Is Lelie Worth a Look?

Thomas Jones' name has come up in trade rumors for months, but with the running back choosing to skip organized team activities the talk could turn serious. Would the Bears and Broncos consider a swap of disgruntled veterans?

Even though it's an unlikely scenario, sending Jones to Denver in exchange for WR Ashley Lelie could help both sides. Despite ranking 31st in passing offense last season, the Bears opted not to make any major personnel changes this off-season. On the other hand, the Broncos are in search of competition in the backfield for Tatum Bell.

Although Lelie has never caught more than 54 balls in four NFL seasons, he has a career average of 17.9 yards per catch. He also has one 1,000-yard campaign on his resume, the same amount as Muhsin Muhammad over the past five seasons. His 40 career starts nearly double the total of every other wideout on the roster aside from Muhammad.

Lelie, who was a starter opposite Rod Smith the past two years, is unhappy with his role in the offense and can be a free agent after this season. He has stayed away from the team's workouts and could hold out of training camp and regular-season games if he is not traded.

The six-foot-3, 200-pound Lelie wants to be a No. 1 receiver, and he probably won't be a starter if he plays for the Broncos this season. The team acquired Javon Walker from the Green Bay Packers during the draft and signed him to a five-year deal worth more than $40 million. If Walker has recovered from a torn ACL he suffered last season, he is the likely starter opposite Smith.

Lelie could move into the starting lineup opposite Muhammad. The Bears have young talent at receiver, but there are questions about Mark Bradley coming off a knee injury and Bernard Berrian being able to withstand the punishment of the pro game.

There's no doubt making a move for Lelie is risky because he's shown selfish tendencies. Any team that deals for the 26-year-old is unlikely to give him an extension. He will need to prove something in a contract year, which means maximum effort.

A big season out of Lelie would drive up his asking price. The Bears could then offer Lelie a long-term deal or let him walk if another receiver on the roster emerges.

As Muhammad prepares to enter his 11th season in the league, there is concern about how many good years he has left. Pairing Lelie with Bradley and Berrian could be an exciting trio for years to come.

Jones has made it clear he's considering a future outside of Chicago. Like the Bears, the Broncos would hesitate to acquire a player who has missed off-season workouts, voluntary or not.

For the Bears to ship Jones, there has to be supreme confidence that Cedric Benson is ready to handle the bulk of the work and Adrian Peterson is a capable backup.

If general manger Jerry Angelo can answer yes to both questions, a case can be made to trade from an area of strength in order to improve a weakness.


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