After nine years as the Bears' senior director of pro personnel, Bobby DePaul is out of a job, but probably not for long.
DePaul, 46, who helped orchestrate the trade that brought quarterback Jay Cutler to the Bears a year ago, was relieved of his duties Monday afternoon. DePaul also helped build the Bears' teams that won back-to-back division titles in 2005 and in '06, when the Bears advanced to Super Bowl XLI.
The 21-year NFL veteran shouldn't have any trouble finding another job. He is well connected throughout the league and has a strong reputation, having helped to bring in key players such as running back Thomas Jones, defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, guards Ruben Brown and Roberto Garza, defensive tackle Anthony Adams and tight end Desmond Clark.
DePaul's plans for now remain on hold.
"On vacation until further notice – ha, ha," he said in a text message Monday night.
The timing of the firing is unusual, considering that the start of free agency is less than three weeks away, but most of the Bears' homework on players who will become available on March 5 has already been completed.
DePaul helped acquire street free agents who were discarded by other teams, most recently linebacker Tim Shaw, who was signed after the season opener yet still led the team with 30 special-teams tackles and played at a Pro Bowl level. Kicker Robbie Gould, the third-most-accurate field goal kicker in NFL history, was also signed as a street free agent. Wide receiver Devin Aromashodu was signed off the Redskins' practice squad in 2008, and he emerged late last season as a possible starter for 2010.
In addition to supervising the pro personnel department and the evaluation of NFL talent, DePaul was involved with day-to-day football operations and assisted in salary-cap maintenance and contract negotiations.
He came to the Bears after serving as a member of the Eagles' player personnel department for four seasons (1997-2000). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach with the Redskins (1989-93) and Bengals (1994-96).
An early report said that DePaul was escorted from Halas Hall on Monday afternoon, but that was contradicted by a team source who witnessed his departure.
DePaul was a linebacker on Maryland teams that won three ACC titles and made four bowl appearances.
NOTES AND QUOTES
All 32 teams will find it more difficult this offseason to do much more than tweak their rosters because of the restrictive nature of free agency prior to the upcoming uncapped season.
High-income teams like the Cowboys and Redskins may take advantage of the uncapped season to go on a buying spree, but they won't be bidding for the limited number if unrestricted players against the Bears. The Bears also won't be able to make much of a splash in the draft, considering they don't have a pick until the third round. So, even with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz coming aboard, the Bears' personnel won't change drastically.
"Our roster is pretty well set," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We don't have the first two picks in the draft, and free agency potentially will be very limited. It's not like we won't look for players like we do every year, but we're not going into this thinking we have to have an overhaul with our offense. I feel like the nucleus of what [Martz] needs to make his offense work, it was very clear to me that he felt very comfortable with our offensive personnel." ...
There is a good chance that Ogunleye, the Bears' starting left end for the past six years, will depart via free agency.
That expected void might have been filled in-house by former first-round pick Gaines Adams, but his unexpected death leaves the Bears in a predicament. Restricted free agent Mark Anderson was a flop when he was handed the starting job at right end in 2007, and he has just 9.5 sacks in the three years since his 12-sack rookie season in 2006.
The good news is there are some elite defensive linemen slated to become free agents. The bad news is they won't come cheaply, and some may be slapped with the franchise tag, effectively keeping them off the market. The Panthers' Julius Peppers, when motivated, is talented enough to lift the Bears' defense to a higher level all by himself. But Peppers is looking for a long-term deal with a salary of more than $1 million per game, and history says the Bears won't ante up that kind of money.
Peppers turned 30 last month but isn't slowing down. He has 25 sacks over the past two seasons and has hit double figures in five of the last six seasons and six of his eight years in the league.
Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards will be a restricted free agent assuming that a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by Mar. 5. He'll get a high enough tender offer from the Vikings that will require at least a first-round pick as compensation, and the Bears don't have a first rounder to give since it went to Denver for Cutler.
The Raiders are going to slap a franchise tag on Richard Seymour, but the Titans' Kyle Vanden Bosch is expected to hit the market. Either one would be an upgrade for the Bears. Seymour is also 30, and he's coming off a down season in Oakland, where he was unhappy after being traded to the Raiders. But he was a Pro Bowl player with the Patriots, and at 6-6 and 310 pounds could also play tackle in the Bears' 4-3 scheme.
Vanden Bosch is 31, and his production has fallen off the past two seasons, when he had a total of just 7.0 sacks, but he had a total of 31 in the three previous seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice. His agent, Tony Agnone, recently refuted rumors that Vanden Bosch was mulling retirement.
At tackle, the Patriots may work something out with two-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork, but he's already made it very clear that he doesn't want to be tagged as the franchise player for a second season. The 6-2 Wilfork is arguably the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and a superb run stuffer.
Green Bay's 6-2, 340-pound Ryan Pickett is also an excellent anchor against the run, and signing him would not only make the Bears better but weaken the Packers. ...
Angelo and coach Lovie Smith are both aware that another non-playoff season will punch their tickets out of town, so they will be looking to free agency as the only way to get a quick fix for a 7-9 team that doesn't have a first- or a second-round draft pick in April.
Angelo has said for years that he believes in having at least two quality running backs. Last year it could be argued that the Bears didn't have any, although some of Matt Forte's struggles must be attributed to an underachieving offensive line. Forte should bounce back this year, but backups Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones are both coming back from season-ending injuries, and Adrian Peterson is unrestricted and likely to leave.
The Steelers' Willie Parker and the Vikings' Chester Taylor are both scheduled to hit free agency. Both are veterans – Taylor is 30, Parker is 29 – but both have some miles left on their treads and could be ideal complements to Forte, although both are also capable of carrying the load in case of an injury.
At wide receiver, Torry Holt's name has been linked to the Bears since last year at this time. Holt, who was released by the Jaguars, had some tremendously productive years playing for Martz when both were in St. Louis, but that was a long time ago.
QUOTE TO NOTE
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