Smith's Response

The surprise to come out of the first day of mini-camp wasn't the fact that LB Lance Briggs and RB Thomas Jones were on the field, but working with the second team. According to Coach Lovie Smith, both players will have to earn back their starting spots.

Neither Briggs nor Jones partook in the start of organized training activities last week and have stayed away from off-season workouts. The players, both of whom are represented by Drew Rosenhaus, were trying to send a message to the organization about receiving new contracts.

However, Coach Lovie Smith had a calculated response in mind. He inserted Cedric Benson with the first team offense at running back, while Leon Joe worked with the ones at weak side linebacker.

"We have a starting rotation and that's how it is. In order to be at the top of the starting rotation, you have to be here," Smith said.

Briggs is in the final year of his rookie deal and will be paid $721,600 coming off a Pro Bowl selection. Joe working with the starters is window dressing because as long as Briggs is with the team he'll start.

The story isn't as clear for Jones, who has two years remaining on a four-year $10 million contract. Despite rushing for 1,335 yards last season, Jones will have to battle Benson in training camp.

"It's a big opportunity just for me to, make a name for my self in the National Football League," Benson said.

Even though it came as no surprise that Jones declined to talk to the media after practice, the usually talkative Briggs kept his comments to a minimum.

"Happy to be here," Briggs said playfully. "I'm out here to play football. I'm a Chicago Bear, I'm happy to be here,"

When asked if he would like a contract to be done, Briggs replied "absolutely".

Unless a new deal is struck, the story is likely to continue into training camp. For a team trying to repeat as NFC North champions and find success in the postseason, it's a distraction.

"I think they're happy as far as being back with their teammates," Smith said. "I know the team is happy to see them back. Both players meant an awful lot to us last year and hopefully will be the same this year."

Fellow Rosenhaus client, DE Adewale Ogunleye found himself in a similar contract battle with the Miami Dolphins. Following a trip to the Pro Bowl and leading the AFC with 15 sacks in 2003, Ogunleye wanted a new contract. When the Dolphins didn't offer what he wanted, he stayed away from the off-season program before eventually being traded to the Bears in the preseason.

"I know exactly what they're going through," Ogunleye said. "But as you can see across this league everybody handles their business the way they want to handle it. This is a business and that's the one thing everybody has got to understand."

In a league where veterans are often cut in favor of younger cheaper options, players feel they need to capitalize on their earning potential when it's at its peak.

"Guys feel that they're underpaid everywhere and it's the same here," Ogunleye said. "Just got two guys right now that are not happy, but hopefully it'll work out."

Ogunleye did stress one point, which may go overlooked. Rosenhaus could be looked at as the source of the issue, but ultimately Briggs and Jones make their own decisions.

"It's up to the player, no doubt about it," Ogunleye said. "These are grown men, 25-26 year old guys. You get some agents pushing them one way or the other. From personal experience, I know that he (Rosenhaus) advises you and leaves it up to you."


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