Manning in the Mix

Lake Forest - For the bulk of the off-season it appeared the Bears would look for a nickel back in the draft. However, the team took a major step toward filling the hole on Friday by signing restricted free agent CB Ricky Manning Jr. to a five-year offer sheet worth $21 million.

The Panthers have seven days to match the deal, which also includes a $7 million signing bonus. The bulk of Carolina's $3-4 million in cap space is earmarked for their rookie pool.

With Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas locked in as their starting cornerbacks, the Panthers are highly unlikely to match the offer. Still they are expected to use the majority of the timeframe before making a final decision. Carolina would receive the Bears third round pick as compensation.

While the dollar amount and draft pick compensation is more suited to a starter, the coaching staff has seen firsthand what Manning is capable of doing. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who was then an assistant for the Eagles, watched Manning pick off Donovan McNabb three times in the NFC Championship game as a rookie.

"Tough player," said Coach Lovie Smith. "I've known Ricky for a while. He had as much to do with Carolina beating us my last year in St. Louis as anyone with that big interception he had."

Manning has nine career interceptions in three seasons, including postseason production the number jumps to 13 picks. Despite being just five-foot-8 185-pounds he's never missed a game.

Signed, Sealed and Delivered
LB Hunter Hillenmeyer will be a Bear in 2006 after failing to receive any offers on the restricted free agent market. He will play on a one-year deal worth $712,000.

Deal in the Works
During the Bears pre-draft meeting with the media on Friday, general manager revealed the team is still working on an extension for Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs. His agent Drew Rosenhaus was at Halas Hall late last week but talks broke off without a deal.

Angelo said Briggs' status wouldn't impact his draft plan. The Bears are looking for depth at linebacker. Finding someone to push Hillenmeyer or be a potential replacement for Briggs if he leaves via free agency is a possibility with the 26th pick.

Getting something done with Briggs before would make linebacker less of a priority heading into the draft.

"We are going to stay with the best player," Angelo said. "We're going to do that. If it is a linebacker, it's a linebacker. He wouldn't be starting. Presently he wouldn't be. We have our three starters back.

"Whoever we take is going to have to come in here and compete for a job. He's going to have to beat somebody else. We're not going to get fixed on a position."

Backfield in Motion
According to the Sun-Times, Angelo wouldn't deny reports that the Bears have been contacted about the services of RB Thomas Jones, who gained 1,335 yards for the Bears last season.

The Indianapolis Colts are looking to replace for the departed Edgerrin James. Jones recently fired his agent Tom Condon and replaced him with Rosenhaus.

The Bears used the fourth pick in the draft on Cedric Benson last year and trading Jones for a draft pick would allow him to take the featured role in the backfield.


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