The following is an e-mail exchange back and forth between BearReport.com Editor in Chief John Crist and Scout.com Senior NFL Reporter Adam Caplan. The subject? Bernard Berrian's future in Chicago ...
John Crist: Bernard Berrian was supposed to emerge this year as one of the top receivers in the league, but he dropped a ton of balls in the first half and finished 49 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. Nevertheless, he's still the primary target in this passing game and one of the better deep threats around. And he is usually on the same wavelength as Rex Grossman, which means the two of them could be a package deal once all the dollars and cents get settled. Signing Berrian becomes more of a priority should the organization bring Grossman back for another shot at the starting job, but Berrian will probably be elsewhere if Grossman also closes the book on his Chicago career. While I'm still of the opinion that Berrian is much more Alvin Harper than Michael Irvin, I'm curious to hear what NFL insiders are saying about him as free agency looms – and are there teams lining up to pay him like a legitimate No. 1 option?
Adam Caplan: Berrian is an interesting player. Had Mark Bradley never gotten hurt, we may have never heard about the former Fresno State Bulldog. But Berrian took advantage of his increased role starting in 2006 and never looked back. He has improved in most facets of his game the last few seasons – route running in particular – and his talent certainly has gotten noticed. He'll drop passes occasionally, but Berrian more than makes up for it with his ability to get down the field and make plays. This past season, he was clearly brought down by the lack of consistency from the quarterback position, and his yards per catch were down significantly from 2006 (1.8 yards less). But he's really not seen by anyone as a true No. 1 option at the position. Top receivers command double-teams, and he's still a long way from doing that. However, he looks to be a very solid second option that would use his downfield ability. The only thing that's really going to help him get paid elsewhere is that there are very few quality options in free agency – D.J. Hackett of Seattle is the other.
WR Limas Sweed
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
JC: I agree with you and don't believe that Berrian is a classic primary target in today's NFL. He's not the guy you can count on for a 10-yard catch on 3rd and 9 when you absolutely need a first down. However, the Bears could be in real jeopardy at the wideout position if they don't bring him back because the aforementioned Bradley has done nothing since his knee injury in 2005, Muhsin Muhammad has clearly lost a step at nearly 35 years of age, and the incomparable Devin Hester can't transform into a go-to reciever after playing cornerback as recently as one year ago. Assuming that Berrian does get overpaid by another team and leaves the Bears, what would their options be? Should they turn their attention to another free agent like Hackett, or would a stud draft pick like Limas Sweed from Texas be the way to go?
AC: It would either be Hackett or the draft, but Hackett is more of a West Coast-scheme fit than for Ron Turner's power-running and deep-passing game. Aside from Hackett, it's a pretty pedestrian list of unrestricted free agents potentially available: Jerry Porter, Devery Henderson, Bryant Johnson, Justin Gage (again), Drew Carter, Samie Parker, Jabar Gaffney, Keary Colbert, David Patten, and Devard Darling. Nobody is really worth looking at other than for depth. Porter is a major headcase. Carter is a tall receiver who can get downfield, but he's not very polished.
JC: Needless to say, that's not exactly an awe-inspiring list. There is another option for retaining Berrian, however. Much like he did with Lance Briggs last season, GM Jerry Angelo can designate Berrian the team's franchise player if he's deemed to be too valuable to walk away for nothing. The front office figured $7.2 million for one year of Pro-Bowl linebacking from Briggs was worth the money with the team on the cusp of a championship, so perhaps the same thing can be done with Berrian since the receiving corps would be destitute without him. Because he's also represented by Drew Rosenhaus and negotiations are sure to be brutal, is a franchise tender of $7-8 million worth it for a player of Berrian's caliber?
AC: No, he's clearly not worth the franchise number because he's not an elite player. But, some way, they need to find a middle ground. That's for sure. They really need to have him back, as what they have behind him at the position won't get it done.
John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.