Three is a Crowd

The Bears have all 22 starters returning, but suddenly the team doesn't appear to be a cohesive group. With Nathan Vasher joining Lance Briggs and Thomas Jones in skipping voluntary workouts, tough decisions are ahead.

Considering Briggs and Jones are part of the Drew Rosenhaus stable, their choice to forgo organized team activities doesn't come as a major surprise. However, when Vasher opts to skip OTAs it sends a signal that the team is in jeopardy of being divided.

Success seems to have gone to the head of several players. Despite a quick exit from the playoffs, an 11-5 mark and the NFC North crown seems to be reason enough to demand the world. Instead of finding motivation in the loss to the Carolina Panthers and coming back eager to win a Super Bowl, money appears to be the primary motivation.

In defense of the players, they're often left with little bargaining power. Veterans are cut in favor of younger-cheaper options, while high draft picks are given large salaries based purely on potential. Without guaranteed contracts, a career ending injury is always a concern. Players have to capitalize on a limited window of opportunity.

Vasher has been an absolute steal since coming to the Bears as the 110th overall pick in 2004. His 13 interceptions are the most by a player in franchise history after two seasons in the league. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl last season and his eight picks were the highest total of any cornerback in the NFC.

Watching Ricky Manning receive a five-year $21 million contract to be the team's nickel back had to be tough for Vasher to swallow. Factor in Manning's legal issues and Vasher appears even more justified in his demands.

Jones has two years left on a four-year, $10 million deal he signed an unrestricted free agent in 2004. He would welcome a trade to a team willing to redo his contract.

Briggs is in the final year of the four-year deal he signed after being drafted in the third round in 2003. But he doesn't want to wait until next off-season, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent, to cash in on the riches that await following last season's Pro Bowl campaign.

There's no debating Vasher, Briggs and Jones are all great players. Still, if the Bears cave in it will send the wrong message to the rest of the team. Five time Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, QB Rex Grossman, DT Ian Scott and CB Charles Tillman are among several players that are due to become unrestricted free agents over the next two seasons. None have made a peep about their situations and continue to work.

Even after a 1-3 start in 2005, the atmosphere at Halas Hall remained upbeat. That could quickly change with higher expectations and teammates being envious of other contracts in the locker room. Jealously is creeping into the environment and it has to stop before it becomes an epidemic.


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