The Bears also addressed a shortcoming in the secondary that was exposed in the playoff loss to the Panthers when wide receiver Steve Smith torched them for 12 receptions, 218 yards and two touchdowns. They added restricted free agent Ricky Manning Jr. to play nickel corner behind starters Nate Vasher and Charles Tillman. The Bears lavished a five-year deal that could be worth as much as $21 million on Manning, which many considered exorbitant for a non-starter. The largesse of the deal was questioned further when Manning was arrested for assault near the UCLA campus a day before he officially became a Bear when the Panthers opted not to match the offer. The Panthers' decision was a no-brainer according to team sources, who said the team never considered paying anywhere close to the Bears' offer to keep a player they considered a solid nickel but not much more.
Manning may very well be a major upgrade as the Bears' third corner, but his signing has already caused some negative fallout. Vasher, a Pro Bowler last season in just his second year, has stayed away from voluntary workouts the past two weeks. He and agent Michael Sullivan are upset that under the fourth-round pick's current deal, he will make approximately $900,000, while Manning gets about $9 million.
The Bears aren't depending on a huge contribution from their 2006 draft class, but their second second-round pick Devin Hester could be an instant-impact player on special teams. Hester has a lot to learn at cornerback because he also played wide receiver and running back at Miami. But, as a kickoff and punt returner, he can change field position faster than anyone but the referee. From the first day of the first off-season practice, Hester has looked more natural than any player on the roster as a returner, and he is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): QB Jeff Blake; S Bobby Gray; LB Marcus Reese.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: RB J.D. Runnels (4th); DE Mark Anderson (5th); OG Tyler Reed (6th).
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: TE John Gilmore; LB Hunter Hillenmeyer; DE Israel Idonije; OG Terrence Metcalf; TE Gabe Reid.
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: QB Brian Griese; CB Ricky Manning; CB Dante Wesley.
PLAYERS LOST: CB Jerry Azumah; WR Eddie Berlin; S Mike Green.