New Deal for Hillenmeyer

The Bears continued handing out cash on Thursday. This time linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer received a five-year extension with a signing bonus of $5 million, making him a mainstay on one of the top defenses in the game.

Hillenmeyer's deal, which runs through 2011, comes a day after the Bears signed running back Adrian Peterson to a three-year extension. As a restricted free agent, Hillenmeyer signed a one-year deal worth $721,600. He would have become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2006 campaign.

"I wanted to be here," Hillenmeyer said on the team website. "They knew I wanted to be here, so it worked out hopefully in everybody's best interest."

The six-foot-4, 248-pounder originally entered the league as a fifth round draft pick with the Packers in 2003, but lasted just one week into his rookie season with Green Bay before being waived. He joined the Bears' practice squad three days later and was eventually elevated to the 53-man roster where he appeared in 13 games.

Hillenmeyer has since made a name for himself in Chicago with his steady play. He ranks as the Bears third-leading tackler over the last two seasons, totaling 161 total tackles while starting 23 of 29 games played during that span.

Injuries opened the door for the Vanderbilt product to break into the starting lineup in 2004. He made a career-high 90 tackles in 11 starts between middle and strong-side linebacker. Last season, he started 12 games at strong-side linebacker and ranked seventh on the Bears with 71 tackles, while adding one sack and his first career interception.

Although playing with two Pro Bowl linebackers like Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs has often made Hillenmeyer an afterthought, the talent around him has also improved his game.

"I'm definitely the 'other' linebacker on our team, but I'm OK with that," Hillenmeyer said. "Whenever you're next to two All-Pro guys, sometimes you'd think it would be tough to be getting compared to them every day.

"But playing around great players makes you a better player and I've definitely been the beneficiary of that just because I've gotten to learn from Brian and play next to Lance."

Even with possibility of making more money on the open market, Hillenmeyer realizes his success can be attributed to his environment.

"I feel like I fit in the system here," Hillenmeyer said. "You invest so much time in learning the system and establishing yourself with one organization that if you're forced to switch, you're sort of taking a step back.

"A lot of guys think that they're going to go and they're going to be able to be a great player for any team and a lot of times it has to do with the way you mesh with everybody around you."

The Bears may be wondering if Briggs is listening.


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