Contrary to speculation in published reports, the Bears and agent Drew Rosenhaus have not yet reached an agreement on a long-term contract extension for Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs.
Rosenhaus spent two days late last week at Halas Hall, but the Bears said an extension for the three-year veteran is not imminent. The Bears would like to secure the services of the 25-year-old Briggs before he becomes a free agent after next season.
But they will not pay him as much as middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. The four-time Pro Bowler has a nine-year deal worth $56.65 million that expires in 2011.
Briggs was voted to his first Pro Bowl last season when he established career highs with 170 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, 13 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His tackle total was one fewer than Urlacher's. Briggs has four career interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns, one in each of his NFL seasons.
The former third-round pick (68th overall) from Arizona has never missed an NFL game and has started 45 straight since being promoted to No. 1 on the depth chart at strong-side linebacker the fourth week of his rookie year. He moved to the weak side in 2004, when he had 168 tackles and became the only player to lead the Bears in that category other than Urlacher since 1999.
The Bears are perfectly willing to go into the 2006 season with the same starters that helped them go 11-5 last season, so they won't be driven to draft a player who has to be an immediate starter or even a major contributor.
General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith believe the team will be better with the same roster because most of the core players are young. They also expect to get more than two games out of starting quarterback Rex Grossman, and even if they don't, free-agent addition Brian Griese is a much better backup quarterback than they've had in a long time.
The Bears insist they don't have needs, just wants.
"A need is (when) you're playing without a player that you (need to) win with," Angelo said. "We feel we have 22 players we can put out there that we can win with."
According to Angelo, that gives the Bears tremendous flexibility in dealing with teams desiring to move up or down into their spot at No. 26. More than a week before the draft, the Bears' general manager said he had already received more interest than he anticipated, and he enjoys the confidence of knowing that he can play last year's hand and is operating form a position of strength.
"It's great because you can listen to those phone calls and you could maybe get another player to go along with a player that you would take (anyway) but now you can take him more at his value," Angelo said.
"That would be obviously on a trade down. Or there might be a player there that gets on the radar screen that's close to you, and you know you have enough ammunition pick-wise that you can move up."
Still, the Bears do have areas that need an upgrade in talent or greater depth.
The top priority, before they offered a last-minute offer sheet to Carolina's RFA Ricky Manning Jr. on Friday afternoon, was at cornerback. But even if the Panthers choose not to match, the Bears still could use another corner with speed.
They're OK with Pro Bowler Nate Vasher and Charles Tillman, who slumped last season. But there is a need for a nickel corner, since Jerry Azumah retired because of a chronic arthritic hip and a neck injury.
"We want to look at another corner; we've said that," Angelo admitted. "The draft is pretty good this year (at corner). I wouldn't be surprised to see 7-8 defensive backs go in the first round. It may be the most at that position of any of the positions in the first, so it's a good year for cornerbacks, and a pretty good year for safeties as well."
But Angelo is adamant that he doesn't have to get his corner in the first round. The Bears stole Vasher in the fourth round two years ago, and he's worked out pretty well. Tillman came in the second round of 2003, and Azumah, a running back at New Hampshire, was snagged in the fifth round in 1999.
So the Bears might give Grossman another weapon with a much-needed tight end before they bolster a defense that was one of the best in the league last season.
However, this is considered a very strong draft at tight end, and the members of the Bears' brain trust are unanimous in their belief that there will be productive tight ends taken all the way through the fourth round and perhaps beyond, so the sense of urgency isn't there.
Drafting a linebacker would give the Bears leverage with Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, who becomes a free agent after this season. Or it might give the Bears' Briggs' successor. Angelo has also proven he can find a gem at linebacker later in the draft. Briggs was a third-round pick in 2003.
Having a set starting lineup for this season also affords the Bears the ability to draft players who might be more talented but in need of more development since they won't be asked to contribute right away. They have the luxury of waiting a while for this year's draft class to bloom.
"This year, whether we have five picks or six picks (they have six for now), we think that we're going to be potentially getting six starters," Angelo said. "These players we've evaluated for our football team will be starters in year two or three.
"I really like this draft for us. I like the second day of this draft for us. I'm talking about our football team, what we look for within the framework of our schemes."
They presented Panthers restricted free agent Ricky Manning Jr. with an offer sheet Friday, the final day they could make a bid for the 5-foot-8, 185-pound former third-round pick out of UCLA.
Because Manning was offered the lowest tender offer of $712,000 by the Panthers, the Bears would owe his former team only a third-round pick if they make him an offer that Carolina declines to match in the next seven days.
"He's well worth that," said a source in the Bears' personnel department. "We're interested in him and this is a place that interests him, too."
Manning would step into the Bears' No. 3 corner spot vacated by the retirement of Jerry Azumah, playing behind starters Nate Vasher and Charles Tillman, although he has started 27 regular-season games, plus all four postseason games in 2003, including Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"He's one of the better third corners in the NFL," the Bears' source said. "He's started before, and he's good enough that some teams see him as a No. 2 corner."
Earlier in free agency the Bears signed Panthers unrestricted free agent cornerback Dante Wesley, but he is considered more of a special teams player than a No. 3 corner.
Manning has nine career interceptions plus four more in the 2003 postseason, when he was named NFL defensive player of the week twice. Cornerback has been considered one of the Bears' primary needs in the draft, but the addition of Manning eliminates the urgency to improve that position.
"That hasn't changed," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Their rehab is going well. They've been here throughout. No one has worked any harder than those guys to come back bigger, stronger and faster than before."
Bradley started four games and caught five passes for 88 yards in the first half of the Oct. 30 game in which he was injured. McGowan contributed 29 tackles as an extra defensive back
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you're on the low end of the draft, my experience tells me you don't look for home runs. That's going to be tough to do, but you just play it right and be sound in your approach." — Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who has the 26th pick
For five consecutive years, the Lions have used their first-round pick to draft offensive players; look for that to change on Saturday.
Unless president Matt Millen can find a way to finagle his way up from the No. 9 pick to get offensive tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia, it appears likely the Lions will take a player to fortify coach Rod Marinelli's defense.
The team has clear needs at virtually every area of the defense. They need an edge pass rusher, either an end or an outside linebacker; they need at least one cornerback after losing Andre Goodman and R.W. McQuarters through free agency; and they will have to consider taking a defensive tackle, preparing for the possible retirement of veteran Dan Wilkinson.
Unfortunately for the Lions, it's unlikely they will get close enough to the top of the draft to take Ferguson and it's likely the defensive players they would seem to covet most — linebacker A.J. Hawk of Ohio State and defensive back Michael Huff of Texas — will be gone before they make their first selection.
Millen has been even more secretive than usual regarding his thoughts on the 2006 draft, however, so nothing should come as a surprise on draft day. He has made first-day trades in each of the last two years, resulting in the acquisition of running back Kevin Jones late in the first round of the 2004 draft and landing defensive tackle Shaun Cody early in the second round of 2005.
One thing that appears certain is that the Lions will not draft a wide receiver, a running back or a right end and it seems unlikely they will be in the market to take a quarterback in the first round.
Millen drafted quarterback Joey Harrington with the No. 3 pick in the 2002 draft and, after four frustrating seasons, is in the process of trying to trade him.
Jon Kitna and Josh McCown have been signed to compete for the starting job. Although neither might be considered the long-term answer at the quarterback position, Millen isn't likely to expend a No. 1 pick on a quarterback of the future.
In addition to Harrington, the offensive players the Lions have taken with their first round pick (or picks) are tackle Jeff Backus (18th overall in 2001), wide receiver Charles Rogers (second overall in 2003), wide receiver Roy Williams (seventh overall in 2004) and wide receiver Mike Williams (10th overall in 2005).
Rogers and Mike Williams have been disappointments but the Lions are hoping offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be able to salvage their careers.
The running back position appears solid with Jones backed up by Shawn Bryson. And the addition of Dan Campbell via free agency makes them solid at tight end, where Marcus Pollard and Casey FitzSimmons provide good receiving threats.
The offensive area in which the Lions have the most serious need is the line. They need a starting left guard and they could upgrade at right tackle, although they feel last year's first-time starter, Kelly Butler, can develop.
The defense, by comparison, has plenty of holes to fill. During the team's voluntary minicamp early in April, defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson had only five able-bodied linebackers on the field and three of them — LeVar Woods, Paris Lenon and Nate Wayne — were free agents signed off the street late in the 2005 season.
The shortage will be eased if Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman are healthy for the 2006 season but Hawk, Chad Greenway of Iowa, Bobby Carpenter of Ohio State and middle linebacker Abdul Hodge of Iowa all would hold some appeal to the Lions.
And, although he isn't quite sure what to make of it — or what to expect in the days and weeks ahead — the former No. 2 pick in the draft is willing to take his chances with the Lions.
After missing most of his first two seasons because of broken collarbones and falling into disfavor with the previous coaching staff over a four-game drug suspension, Rogers isn't taking anything for granted, including a fresh start with the new staff headed by Rod Marinelli.
"I don't know, I don't know," Rogers said. "The only way I can see that is when the season rolls around if I'm out there getting my opportunity to play ball. Is it new? I don't know. Do they hold grudges? I don't know that either. All we can do is see about it."
He says he is doing what he can, however, to prove he is the playmaker the Lions sought when they took him high in the first round of the 2003 NFL draft.
He is participating in the off-season workouts and he has lost the weight that former coach Steve Mariucci asked him to gain.
"I'm probably about 204 or 203," said Rogers, who still has a long, lean look as a 6-feet-4 receiver.
That is at least eight pounds lighter than the weight the previous staff wanted for Rogers, in hopes it would help him avoid additional injuries. He says the decision to get back to his more natural playing weight was entirely his own.
"Speed, man," he explained. "It's better for me, it's better for me personally, a better fit for me. Trying to play heavier wasn't my game. I play light. That's how I play, that's why I'm going to stick with what I do best."
His remark was interpreted by some as an indication that Kitna would go to training camp — or at least into the minicamps and off-season workouts — as the Lions' No. 1 quarterback, ahead of Josh McCown, Shaun King and Dan Orlovsky.
During a recent minicamp, Marinelli went out of his way to clarify what he perceives as a media misconception regarding the Lions quarterback situation.
"The way it was asked is not the way I wanted to answer it," Marinelli said, referring to the question that had prompted his previous misinterpreted explanation. "So what I'm asking right now, I'm going to answer it again.
"We don't have a starter right now. Somebody's got to take the first rep, is what I said. I'm going to let them take the reps and I'm going to get a look at it and try to work it out."
Marinelli said his biggest concern in the immediate weeks ahead is to get all four quarterbacks indoctrinated in offensive coordinator Mike Martz's system and let the competition play itself out in training camp and the exhibition season.
"Training camp is supposed to be a grind," said guard Damien Woody. "That's when you're supposed to get gristled. That's the time you're supposed to build those calluses so when you come out you're ready for the season to start.
"As far as the tempo, they're trying to make the tempo as fast as possible so when you get in the game, the game is easy. Practice is supposed to be harder than the game; that's the foundation he's trying to lay right now."
Tight end Marcus Pollard said the routine for his position is much tougher under Marinelli and offensive coordinator Mike Martz than it was last season.
"It definitely is (tougher) for me," Pollard said. "I have to run a lot more, I'm learning five new positions and moving all over the place.
"I weigh 250 now," he said, grinning. "I think by the end of the season I'll weigh 225 pounds because I'm having to run a lot more, do a lot more things.
"I like it. That's my game and that's how I played when I was at Indy. To me, it's kind of like a fast-break offense, kind of run-and-gunning. If you can't keep up with our tempo, you're going to be left behind."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Like I've said before, the talent difference in the league is not a big difference. It's just that the teams that win, they're the guys that play the hardest and have the most heart, prepare and practice well. That's the one thing we will do here in Detroit, I already know that. We will practice fast, we will know our assignments and we will be held accountable." — Cornerback Dre' Bly on the Lions approach under new coach Rod Marinelli.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Wide receiver Terrence Murphy's promising pro career is all but over, at least with the Packers anyway.
The team on Friday released Murphy, a second-round draft pick last year.
Another round of tests underscored previous diagnoses that Murphy's neck condition is too severe to allow him to get back on the field this year and possibly beyond.
Murphy sustained a bruised spinal cord and numbness in his arms and legs when he collided with Carolina's Thomas Davis while returning a kickoff in the Packers' Oct. 3 loss at Carolina last season. Murphy was ruled out the rest of the season after doctors discovered that he suffered from an existing condition, stenosis — narrowing of the spinal column.
Murphy held out hope toward the end of the season that he would be cleared to play again in 2006. However, a number of specialists across the country who evaluated Murphy in the last six months wouldn't give him the OK to return to football so soon.
"After several tests and consultations, we have concluded that Terrence will not be cleared to play for the Green Bay Packers," general manager Ted Thompson said. "Terrence is an outstanding person and player who is very well thought of by everyone within the Packers family. We wish him nothing but the best in whatever direction his life takes him."
Murphy was signed to a five-year contract that included a $1.475 million signing bonus. If he retires, Murphy would retain the signing bonus and also collect half of the $310,000 base salary he's due next season.
The 6-foot-1, 196-pound Murphy caught five passes in three games last season and was beginning to make his mark on kickoff returns (average of 18.2 yards) before suffering the injury.
Coupled with Pro Bowler Javon Walker's off-season threat to never play for the Packers again, their receiving corps is considerably thin. Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson, late-season pickup Rod Gardner and free-agent signee Marc Boerigter are the only experienced players of note.
It has happened only seven times since the NFL conducted its first draft in 1936 — a team following up the selection of a quarterback in the first round one year with the selection of a quarterback in Round 1 the next year.
The Packers, who have taken a quarterback six times in the opening round but never in back-to-back years, could do the unthinkable this weekend. Never mind that would-be top pick Aaron Rodgers fell in their lap toward the end of Round 1 last year.
A cloud of uncertainty has been hovering over Green Bay for more than three months because Brett Favre isn't in a hurry to either commit to playing next season or retire.
The Packers had hoped to have that decision by now, but they've fed the tiresome delay by essentially giving Favre until the start of training camp to make up his mind before a $3 million roster bonus would be due.
So, perhaps without knowing what its franchise quarterback will do by the time it's on the clock early in the first round Saturday, a Packers team pocked with myriad warts at other positions in the wake of a 4-12 season just might expend the No. 5 pick on another heir apparent for Favre.
General manager Ted Thompson hasn't ruled it out, sticking to a philosophy that he'll go for the best player available in the enviable high draft slot, regardless if it's not a position of need.
"I'll go back to the Sam Bowie situation," said Thompson, referencing how Portland felt compelled to fill a need by taking Bowie with the second pick in the 1984 NBA Draft and passed on Michael Jordan. "If you have a chance to get Michael Jordan, you get Michael Jordan."
Packers officials, ever so coy in the weeks leading up to the draft, might be convinced Texas' Vince Young is destined for stardom. Thompson and first-year coach Mike McCarthy studied him intently at his pro-day workout.
Or, just as Rodgers conveniently spiraled down the first-round ladder to their pick at No. 24 in 2005, the Packers would be hard pressed to pass up USC's Matt Leinart if he were to somehow slip through the top-four cracks.
Taking a quarterback in Round 1 a second straight year might not be a far-fetched investment for Green Bay. Future Hall of Famers Sammy Baugh (Redskins, 1937), Bob Griese (Dolphins, 1967) and John Elway (Colts, 1983), along with league MVP John Brodie (49ers, 1957), were taken in the first round a year after their respective teams didn't hit the jackpot with their first-round selection of a quarterback.
Although logic dictates the Packers will target an impact defensive player right off the bat at positions where they need help, particularly at linebacker, cornerback and end, there's no telling what Thompson has up his sleeve.
It's been reported that the team didn't bring in any of the marquee prospects, including North Carolina State defensive end Mario Williams and Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk, for pre-draft visits.
Furthermore, it's no secret Thompson loves to stockpile picks. He enters the draft with seven, two of which are compensatory choices that can't be moved. With teams wheeling and dealing to improve their lot in Round 1, the Packers would seem to be ripe to trade down and address a litany of needs with more selections in tow.
Having disgruntled wide receiver Javon Walker to dangle as trade bait will add to the intrigue of what will occur early in the draft.
Green Bay has become a popular destination for free-agent visits by some of the Carl and Kevin Poston's clients. Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson visited April 3 and reportedly was offered a contract by the Packers, though he's still weighing his options.
A lesser-name linebacker in the Postons' stable, San Francisco free agent Saleem Rasheed, visited April 19. The 6-foot-2, 229-pound Rasheed was primarily a backup and a special-teams player with the 49ers, who took him in the third round of the 2002 draft. He's also been sidetracked by injuries for most of his career, deactivated for seven games last season.
"He will be there," Roman's agent, Joel Segal, told the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
Roman hasn't been in Green Bay to participate in the team's off-season workout program, which started last month. It's been speculated that his absence stems from not taking kindly to the arrival of Manuel, a onetime teammate with Cincinnati. Manuel received a five-year, $10 million contract, including a $2 million signing bonus, and figures to supplant the struggling Roman in the lineup.
Segal, though, said that Roman has stayed away because he's in Texas taking classes to complete his college degree.
The Appleton (Wis.) Post-Crescent reported April 21 that the seventh annual Brett Favre Celebrity Softball Game has been scheduled for June 11. The game, which pits members of the Packers offense against their defensive counterparts, attracts a sellout crowd to Fox Cities Stadium near Appleton.
"That's when we're having it," said Beth Seymour, director of the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation. "We've reserved that date, and we'll definitely be there."
Seymour added that Favre's future with the Packers wouldn't have any effect on whether the game would be played.
The charity softball game will be held in the midst of the Packers' organized team activities during the early part of June.
The team signed the 6-1, 205-pound Bookman to a one-year, $275,000 contract. He hasn't played football since 2002 at Kansas, where he decided to focus solely on track and won three NCAA titles in the 200-meter dash.
Bookman supposedly ran the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.25 seconds during his workout for the Packers on April 3 in Houston.
In his short stint with the Kansas football team, Bookman played mostly at defensive back, though he did work at receiver and as a kickoff returner.
Green Bay will host Atlanta on Aug. 19, play a nationally televised Monday night game at Cincinnati on Aug. 28 and close the exhibition slate Aug. 31 at home against Tennessee.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope not because I hope I've shown them through practice last season and my limited game action that I do have a big upside and I just need an opportunity to get on the field and make some plays happen. ... (But) I know as well as anybody, going through what I did last year (in the draft), that anything can happen. They could definitely take a quarterback at the fifth pick, and I think that would mean maybe my days in Green Bay are numbered." — QB Aaron Rodgers, when asked in an interview on the NFL Network on April 19 whether he thinks the Packers would select a quarterback in the first round of the draft for the second straight year. Rodgers, once thought to be a top 5 pick, slipped to Green Bay at No. 24 last year.