Bates Saga Takes Strange Turn

If this story gets any stranger, we'll have to get a new photo of D'Wayne Bates.

Late Tuesday night, the word coming out of Chicago newspapers and TV talking heads was that the Chicago Bears weren't going to match the Vikings' offer for wide receiver D'Wayne Bates, arguably No. 5 on the Bears depth chart.

Although the Bears said publicly that they could match his three-year, $2.85 million contract, which calls for a $550,000 roster bonus to be paid Friday, the team was sending out mixed signals (which you can read in the first of yesterday's updates).

The Bears took the second of the choices laid out, but a choice that makes little sense. Yes, Chicago matched the Vikings' offer, but they aren't content with the deal Bates worked out.

This could cause problems on a couple of fronts. First, Bates' agent has made it clear he wanted to come to the Vikings, where he would have a legitimate shot at a starting job -- something much less likely in Chicago. So, why the problem? The Bears may not even want to keep Bates.

In announcing that the Bears had matched the offer, Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo said that the team "still wants to explore options within the contract." Citing the collective bargaining agreement that created offer sheets for restricted free agents, Angelo said the only way the Bears could continue to negotiate with Bates was to match the Vikings' offer. But, that doesn't mean they're content with the terms.

Apparently, the Bears want to either restructure the deal to a more cap-friendly condition this year ($1.1 million of the $2.85 would count against the 2002 salary cap) or work out a trade for a draft pick. The Bears are clearly trying to make up for the faux pas that led to the team receiving no compensation for another team signing Bates -- one of the reasons the Vikings were interested in trying to pry him loose.

VU has made an inquiry to the NFL about the specifics of matching offer sheets and then changing the playing field -- as if the Bears can change the contract and trade Bates after denying the Vikings a chance to honor their offer sheet -- but Angelo sounded emphatic that the Bears have beaten the system that burned them with the clerical error on his tendered offer in February.

The question now may become, will the Vikings be willing to trade a late-round draft pick to get what they could have had for free? Likely not, but it's made a bizarre story of shuffled papers into a stranger story, since the Bears will have to move quickly to change Bates' deal if it can be done at all -- if the contract remains the same as of Friday, the Bears will be on the hook for the $550,000 roster bonus against their salary cap even if Bates is traded.

Sometimes you just can't make this stuff up. The strange becomes bizarre, but somehow in keeping with the Vikings and wide receivers this off-season.

* With Bates now forced to return to Chicago, the Vikings are beginning the preparation process to start their wide receiver search anew. As of right now, the only veteran receivers under contract with the Vikings are Randy Moss and Chris Walsh.
* Another WR the Vikings are interested in may be looking in a different direction. A source close to the Jerome Pathon free agent travels says he may be leaning toward signing with New Orleans instead of the Vikings.
* The Vikings have expressed confidence in signing CB Fred Vinson, but he was in Miami Tuesday working out with the Dolphins, who are looking to add some depth to their secondary.
* The Vikings released kicker Andy Crosland and fullback Dewayne Miles. Tears were shed.
* Center Cory Withrow, an exclusive rights free agent, agreed to a one-year contract Wednesday.
* We're hearing that the agent for DT Brandon Mitchell wants to get a deal completed this weekend or early next week. The Vikings, along with Washington, Houston and Seattle, are all interested in signing Mitchell.

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