"He really enjoyed the season and likes being a Bear," Angelo said of Jones on Feb. 22, "so it has nothing to do with anything but what he feels would be in his best interest. We're going to mull over some things."
The No. 7 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft, Jones was considered a colossal bust in three seasons with Arizona. He never rushed for more than 511 yards with the Cardinals and couldn't wrestle the starting job away from the likes of Michael Pittman and Marcel Shipp. He played well in a reserve role for Tampa Bay in 2003 and was brought to Chicago the following season after Angelo signed him to a four-year, $10 million contract.
Many experts felt back then that the Bears overpaid for Jones, yet now he is considered to be a bargain in every sense of the word.
Jones led the team with 1,210 yards on the ground in 2006 and became the first Bear since Neal Anderson in 1989-90 to post consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns. He has now rushed for 3,493 yards in three seasons as a Midway Monster and is the only back not named Walter Payton to post more than 1,300 in a single year (1,335 in 2005). Jones also had a fabulous postseason and racked up 112 yards on just 15 carries in Super Bowl XLI.
He is highly productive on the field and highly respected in the locker room, so why are the Bears looking to trade him?
Two words: Cedric Benson.
Actually, three words: Cedric. Benson. Money.
Jones rushed for 948 yards his first year in Chicago, but that didn't stop Angelo from selecting Benson with the fourth pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. And while Benson had a tough rookie year with the Bears after a lengthy contract holdout and injuries limiting him to nine games, he started to look like the tailback of the future this past season. He ran for 647 yards and scored six touchdowns as the second option and at times was more effective than Jones.
Benson is five years younger and has much more upside at this point, but making a switch atop the depth chart would have just as much to do with the balance sheet as anything else. Benson received $17 million in guaranteed money before logging his first NFL carry, and Angelo wants to see a greater return on that hefty investment. Jones has certainly outperformed the financials of the deal he signed back in 2004, but all that does is make him more expendable and easier to move.
Angelo has needs to fill at safety and along the offensive line, plus adding a young tight end would be a good idea. If he can trade Jones to a team that is looking for a veteran tailback and pick up a third-round draft choice as compensation, everybody wins. Jones will get an opportunity to possibly get rewarded with another contract, Benson will finally be given the starting role he covets, and Angelo will have an extra pick to help plug some of the other holes on the Bears roster.
That being said, wasn't this two-back rotation part of the reason for Jones and Benson having so much success?
It's no secret that Jones and Benson are far from friendly, but the competition for playing time between the two of them undoubtedly brought the out their best. Jones knew that Benson was waiting in the wings should he get off to a slow start, and Benson knew that he had to make the most of his limited attempts. Toward the end of the regular season, they formed arguably the premier one-two punch in the league.
Benson was a workhorse at the University of Texas and would likely welcome the chance to get 25-30 carries a game, but as we've seen around the NFL, the running-back-by-committee approach is getting increasingly popular. The NFL's 'Final Four' this season all ulitized some sort of two-back system - Jones and Benson in Chicago, Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in New Orleans, Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney in New England, and Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes in Indianapolis. Benson will likely need some help.
And since third-stringer Adrian Peterson is too valuable on special teams and may not be the solution, the Bears would be wise to consider some of the intriguing scatback prospects in this April's NFL Draft:
Kenny Irons - Auburn
Irons originally enrolled at South Carolina before transferring to Auburn, but he certainly made the most of his two seasons playing for the Tigers. He rushed for 893 yards in 2006 and endured some injuries along the way, but he put up 1,293 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior the year before in the talent-rich SEC. Although he was not used as a receiver very much and needs to work on that aspect of his game, he looked impressive darting in and out of the hole at the Senior Bowl and has a slashing style similar to Jones.
Irons measures close to 5'11" and 195 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, and he was very successful at a school that produced Ronnie Brown and Carnell 'Cadillac' Williams in recent years.
Lorenzo Booker - Florida State
Despite a somewhat disappointing career in Tallahassee for a surprisingly struggling program, Booker was the No. 1 recruit in the country at St. Bonaventure High School in Oxnard, CA back in 2002. He didn't put up incredibly gaudy statistics sharing time with the likes of Leon Washington and Antone Smith, but he did lead the Seminoles in rushing each of the past two seasons and proved to be a tremendous receiver out of the backfield the day he stepped on campus. Running between the tackles is not his strength by any stretch of the imagination, but he has some serious wiggle in the open field and is always a threat to score from long range.
At 5'10" and 188 pounds, Booker runs in the 4.4 range and appears to be a prototype third-down back and change-of-pace runner.
Garrett Wolfe - Northern Illinois
Wolfe is a name that many Bears fans will already be familiar with, as he enjoyed a sensational career in nearby Dekalb playing for the Huskies. He rushed for 5,172 yards in just 33 games, averaged at least 6.2 yards per carry three straight years, and never scored fewer than 17 touchdowns in any season. Many experts feel he did most of his damage against inferior collegiate competition, yet he lit up Ohio State for 171 yards on 26 carries and even caught five passes for 114 more.
Wolfe is just a little over 5'7" and 182 pounds and was not able to perform at the Combine because of a hamstring injury, but he should be ready to go for his pro day workout and believes he can be the next Warrick Dunn.