Lets Make a Deal

The Bears are willing to surrender a third round draft pick to acquire Ricky Manning Jr. as a restricted free agent. What would be acceptable compensation if the Bears were considering trading their most consistent offensive performer over the past two seasons?

ESPN reported the Indianapolis Colts were interested in Thomas Jones. When asked by the Sun-Times, general manager Jerry Angelo didn't deny the report.

While the idea of dealing Jones is disturbing to many Bear fans, it's not entirely surprising. The team used the fourth overall pick in the draft on Cedric Benson last year and gave him $17 million in guaranteed money. At some point he's going to have to play in order to justify Angelo's choice and Benson's contract.

If the Bears were going to trade any player on their offense Jones is the most desirable. He's coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,335 yards and nine touchdowns without a passing game.

The troubling part of the equation is what the Bears could potentially get back from the Colts in return for Jones. A third round pick is the highest selection the Colts are rumored to be willing to trade.

The Bears are trying to win now, as evidence by their willingness to trade their third round selection for Manning. Dealing Jones would seem to hurt Chicago's ability to win in 2006, but if Angelo trusts his decision to take Benson than it shouldn't

The confidence level in Benson is a question. He played in just nine games because of a knee injury and rushed for 272 yards on 67 carries. His readiness to be reliable in the passing game is also a concern.

The minute the Bears selected Benson there was a good chance Jones would be unhappy with the situation. He recently fired his agent and replaced him with Drew Rosenhaus, who represents Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris and Adewale Ogunleye.

The move clearly signals Jones is gearing up for a new contract. The problem is it won't be in Chicago. The Bears have invested in Benson long-term and can't afford to pay two running backs.

Jones is still a bargain, as he works off a four-year deal worth $10 million he signed in 2004. So cap wise, the Bears can keep both backs for now.

Back to the issue of compensation, the Bears need at least a second round pick to even consider trading Jones. The competition between Jones and Benson could be a dividing issue or bring out the best in both backs.

However, the Bears can't give Jones away for the 94th in the draft. If Angelo can broker a better deal then it's worth looking into. The Bears are expected to have only two first day selections for the second straight year. Acquiring a third in exchange for Jones would be a risk, but it could help the Bears remain a good team now and in the future.

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