big card in his deck. The club can retain the services of Forte for 2012 -- if it desires -- with the franchise tag. Angelo has talked about his reluctance to use the mechanism in the past but that didn’t stop him from placing it around the collar of Briggs in 2007. He doesn’t like to use it, but if he has to, he will. And you better believe Angelo will use it as a negotiating tool, as unsavory as Forte and his agent Adisa Bakari find the idea.
Bakari was at the game Thursday night, at least the second preseason game he has attended. He said he hadn’t met with Angelo and the front office on this trip, and it was up to them.
For some clear thinking on the issue, we turn to Forte himself.
"I have to stay positive and hope it gets done to eliminate distractions in the regular season, (but) I'm human,'' Forte told the Tribune’s David Haugh. "I'm going to be distracted by something like this. I just hope it does get done.''
It’s refreshing to know Forte is honest about the situation, admitting it will weigh on him during the season if it isn’t done. That should be all the proof you need right there to know Briggs is going to be similarly affected. But from the sounds of things – and there hasn’t been much noise – Forte and the Bears are still in the natural process of negotiating, one that isn’t always fun. You have to wonder how far apart these sides were when things began.
4. Dane Sanzenbacher knows the challenge ahead of him as it appears very likely the undrafted free agent from Ohio State will stick on the 53-man roster as a sixth wide receiver.
“It’s going to be a fight to get in,” he said. “And a fight to stay in.”
Sanzenbacher’s words are good for any undrafted free agent or late-round draft pick to remember. Just because you’ve made it doesn’t mean you’re secure. The bottom of NFL rosters are constantly churning and the 51st, 52nd and 53rd players on the roster can be sent packing Monday if a team finds some players on waivers more appealing. It happens all the time. A sixth wide receiver is a luxury. If a rash of injuries hit one position, teams will get help and that help is going to cost someone a job.
But for the time being, it looks like Sanzenbacher is in good shape. He made four catches for 50 yards in the preseason victory over the Cleveland Browns and had a 65-yard punt return for touchdown called back on a holding penalty against Nick Reed.
“Maybe early on (in camp we were surprised),” coach Lovie Smith said. “But since Day 1, he’s made plays. We feel like we have a pretty good handle on where he is.”
The onus now is on the coaching staff to come up with a plan to utilize Sanzenbacher. He’s essentially a specialist on offense. If they deem him worthy of keeping, they need to have a plan to use him. He’s not going to be effective on special teams. So, it’s up to Mike Martz to carve out a role for him. Otherwise, he’s just taking up space.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities that I did get because as an undrafted free agent, the coaches gave me every chance in the world to make this team,” Sanzenbacher said.
Now, he needs every chance to contribute.
5. If Sanzenbacher made the biggest strides among the unknowns, first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi had the greatest progress for a young player the Bears were counting on. The team is in a fortunate position now that preseason is over and there haven't been any tense moments with the top pick from Wisconsin, who was plugged in at right tackle as the starter after two days of practice in training camp. Carimi has taken the opportunity and excelled.
“I feel pretty good about myself right now,” he said. “I just know as the season goes on, I am going to keep on improving.
“When I was talking in Week 1 of training camp I said, ‘Right now, I am glad we had three weeks left.’ Now, I feel comfortable going into the season. I have the confidence my skills and the knowledge of our offense will carry me through.”
He already has started watching tape of the Falcons and knows he’ll be matched up against Ray Edwards, the former Minnesota Viking who went to Atlanta on a $30 million, five-year contract. Carimi is ready for the rush.
“I’ve seen it,” he said. “There’s only so much you can blitz really. They’re going to blitz certain ways in certain gaps. I’ve seen it before, kind of already had a sneak peak on it. Atlanta’s blitzes, I know I’m just going to have to be ready for that game speed and regular season grind.”
Carimi doesn’t want to put any ceiling on his expectations for his first season.
“Perfection is where I want to be and that is extremely hard for even Pro Bowlers to get perfection,” he said. “I want to be at that stage. I want to have the perfect game.”
6. It’s hard to say when the Bears will need Caleb Hanie again. But the backup quarterback looked solid in a starting role against the Browns, much more even than he had earlier in preseason. Sure, the Browns had just two starters on the field -- a pair of rookie linemen -- but Hanie was crisp in directing the Bears to scores on two possessions. The hope would be that he has developed without the benefit of an offseason program.
“I’ll just say it’s been a learning experience,” he said. “It’s been up and down a little bit, got kind of a late start with the free-agency rule and not being able to practice the first six days. It took a little bit of pushing through some things here and there so, but overall it’s been good, and it’s progressed well.”
7. Here’s a good question: Does Johnny Knox’s role continue to change as we move forward? The veteran wide receiver has gone from doing very little to more as the process has evolved. For some reason, the Bears allowed veteran wide receiver Roy Williams to rest with the other starters vs. the Browns. His break was Knox’s gain as the young receiver went out and hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Hanie. If you were watching the game on television, you caught the big grin that went across the face of the head coach on that play.
“We feel pretty good about our rotation, I’ll just say that,” Smith said when asked about Knox’s role. “Johnny Knox will be a big part of what we do this coming season.”
The bet here is unless Williams produces much more in the season, Knox’s role is only going to continue to expand. The pressure remains on the veteran pickup.
8. Immediate concern about depth at the safety position has been calmed. Craig Steltz looked a world better leaving the locker room after the game than he did heading to it during the game with a hip injury. He wasn’t hooked up on a pain killer, either. Steltz was joking about the play and said he needed to see the film. X-rays proved negative but he was still a little sore. The issue became worrisome when rookie Chris Conte went out with what Smith announced was a concussion. No idea on a timetable for Conte or Steltz, but it exposed a depth issue.
Can the Bears go forward with the four they have right now? Major Wright didn’t provide a wow factor in preseason. He’s a young player the club is still very high on. Keep in mind, though, the Bears have a track record of going through a flavor of the season. They try a guy and before the next season, they’re trying another guy.
One player in the mix at the bottom of the roster is Winston Venable, an undrafted free agent from Boise State who might have what it takes to help on special teams right away.
Venable has to hope if he’s on the roster next week he doesn’t hear from the league office. The officials littered the field with flags when he hit Browns wide receiver Demetrius Williams in the fourth quarter. Venable was called for unnecessary roughness.
The NFL has been handing out big fines in preseason. Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Mason Foster was zapped $20,000 for a hit on New England Patriots wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. Bucs undrafted rookie safety Devin Holland has two fines totaling $15,000 if he makes a club.
“I think we’ve got to go back and watch the film and really see how it went down,” Venable said. “The refs are experienced guys and they see hits like that and they want to protect players. I am sure they made a good call.”
What did he say to the official after the play?
“I was just wondering who made the call and he let me know all three of them had made it, and a couple people in the stands might have made the same call,” Venable said. “He told me they’re just trying to protect players and it kind of looked helmet-to-helmet, especially because I left my feet. Like I said, I’ve got to see it on film. I think just protection of the players is what they’re looking out for.”
Smith then came out on the field to talk to Venable while the Browns tended to Williams, who was shaken up on the play.
“He just said you can’t leave your feet and things like that,” Venable said.
But, the rookie got noticed and he’s been noticed on special teams. Now, it’s time to hurry up and wait to see what happens.
“I think they’re going to evaluate this film,” he said. “I had a couple missed opportunities on some special teams, making some tackles I should have made. Hopefully, that won’t hurt me too bad. I gave full effort out there and hopefully they see that. I feel like I have a passion for the game and hopefully they will want me aboard.”
9. Mario Addison had a couple nice pass rushes, made two tackles for loss and showed good awareness to stay at home on an end around. The undrafted free agent from Troy got a long look along with Nick Reed as the Bears consider the possibility of keeping one of the defensive ends.
Addison admitted that after a strong performance when Corey Wootton originally went down with a minor knee injury that he leveled off. He’s hoping a strong final game propels him to a spot in the locker room come Monday when the team returns to Halas Hall for practice.
“I knew this was a veteran team,” Addison said. “I knew I had to do my best. I know I had a couple ups and downs but I smoothed it out in the end. I feel real good about it.”
How’s he handicap his chances to stick around?
“I give myself a 60 percent chance,” Addison said. “I came out strong and the last game I smoothed it out. In the end, I finished up great. Just pray to God. I left it all out on the field.”
We’ll find out soon.
10. Only four NFL teams were represented in the press box with scouts for the game: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Oakland and San Diego. Tallying up the four games, the Ravens and Raiders were the only teams to have a scout at all four Bears preseason games. The Vikings, Saints, Packers, Chiefs, Dolphins and Falcons all had scouts at the first three preseason games. Three of those six teams the Bears play in the first three weeks of the season.
Rules in the regular season are much stricter for scouting purposes. Teams can only check out opponents within two weeks of an upcoming game. The vast majority of the work is now done on film, not in person.
Nothing like starting the season out with a ton of trauma drama and unresolved issues huh? At least we got through it fairly free of injuries.
Looks like Briggs and JA have each drawn a line in the sand so I can't see anything happening there until the season is over. All the Bears need to tell Rosenhaus is to screw himself as far as his request to seek a trade is concerned and then tell Briggsy to shut up, suit up, and play. This shouldn't see the light of day again until February.
I would be a good idea to at least get the Forte extension done ASAP but both sides are gonna have to put themselves in on another's shoes for a bit. Somewhere between the deal Frank Gore got and DWill's new contract there must be a middle ground and they need to find it fast.
Didn't get a chance to see last nights game but I think Sanz locked himself up a spot with his performance last night. The punt return should have cinched it since it shows he has some value on ST even if we don't use it now. I'm hoping by seasons end this kid can put RWill on the bench.
Oline has improved during the preseason and it looks like Hanie is finally staring to get in sinc with the offense. Good news.
Knox is playing his ass off to get back his starting role and I think we'd all like to see that and for the first time that I can remember it looks like all of our draft picks will make the team plus a few of our rookie free agents. I'd like to see Venable, Reed and Addison all make the team on the defense.
Well now all we can do is hope the drama subsides which it will if the press would begin to ignore it. Briggs and Rosenhaus can't have a trial in the press if the press will let it die. Offseason is the time for this stuff and it's just too bad if the walkout and lockout screwed up some of the plans it's time for players to play and their agents to watch.
I'm getting to that age where a lifetime warranty just doesn't mean as much to me anymore as an afternoon nap.
Honey Badger Don't Care. Honey Badger Don't Give a Shit.