Azumah Expected to Retire

The excitement within the organization about the addition of Brian Griese took a somber turn with the news that Jerry Azumah will announce his retirement on Thursday.

Azumah, 28, has underdone neck and hip surgery over the past two seasons. While he's missed just five games over that time, the arthritic hip was bad enough to require another procedure after the season.

During a contract year, Azumah was clearly not the same player. He lost his starting job to Nathan Vasher and went without an interception. He also had only one kick return of 40 yards after combining for nine over the previous two seasons.

Unfortunately, the early retirement will cost Azumah millions of dollars he would have made this off-season as an unrestricted free agent.

Azumah came to the Bears as a fifth round pick of New Hampshire. The college running back was immediately converted to cornerback. Over seven seasons he went on to start 49 games and pickoff 10 passes. He also stared as a kick returner, going to the Pro Bowl in 2003 after averaging of 29.0 yards per attempt and taking to kicks back for scores.

The five-foot-10, 192-pounder retires as the third most productive kick returner in team history. Only Glyn Milburn and Dennis Gentry have bested Azumah's 2,885 kick return yards.

In the Money
The Bears matched the four-year $8.2 million offer sheet defensive lineman Israel Idonije signed with the Buffalo Bills. The contract also includes a $1.8 million bonus and is bigger than general manager Jerry Angelo expected Idonije to receive on the open market. He had been tendered at the lowest level for a restricted free agent, $712,000.

The deadline to make a decision wasn't until Friday at midnight, but Angelo knew he wanted to keep the versatile six-foot-6, 275-pounder.

"We want Israel back," Angelo said. "We feel he's a young, quality player who still is developing."

Idonije, who can play both end and tackle, appeared in 11 games with the Bears in 2005, totaling 16 tackles and five special teams tackles. The native of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada has compiled 37 tackles and six special teams tackles while playing in 26 games in two seasons with Chicago.

Odds & Ends
Even after coming off knee surgery to repair a torn MCL and ACL, QB Brian Griese is expected to be ready for mini-camp in June.

"No, I feel great actually," Griese said. "I've been (rehabbing) almost five months now since I had the surgery and I am up moving around, running and taking drops and doing those kinds of things. My knee feels great and I feel I should be completely healthy."

Despite the addition of Griese, Lovie Smith wouldn't rule out carrying four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster next season.

Griese signing with the Bears likely means the end of Jeff Blake's career. The 14-year veteran has said numerous times he would either re-sign in Chicago or retire.

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