After Tank Johnson received a 120-day jail sentence for violating the probation terms of a 2005 weapons conviction, it appears likely the Bears' starting defensive tackle will also be hit with a league suspension, possibly four games. Johnson was also fined $2,500.
The 25-year-old Johnson received what one of his attorneys, Lorna Propes, called a "cruel" sentence from Cook County Circuit Judge John Moran, which she said was more severe because of Johnson's high profile. Bears coach Lovie Smith and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher both spoke on Johnson's behalf at the sentencing hearing.
Defensive tackle was considered the strongest position on the team last season, but it could be a much different situations in 2007 since there are questions about all of the top four players in the rotation, two of whom could be gone via free agency very shortly.
The possible loss of Johnson is just one problem the Bears may have to face. Pro Bowler Tommie Harris will be returning from a season-ending hamstring pull that sidelined him for the final four weeks of the season and all of the postseason.
Backups Ian Scott and Alfonso Boone, both of whom played significant snaps in the Bears' D-tackle rotation, are unrestricted free agents who have received attention from the Chiefs and Broncos. Boone signed with the Chiefs, but Scott would be an especially significant loss, considering that the four-year veteran has started 33 games over the past three seasons and is still only 25. He has also garnered interested from the Vikings and Falcons.
Last year's third-round pick, Dusty Dvoracek, spent all of last season on injured reserve with a foot injury and remains a question mark.
Johnson's sentence could be reduced to 60 days with good behavior, and if so, he would be back in time for the Bears' veteran's mini-camp. He was taken into custody immediately after Thursday's ruling and will spend his incarceration in protective custody at Cook County Jail, where he will be held in a cell by himself for his own protection from other inmates and to avoid disruptions in jail operations.
Johnson could have faced up to a year in prison. Johnson will be allowed out of his cell to exercise, shower and to watch television. His typical meals will be eggs for breakfast, bologna or other lunchmeat for lunch and a hot dinner.
Smith claimed in the suburban courtroom that jail time would be "devastating" for Johnson.
"There are good guys and there are bad guys," Smith said. "Tank Johnson is a good guy."
Following sentencing, the Bears released a short statement, which read: "We continue our support of Tank, and he will remain a member of our football team. Tank has made many positive changes to better his life. We believe he will continue on this path at the conclusion of his sentence."
Johnson's probation violation stemmed from a raid on his north suburban home in Lincolnshire in November when three handguns and three rifles, along with 500 rounds of ammunition, were discovered. Police also found several ounces of marijuana that they say belonged to Johnson's live-in bodyguard and long-time friend Willie B. Posey, who was shot to death at a Chicago nightclub two days later while he was out with Johnson.
General manager Jerry Angelo was panned for trading a running back, Thomas Jones, who had rushed for 2,545 yards over the past two seasons, to the Jets in exchange for moving up from 63rd to 37th in the second round of the upcoming draft.
Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has vowed not to play this season under the franchise tag and has said he will sit out the season rather than suiting up for $7.2 million for the Bears.
"When you win, you're not oblivious to problems," Angelo said. "Your problems are just different problems. So these things, from my perspective, are part of that. We have to weigh each player individually. There's going to be other things as we go along.
"These situations aren't isolated. There'll be other players with other situations. It just comes with being successful. I can't say it any clearer than that. If you're in the business, it's probably more common practice to see that."
Now, Hamilton will be working with Norv Turner's brother Ron, the Bears' offensive coordinator, and young quarterback Rex Grossman, who endured a roller coaster 2006 season.
"I think (Grossman and Smith) have a lot in common," Hamilton said. "They're both tough, gritty and very competitive guys, and they both started 16 games last year. With a young quarterback, you want to make sure that going into the ballgame that you make certain that they have a comprehensive understanding of what you're trying to do and make things as absolute as possible."
"I'm doing well," Harris said three months after a season-ending hamstring injury. "I'm just rehabbing every day, trying to get back and experience the same thing that my teammates got to experience this year (Super Bowl XLI)."
Harris said his rehab is restricted only by common sense.
"I do whatever I want," he said. "I can run, I can jump, I can jog. I just have to do it a little slower now, but as time goes on, I'm getting better and better each week and I'll be ready."
"When you franchise somebody, you're saying, No. 1, that you want them to be a big part of your future," Smith said. "Lance is a big part of our future."
But the Bears have no intention of Briggs being in their future beyond the 2007 season. They have not negotiated with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, since Briggs rejected a seven-year, $33 million deal a year ago. But the Bears definitely want Briggs on the field for the coming season.
"He's a good football player," Smith said. "We want him to be a part of our team. I would look at the franchise tag like that. You only put franchise tags on guys that you think a lot of. Great players; that's what Lance is."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I know on the outside it looks like we want to dismantle the team. It has nothing to do with that. We want to keep this the best possible football team that we can. And that's what we're trying to do." — Bears GM Jerry Angelo
Since the Lions hired Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator last year, the receiver situation has been a bit of a soap opera.
As the Lions have looked for players to fit Martz's demanding system, receivers have come and gone — and some have come back again and left again. The Lions have tried established veterans like Az-Zahir Hakim. They have tried little-known, little-used players like Kevin Kasper.
The soap opera continued into free agency.
Everyone knew the Lions would go after Kevin Curtis, who played for Martz in St. Louis. Many expected them to sign him fairly quickly.
Curtis is close to Mike Furrey, another former Ram, who came to Detroit last year and broke out with an NFC-best 98 receptions. And after Furrey signed a long-term deal in January, he said: "I know very well that he loves this offense. So we're hoping to get that done."
But they didn't get it done. While Curtis visited the Lions, he fired his agent, Tom Condon. Then Curtis, who had already visited the Vikings, visited the Giants, Eagles and Titans.
While Curtis was making up his mind, the Lions signed another former Rams receiver, Shaun McDonald. Curtis eventually signed with the Eagles, who gave him a six-year, $32-million deal that included $9.5 million guaranteed — more than the Lions were willing to pay.
McDonald didn't do much in St. Louis. His best season was 2005, when he caught 46 passes for 523 yards. He might come and go, like Hakim, Kasper and so many others have done. Or he might surprise, as Furrey did. With Martz, you never know.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "From the start of the week, Philly was where I wanted to be." — WR Kevin Curtis told Philadelphia reporters, after choosing the Eagles even though many thought he wanted to reunite with Mike Martz in Detroit.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Despite an outcry from fans, the trade winds have picked up again on a long-rumored deal for Oakland receiver Randy Moss.
The Boston Herald reported March 15 that the trade was imminent. Nothing had materialized by the beginning of this week, however.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who has been tight-lipped about the team's purported interest in Moss, responded to the published article by calling it "wild speculation."
The Herald detailed a trade that would send Moss, tight end Courtney Anderson and a conditional pick in the 2009 draft to Green Bay for No. 2 quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a 2008 seventh-round draft pick. The conditional pick sent to the Packers would be based on Rodgers' production the next two seasons.
Just the thought of having onetime nemesis Moss dressed in green and gold has irritated a good number of Packers backers.
The last time Green Bay played against Moss in his final season with division rival Minnesota in 2004, he mock-mooned the Lambeau Field crowd in the end zone after scoring a touchdown in the Vikings' NFC wild-card playoff victory.
Packers chairman/CEO Bob Harlan has taken several phone calls from fans, the majority of them in opposition to the would-be acquisition of the talented but troubled receiver.
"When it first started as a rumor, Ted came in to see me. I told him, ‘I don't know what you're thinking about Randy Moss, but I've got to let you know that the initial response I'm getting is not good,'" Harlan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "It has settled down a little bit since then. I'd say it's been maybe 65-35 percent anti.
"One man wrote (in a fax), ‘Moody. Excess baggage. Disruptive. Do any of these words sound like alarm bells to you?'" Harlan added. "One guy called from out of state and said, ‘Bob, I'd rather see you go 0-16 than do that.' Isn't that something?
"They're very passionate about it. A lot of it probably is the mooning thing. They just won't forgive him for doing that."
The fans' sentiment, though, could be drowned out by the omnipotent voice of one man. Quarterback Brett Favre has been said to be pushing hard for the trade, in hopes of perhaps a final shot at becoming a championship contender. Favre's agent is Bus Cook, who also is one of Moss' representatives.
The trade probably would be contingent on Moss' agreeing to restructure a contract that calls for him to have base salaries of $9.75 million this year and $11.25 million in 2008.
"There are a handful of veteran guys who most likely won't be here," McCarthy said. "(But) it's going to be an excellent off-season program."
Quarterback Brett Favre will be among the handful of no-shows. Favre is recovering from last month's surgery on his left ankle. McCarthy said Favre is progressing well with his rehab, and the 17th-year veteran apparently is on track to at least do some partial work during the full-squad minicamp in mid-May.
Favre's top backup, Aaron Rodgers, figures to be eased into the start of the off-season workouts, which includes a quarterback school coordinated by McCarthy, after recovering from a broken left foot sustained in November. Rodgers, though, is the subject of trade rumors involving Oakland receiver Randy Moss.
Favre felt that the league "turned its back" on Robinson by banishing the team from having interaction with the receiver during the suspension, which began in October. Robinson also is barred from team facilities until he possibly gains reinstatement this September.
"If he can't play, fine. If that's your ruling, fine," Favre said after Robinson was suspended. "But, at least let him come in where guys can say, ‘Hey, Koren, can we help you out? You need someone to talk to?'"
A support system was in place for Favre when he was treated in 1996 for an addiction to painkillers.
"He had a few close teammates who supported him then, and I'm sure those memories were fresh in his mind when he chose to speak out in support of Koren," Packers spokesman Zak Gilbert said.
Favre will receive a Bronze Key Award, the highest honor of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, from the Waukesha, Wis.-based Addiction Resource Council.
Then, on the eve of the start of the off-season workout program, South Florida resident Harris spent a few days at Disney World and was married there.
It's the fourth time, and the second straight year, that fans who own "stock" in the publicly supported franchise will congregate inside the stadium for the event. Shareholders are allowed to bring one guest.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I believe very strongly that our general manager, Ted Thompson, knows exactly what he's doing. He's always had a plan; he sticks by it; and all of our front-office people do a great job, so we just continue to trust them. I really feel that we've got a lot of the pieces already in place." — Defensive end Aaron Kampman on management's low-key approach to acquiring players in the off-season thus far, despite the team's having more than $20 million in salary-cap space.
Head coach Mike McCarthy gave a vote of confidence to Vernand Morency, the top back on the roster, and also likes young prospects Noah Herron, Arliss Beach and P.J. Pope.
"The opportunity is wide open," McCarthy said.
With few options now available in the free-agent pool, GM Ted Thompson probably will look to the first day of the draft to take a back and stir up the competition.