The Bears ensured that their veteran offensive line returns intact for next season when they agreed to a $2.2 million one-year contract with 35-year-old unrestricted free agent guard Ruben Brown.
The Bears also signed unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Anthony Adams away from the 49ers to provide depth and protect themselves in the event of a potential league suspension of starter Tank Johnson once he finishes his 120-day jail term. Terms of Adams' four-year deal were not disclosed.
Adams started 34 games for the 49ers since they drafted him in the second round (57th overall) out of Penn State in 2003. But he had just five starts last season when he was miscast as a nose tackle in the Niners' new 3-4 defense. He started 16 games in 2005. At 6 feet and 297 pounds, the 26-year-old Adams is better suited to the Bears' 4-3 defense, where his quickness and ability to make plays up and down the line will be better utilized and his lack of bulk won't be as much of a detriment. Adams is not considered much of a pass-rush threat, with just six career sacks.
Although the Bears expect Pro Bowl tackle Tommie Harris to make a full recovery by training camp from last year's season-ending hamstring injury, they have already lost backup Alfonso Boone to the Chiefs in free agency. And unrestricted free agent Ian Scott, a 33-game starter over the past three seasons, has been talking to the Falcons and is also expected to depart.
Four of the Bears' five first-team offensive linemen started all 16 games last season, including Brown, who made his ninth Pro Bowl, his first with the Bears after going eight years in a row with the Bills. Next season will be Brown's 13th in the NFL.
But the 2003 first-round pick also had games where his passer rating was 0.0, 1.3, 10.2, 23.7 and 36.8, casting doubt on his qualifications as the team's quarterback of the future.
"It bothers you, and now is the time to figure out why that happened and prevent it from ever happening again," Grossman said. "I don't care how good you are, you're going to have a bad game here or there. But I don't want it to be a terrible game, and if it is a bad game, (hopefully) it's a rare occasion."
Former No. 3 running back Adrian Peterson, a five-year veteran and a standout coverage guy on special-teams, has been a reliable change-of-pace and third-down option on a limited scale in the past, but he might not have the endurance to carry the load for an extended time in the event of an injury to Benson.
"We feel good about Cedric and Adrian," G.M. Jerry Angelo said. "We still feel we have two quality running backs. That was a part of why we did what we did (with Jones). (But) we'll continue to look for a running back because we want to carry three running backs on the roster."
The 3:15 p.m. contest on Fox-TV matches the teams with the best records in their respective conferences. The NFC North-champion Bears were 13-3 and reached Super Bowl XLI, while the 14-2 Chargers were eliminated in the AFC divisional round by the Patriots.
The game pits Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner against his brother Norv, the rookie head coach of the Chargers, whose staff includes linebackers coach Ron Rivera, the former defensive coordinator of the Bears whose contract was not renewed after last season.
Conway, 36, spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Bears after being selected with the seventh overall pick in the 1993 draft out of USC. He ranks third in franchise history with 329 career receptions and fifth all-time with 4,498 receiving yards.
Conway spent five more seasons in the NFL after leaving the Bears, playing with the Chargers (2000-02), Jets (2003) and 49ers (2004).
Ali, 29, is currently a contestant on ABC-TV's "Dancing with the Stars."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We feel that we're treating him very good. That's a lot of money he's making on a one-year deal." — Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo on LB Lance Briggs, who says he won't play for the Bears this year as their franchise player.
However, if Brown doesn't regain his 2005 Pro Bowl form, his $2.5 million salary might not fit comfortable under the salary cap.
"We're waiting to see how that goes, but I assume it'll go well," coach Lovie Smith said. "Mike Brown is a big part of what we've done around here. The injuries have hurt him, but I think eventually you have to get over those injuries. I'm hoping that's the case with Mike because we need Mike."
The days of Barry Sanders seemed so long ago.
There were many reasons — injuries on the offensive line, Mike Martz's love of passing. But coach Rod Marinelli is a "no excuses, no explanations" kind of guy who believes football is won in the trenches, and it looks like the Lions will try to make a dramatic change in 2007.
Look at what they have done at running back. They needed insurance for Kevin Jones, who has a serious foot injury and an uncertain status. But they didn't pick up just one running back. They picked up two — acquiring Tatum Bell in a trade with Denver and signing T.J. Duckett as a free agent.
The Lions love Jones. But Bell and Duckett provide elements they have lacked.
"One thing Tatum does is give us that home-run hit," Marinelli told reporters at the NFL meetings in Phoenix. "His speed is something we need. He's a guy who can make somebody miss and go 70 yards. We don't have a lot of that on our team."
What Duckett does is give the Lions help in short-yardage, where they have struggled mightily.
The Lions also have overhauled their offensive line. Guard Ross Verba is gone. Guard Damien Woody is on thin ice because of weight problems. The Lions have brought in guards Edwin Mulitalo and Zach Piller, plus tackle George Foster.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Matt has dreamed of this moment. He can finally make a trade to set up his team for years." — One GM friendly with Lions president Matt Millen, to Sports Illustrated about the upcoming draft.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
The 37-year-old quarterback apparently is moving just fine these days, getting out and about a month after he underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle for the extraction of calcium deposits.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said at the NFL owners meeting, which wrapped up March 28 in Phoenix, that Favre has been diligent with his rehab. Not only at home in Hattiesburg, Miss., but during a recent family vacation when he wasn't picking the brains of Mickey and Minnie.
"He knows his body. He's on top of it. He feels good," McCarthy said. "He said he's doing just everyday things around his property. He feels good about (the ankle). He says it really doesn't bother him."
Favre had put off having the surgery and tolerated the discomfort in the ankle for about five years. He finally relented a few weeks after informing the team before Super Bowl XLI that he would return for a 17th NFL season.
McCarthy suggested that the team would be cautious with Favre and not have him participate in the mandatory full-squad minicamp, May 18 to 20.
"I think when we hit the OTAs (in June) I want him to take that first offense and get it ready to go and get to the installs," McCarthy said.
Should Favre be held out of the minicamp, it would be to the benefit of young backups Aaron Rodgers and Ingle Martin.
Rodgers is being gradually eased into on-field drills during McCarthy's quarterback school, which is part of the team's ongoing off-season program. Rodgers was limited to conditioning work the first two weeks so as not to rush him back from the broken left foot he suffered in relief of an injured Favre in November against New England.
Rodgers has been the subject of trade rumors involving Oakland receiver Randy Moss. McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson were adamant at the league meeting that the Packers' 2005 first-round draft pick and heir apparent to Favre won't be jettisoned.
"I'm very pleased where he's at right now. He's getting better," McCarthy said. "I think he has a bright future here. He's going to take over one of the toughest situations ever (when Favre retires). It's my job and (quarterbacks coach) Tom Clements' job and (offensive coordinator) Joe Philbin's job to get him ready."
The Packers will be the opponent for the Lions' traditional holiday game for the third time in the last seven years. The NFC North rivals last met on Thanksgiving in 2003, a 22-14 Detroit win.
"It's a great game. It has a lot of tradition, and we're excited about it," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.
McCarthy envisions that this team won't be hampered too much by playing on a short week. Green Bay had a similar scenario late last season, coming right back from a Sunday win over Detroit and beating Minnesota on Thursday night.
"I thought our players handled it very well," McCarthy said. "We'll draw from that experience. From a scheduling standpoint, we'll probably stay pretty similar."
The league awarded Green Bay the first of 12 extra draft picks to close the seventh and final round of the April 28-29 draft. The Packers will have the 33rd selection in the round and the 243rd overall.
Based on a formula that takes into account playing time, salary and postseason honors for free agents a team lost and signed the previous year, the Packers were judged to be worthy of a compensatory pick. Green Bay lost center Mike Flanagan, linebacker Paris Lenon, kicker Ryan Longwell and quarterback Craig Nall. It signed defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Marquand Manuel, all of whom were full-time starters.
The Packers now have nine picks in the draft. They have one selection in each of the first six rounds. They have three choices in the seventh round, including one from the New York Jets for a trade involving offensive lineman Steve Morley.
Receiver Carlyle Holiday is the only exclusive-rights free agent not signed.
Green Bay incidentally is in the smallest market of the major professional sports.
"In our view, if you're paying for a system that preserves the integrity of the league, that's very important to the Green Bay Packers," team president John Jones said at the owners meeting.
Ryan Hawk starred in af2 last year with 34 touchdown passes in 13 games for Birmingham.
Head coach Mike McCarthy professed confidence at the NFL owners meeting in Vernand Morency as the top candidate to replace Ahman Green as the featured back. McCarthy believes Morency, a third-year player the team acquired in an early-season trade with Houston last year, is capable of piling up 1,000 yards next season despite having only three career starts.
Meanwhile, McCarthy is in the corner of oft-injured, underachieving receiver Robert Ferguson, who lost the No. 2 job to rookie Greg Jennings at the start of last season. Ferguson subsequently suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 4. McCarthy said the seventh-year veteran, who is fully recovered from the injury, will have an opportunity to compete for a starting job again and brings added value for his special-teams contributions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no scoreboard in March, is there? We are (working on it). It's not like we're going home at noon, you know? If you saw me play golf the other day, you'd know I've been working." — Head coach Mike McCarthy, speaking at the NFL owners meeting March 28 in Phoenix, on the Packers' lack of activity during free agency thus far.