So who needs Lance Briggs anyway?
The two-time Pro Bowl linebacker was a no-show at minicamp in May and has yet to attend any of the Bears' 14 Organized Team Activities, which conclude this week, and he isn't expected to do so. Briggs also hasn't participated in any off-season weightlifting workouts, and he isn't expected to be at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais when the Bears report for training camp on July 26. The smart money says Briggs won't be around for any portion of training camp or any preseason games.
Briggs and his agent Drew Rosenhaus are demonstrating to the Bears their unhappiness that the fifth-year veteran was designated as the team's franchise player, which discouraged any other team from pursuing him with a long-term offer with an expected $15 million to $20 million signing bonus for the unrestricted free agent. Instead, if Briggs remains with the Bears, he has to settle for $7.2 million this season, approximately a 1,000 percent raise over his 2006 salary.
So Briggs may not be back in uniform until the regular-season opener.
The Bears are still the favorite in Las Vegas to make it back to the Super Bowl, they're still just about everyone's pick to dominate the NFC North again and a virtual lock to make it back to the playoffs. Their status won't change with or without Briggs. He's clearly talented but just as clearly a replaceable player on a team with more talent than almost every one of its opponents.
Briggs is not a difference maker like middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, defensive tackle Tommie Harris or return specialist Devin Hester. He's not as integral to the Bears' success as featured ball carrier Cedric Benson is expected to be this season, or even quarterback Rex Grossman, if he makes the presumed strides in his second season as the full-time starter.
Briggs finished second to Urlacher in tackles last season 185-176, and in 2005, 171-170, and he led the Bears with 168 tackles in 2004, when Urlacher missed seven games with injuries. But the Bears' defense is designed for the weak-side linebacker to make a lot of tackles.
In Briggs' absence, Jamar Williams has been running with the first team at weak-side linebacker. The 2006 fourth-round pick played just three games before a chest injury ended his rookie season, so no one expects him to play as well as Briggs has since he cracked the starting lineup as a third-round rookie in 2003. But the difference between Briggs and Williams isn't drastic enough to make a discernible difference in the defense.
Even Urlacher, who has been staunchly behind Briggs from the beginning, admits the team will survive without him if necessary.
"We have guys that have been in the system for a couple of years now," Urlacher said. "We have guys that can step in. They're not going to replace Lance, we know that, but we have some guys that can fill in for him and do a good job right away."
NOTES & QUOTES
DT Tommie Harris returned to practices recently. If Harris doesn't return to the same level of play that got him voted to the past two Pro Bowls, he says it won't be because of the upper left leg injury that ended his 2006 season after just 12 games and resulted in reconstructive surgery.
Harris practiced Monday at Halas Hall for the first time since he was hurt on Dec. 3, pronounced himself fit and cleared up some misconceptions about the injury. It was actually a tendon that was damaged and not his hamstring, which is the group of muscles in the back of the upper leg. Tendons are made up of tissue and connect muscle to bone. Harris isn't concerned about a recurrence.
"It can't come back," he said. "They put sutures in my bone and hooked it back. This one will never pull again. It's more likely for the right one to pull than the left because this one should be there for life now because of the screws and stuff, so I should be faster, and I should be stronger, so we'll see.
"I don't have any excuses. During the season you won't hear me say, 'Well, my hamstring's been killing me. Right now I feel great. I'm working hard where there won't be any excuses and let's just go, let's get ready for football. That injury's over with."
The Bears consider Harris the premier defensive tackle in the NFL, although he's still just 24, and he's ready to live up to the hype.
"I think I train hard enough to receive that as a compliment," he said, "but I'm not satisfied. I'm not finished."
Pro Bowl special-teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo's older brother Obafemi, a ninth-year veteran fullback, was signed Tuesday after a Monday tryout, following last week's release by the Cardinals.
Obafemi Ayanbadejo's chances of sticking are excellent considering the Bears are down to one healthy fullback, Jason McKie, after J.D. Runnels suffered a left knee ligament injury last week that is expected to land him on injured reserve after he was waived injured on Tuesday.
Obafemi Ayanbadejo suspected he might not fit the style of new Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, so he met with him almost immediately and thought he'd have a chance to find a role in training camp. His release came as a surprise.
"He said I'd have every opportunity to show him that," Ayanbadejo said. "So for the rug to kind of get pulled out from under me in June after I went through all the OTAs and everything; I thought the timing was just a little bit, like 'What's going on?'
"You tell me one thing and you do another. But that's football, that's the way it goes. I think coach Whisenhunt's a hell of a coach, I think the Cardinals are going to be a great team this year. I won't be a part of that, but hopefully I can be a part of this here (on Chicago). I'd love to do that."
CB Charles Tillman also returned to the practice field Monday and said he was sufficiently recovered from minor off-season back surgery that he was capable of playing in a game.
"Everything is healthy," he said. "I'm not thinking about it. No pain, no nothing. I'm just back to normal. I'm full force, ready. If we had a game, I'm ready."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Once you get your hands on the ball it's show time, you know what I mean. The more repetitions I get, the better I'll get as a player." -- Devin Hester, a Pro Bowl return specialist, who has converted from CB to WR.
"The situation obviously is different and I haven't been in that situation before (playing backup)," Brown said. "Wale (Ogunleye) and Mark are just in there first and it's hard, yeah, buy hey, what do I do?"
Just two years into a five-year, $15 million deal, Brown is seeking a trade and/or renegotiation, although he's never had more than seven sacks in a season.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates
FRANCHISE PLAYER: OLB Lance Briggs: Tendered at $7.206M
TRANSITION PLAYER: None
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: TE Gabe Reid (not tendered as RFA)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED: RB Garrett Wolfe: (3/93) 4 yrs, terms unknown; LB Michael Okwo: (3/94) $2.245M/4 yrs, $580,000 SB; 2007 cap: $430,000; OG Josh Beekman: (4/130) $2.055M/4 yrs, $390,000 SB; 2007 cap: $382,500; S Kevin Payne: (5/167) terms unknown; CB Corey Graham: (5/168) $1.81M/4 yrs, $149,000 SB; CB Trumaine McBride: (7/221) $1.71M/4 yrs, $55,250 SB; OT Aaron Brant: (7/241) $1.697M/4 yrs, $42,100 SB
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OG Ruben Brown: UFA; $2.2M/1 yr, SB unknown
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DT Anthony Adams: UFA 49ers, 4 yrs, terms unknown; S Adam Archuleta (trade with Redskins); FB Obafemi Ayanbadejo: FA Cardinals, 1 yr, terms unknown
PLAYERS LOST: TE Richard Angulo (released); DT Alfonso Boone: UFA Chiefs, $7.2M/4 yrs, SB unknown; WR Justin Gage: UFA Titans, $1M/1 yr, $400,000 SB; FB Bryan Johnson (released); S Todd Johnson: UFA Rams, $4M/4 yrs, $700,000 SB; RB Thomas Jones (traded to Jets); DT Ian Scott: UFA Eagles, 1 yr, terms unknown; S Cameron Worrell: UFA Dolphins, $2M/2 yrs, $285,000 SB