Free-Agent Pickings Slim Under Center

Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo says he is dead serious about getting more competition for Kyle Orton under center, but where can he find it? Perhaps former MVP Kurt Warner is the answer, but Jeff Garcia makes a lot of sense. Get the Inside Slant from the NFL experts at

Despite Jerry Angelo's less-than-overwhelming comments on Kyle Orton and the Bears' quarterback situation, it's still a mystery how the Bears plan to address the position in the offseason.

Angelo did not rule out the possibility that Orton has a chance to be the guy the Bears are looking for, but the Bears' GM said he won't be convinced until he sees Orton perform at a high level for a full season.

Then Angelo assigned an unprecedented – for him – level of importance to the Bears' QB position, hinting strongly that more competition was needed.

"It starts with the quarterback," Angelo said. "It's all about the quarterback. You don't win because of wide receivers. You don't win because of running backs. You win because of the quarterback. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that."

Which could mean that the Bears could do more than bringing in a quarterback to compete with Orton. It's possible they could target an established veteran to play ahead of him for a season or two. And, if the Bears really believe that the quarterback position is that important, they need to bring in someone better than Orton. More specifically, better than Orton is right now, which doesn't prevent them from keeping him for the one year he has left on his contract and using an older player to mentor him.

Kurt Warner anyone? His name has been bandied about, and it makes some sense, more than most of the other names that have been put forward.

If he and the Cardinals are as far apart as it seems on a new contract, Warner could be the ideal caretaker of the Bears' QB position and might provide the biggest upgrade possible for an offense that is missing a lot of pieces.

Chris Simms doesn't make any sense. Nothing against Phil's baby boy, but he's started three games in the past three years with a passer rating of 46.3. In five years, he's started 15 games. He's played less than Orton and accomplished less.

The Bills' J.P. Losman? Really? He's had more TD passes than interceptions in just one of his five years and seems to have regressed since 2006, his only decent season.

Angelo mentioned the success this season of the over-the-hill gang of Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins, Jeff Garcia and Warner.

All except Frerotte are scheduled to become free agents in March.

Warner will be 38 before next season starts. But he didn't appear over the hill for most of the 2008 season, although there has to be concern about his survival behind a mediocre offensive line. The greater concern is that Warner's current receivers – Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston – are all better than anyone on the Bears' roster.

But Warner still makes more sense than the others with the possible exception of Garcia.

QB Jeff Garcia
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Collins' passer rating was less than a point better than Orton's, and he's 36. That's not even a lateral move because Collins threw just 12 TD passes this season and, in a 14-year career, has never been more than an average quarterback – he's usually been closer to mediocre. He's not a guy who makes those around him better.

Garcia actually makes sense, but only if the Bears are also going to start drafting and developing quarterbacks, which they should continue to do until they're convinced Orton or some other veteran is the long-term answer. Garcia will be 39 in February, so he's obviously a quick and short-term fix. But he plays much younger than his age and has excellent mobility. His passer rating has been over 90 in each of the past three seasons with a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-12.

Garcia has been a starter and a backup, so even if Orton steps up his game and wins the job, the Bears have greatly improved their depth at a position Angelo says is of utmost importance.

Angelo said he was willing to trade Devin Hester's productivity as a return specialist for his increased role as a wide receiver.

"We said that that was a possibility," Angelo said. "There's never been a No. 1 receiver and a No. 1 kick returner. If there's never been one, there's probably a reason for that. So I anticipated the potential of Devin's returns to fall off, given the fact that we were going to escalate his play time at receiver. We wanted to escalate his play time, and that's the course we chose to go down."

Hester finished the season with 51 catches for 665 yards, notable increases over his 2007 numbers: 20 receptions for 299 yards. But Hester lost the kickoff-return job to Danieal Manning after averaging just 21.9 yards, with nothing longer than 51 yards. He had two kickoff-return TDs in each of his first two seasons. Hester kept the punt-return job, but only because there wasn't a qualified replacement. His average of 6.2 yards was 23rd in the league and less than half his career average of 14.1 yards.

"His returns did suffer," Angelo said. "Now is that to say that [playing more wide receiver] is the absolute reason why? I don't know that. Teams got better with their coverages. There was more of a sense of urgency. I'm sure they did a lot more studying on how to cover with Devin.

"He wasn't the returner he was in the last couple years. We're going to look at that real hard, too, and make sure we continue to define what his role is. Because the one thing that we know about Devin, and he showed it at receiver, is that he's a playmaker. And when you get a playmaker, you want to make sure you get him the ball the best way you can to make as many plays as he can on Sunday." …

TE Greg Olsen took another step toward becoming a valuable weapon in what the Bears hope will be a more explosive offense next season.

Olsen was second on the Bears with 54 receptions and 574 yards, and he led the team with five touchdown catches. Olsen isn't a force as a blocker, but that's not why the Bears drafted him.

"We didn't bring Greg here to be an in-line tight end blocking the 'Power O,'" head coach Lovie Smith said. "But in his role that we asked him to do, he did it well and he'll only get better. His future looks bright wherever we choose to put him, and he played a lot of different positions."

Olsen was occasionally split out as a wide receiver and sometimes lined up as an H-back. …

After Hester's modest 51-catch, 665-yard season, the Bears didn't have a wide receiver with more than the 35 catches for 445 yards of Rashied Davis.

"That's an area of concern for us," Smith said. "We'll look at it closely."

The situation was made worse by the continued success of former Bears wide receivers Bernard Berrian, Bobby Wade, Justin Gage and Bobby Engram, who combined for 182 catches and 2,749 yards this season.

"We tried to keep some of those players, [but] we weren't able to," Smith said. "Guys come and go. It's about that next guy coming up, and right now it's what it's about for us is just try to possibly add someone there."

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