Options Aplenty

The Bears are discussing business with two veteran offensive linemen, which would impact where other players line up.

Now that the Bears have picked up John Tait in addition to running back Thomas Jones and quarterback Jonathan Quinn, another ex-Chief who will help assimilate the offense, they may stand pat until the draft.

But many observers consider offensive left tackle to be a remaining area of concern for the Bears. They have about $3.7 million left under the salary cap after releasing quarterback Chris Chandler.

Free-agent LT Ephraim Salaam is a player they covet, if they can squeeze him under the cap.

"I don't know if we're going to do anything at all," GM Jerry Angelo said. "It's not like we've got a 20 that's burning a hole in our pocket. We're going to spend when we feel the right player (is available), and we're going to get better as a football team. We do have some room, and if that right person is there, then we'll pursue it."

However the Bears are interested in Salaam only at their price. They have exchanged contract proposals with Salaam's agent, Rocky Arceneaux, but the Bears initial offer was rejected.

While the Bears insist they could go into the 2004 season with inexperienced Qasim Mitchell protecting Rex Grossman's blind side, they continue to pursue other options.

The Bears are still considering Salaam for that position, but they can't afford to pay more than a bargain price for him without finagling some other contracts.

"That's a possibility," Angelo said of Salaam. "We're not going to let the player dictate as much as we are the market. We certainly are looking at several players, and he is still a possibility."

Free-agent guard Ruben Brown visited Halas Hall on Tuesday. The Buffalo Bills released Brown, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, last month after they signed Chris Villarrial. Brown would likely leapfrog Mike Gandy for the starting right guard job. That would allow Gandy to compete with Mitchell at left tackle if Angelo were unable to land Salaam.

The 6-foot-6, 355-pound Mitchell started two games at left tackle toward the end of last season and looked raw but showed potential before missing the season finale with a fractured fibula. He spent the 2002 season on the Browns' injured reserve list. He signed with the Bears last Sept. 16 after being released by the Browns.

Sans Salaam and Brown, the Bears say they are confident enough in Mitchell's potential and Gandy's ability to move back to his natural guard position. Gandy played left tackle most of last season and the final six games in 2002 after other players were injured or proved ineffective. At this point Gandy is penciled in as the staring right guard.

The Insiders contributed to this report.


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