Everyone loves a quarterback controversy — except maybe the two players competing for the job, who can find it uncomfortable at best. But Kyle Orton, armed with a contract extension that puts him on equal footing with Rex Grossman, is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm just excited to finally get a chance to get a lot of reps in practice and compete for a job and get better," said Orton, who sat idle for two years before starting the final three games last season. "I'm more excited about the reps I'm going to be getting and just the opportunity."
The Bears have assured Orton that he will have the same chance to win the No. 1 job as Grossman, and they backed that up Monday with one-year extension similar to what Grossman got in a one-year deal late last week.
Orton gets a $1.4 million signing bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus this year, and the Bears boosted his base salary from $520,000 to $1.3 million. Orton will earn $620,000 in base pay in 2009 plus another $100,000 workout bonus. Grossman got a $1.5 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million base salary for 2008 and a chance to earn another $1.5 million in incentives.
Over the past three years, since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2005, Orton has played only when Grossman was injured. It will be a different relationship, though, when the Bears' off-season program begins and then during training camp. Orton believes their relationship will be fine.
"Rex and I have been around each other for quite a while now, and I think we've got a good relationship and we're comfortable around each other," Orton said. "I expect it to be a stiff competition. I think that's how both of us want it. I know that's how I want it, and I'm just looking forward to it."
Orton went 10-5 as a starter his rookie year, running a scaled-down offense, helping the Bears to the playoffs. He didn't play in a game again until last Dec. 17, when he helped the Bears win two of their final three games.
"Kyle finished strong this past season with the last couple of games," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "He has played well every time he's gotten an opportunity to play."
Orton's passer rating last season was 73.9, compared to Grossman's 66.4, which he said helped him heading into this year's competition.
"It made the off-season a lot easier and just left a little bit better taste in my mouth and (helped) my attitude," Orton said. "I'm obviously ready to get back to work and excited to compete."
"We haven't solved it," Angelo admitted. "With one-year deals, you're not solving anything. You're still in the hunt so-to-speak. We certainly feel good about the people that are contending at the position, but it's not solved yet."
That means the Bears, who draft 14th, will be on the lookout for a quarterback in the draft, maybe as early as the second round. Michigan's Chad Henne, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Kentucky's Andre Woodson could be available from the mid-second until the mid-third round.
"We're still going to look at that position," Angelo said. "We always look at that position every year. We've talked about four (quarterbacks this year). We're really going to look at the quarterback position as hard as we look at any position. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. You can never have enough good quarterbacks."
"Maybe there's a little bit more concern (at safety) because you have younger players," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "You have Brandon McGowan (24 years old), you have Kevin Payne (24) back there, and obviously Mike Brown's still under contract. We feel good about Danieal Manning (25)."
McGowan finally stayed healthy for the first time in three seasons and started nine games last year, finishing sixth on the team with 80 tackles. Payne missed most of his rookie season with a fractured arm but showed flashes of talent before his injury. Manning started 15 games but was pressed into duty at cornerback for two games because of injuries, which seemed to hurt his development at safety.
Brown, an eight-year veteran and a Pro Bowl pick in 2005, has missed 43 games over the past four seasons with a variety of injuries.
"Mike played exemplary football and never missed anything (his first four seasons)," Angelo said. "We gave him a new contract, (and now) it's hard for Mike to get out of bed in the morning and show up (so) we can count on him. But we feel good about the players that we have there, and we feel that we can win with these players, even if we didn't do anything outside of what we have on the present roster."
The Bears aren't expecting much help from the college ranks, since safety is arguably the weakest position in this year's draft. There may not be any safeties drafted in the first round and perhaps just two or three taken on the first day.
"The safety position I think is anemic," Angelo said.
"I always try to focus on the tight end position," Clark said. "We really can't be focused in on what the quarterback situation is doing because it's going to take away from my production."
With either Rex Grossman or Kyle Orton in charge, there is a level of familiarity, but that's just a start, Clark said.
"Just being familiar is not good enough," the nine-year veteran said. "We've got to get past that word because, if we just rely on that, then we're going to be in the same position that we ended up last year. Everybody has to step up, from the quarterback position all the way through the offense, the defense and the special teams."
The Bears' offense was 30th in total yards last season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is our priority. The only time we deviate from that priority is when we have a real need that has to be addressed. In years past we have done that at certain positions, but right now this year we want to stick to what we consider to be our philosophy to re-sign and reward our own." — Bears G.M. Jerry Angelo on re-signing his own players before they become unrestricted free agents.
Even Shaun Rogers' departure from Detroit wasn't without complications.
After weeks of speculation about where Rogers would land, he was traded twice on the first day of free agency. The first deal, for third- and fifth-round picks from Cincinnati, fell through. So Detroit turned around shipped Rogers to the Bengals' NFC North rival Cleveland.
From the Browns, the Lions also received a third-round pick. But they also addressed another need by acquiring cornerback Leigh Bodden in the deal.
Once considered one of the AFC's up-and-coming cornerbacks, Bodden struggled last year following offseason ankle surgery and a bad back that plagued him during the season. However, he did lead the Browns with six interceptions and figures to step into the Lions' starting lineup.
As for Rogers, the Lions dumped him just hours before he was due a $1 million roster bonus.
Rogers was part of president Matt Millen's first draft class, a second-round pick. The Lions have gone 31-81 since, and Rogers has played under four head coaches — Marty Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci, Dick Jauron and Rod Marinelli.
Marinelli came to Detroit after 10 years as Tampa Bay's defensive line coach, and the hope was that he could click with Rogers the way he once clicked with Warren Sapp. But it didn't happened.
Rogers is immensely talented and has been outstanding at times. But he has not made the expected impact at other times. His health, conditioning, weight and work ethic have been issues.
The Lions did not fine Rogers for being overweight last year because he was recovering from knee surgery. But Millen said they would fine him this year — if he remains with them.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Mark Murphy has been on the high-profile job as Packers president and chief executive officer for not two months, but he's already gained favor among many of the team's supporters with recent comments he made.
Murphy told a crowd assembled for a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon Feb. 27 that the chances are good that quarterback Brett Favre would be returning for a 17th season with the team.
"My guess is that he will come back," Murphy said.
What's more, Murphy remarked that a declaration from the 38-year-old Favre on his intentions for next season is imminent.
"We all anticipate that he'll make a decision very soon," he said. "Probably this week some time. Before the end of the month."
The last day of February — the 29th in this leap year — coincides with the start of free agency.
Although team management has accorded its franchise player all the time he wants to consider his playing future since the season ended Jan. 20, the unspoken expectation has been that it would like to know heading into free agency. The Packers have Favre's replacement in place with Aaron Rodgers, their first-round draft pick in 2005, but they don't want to be caught without having an opportunity to pursue a capable backup from another team or through the draft if Favre were to retire.
Reports had surfaced before the NFL Scouting Combine that Favre was delaying an announcement because he was put off by not hearing directly from general manager Ted Thompson in the weeks after the final game.
Thompson subsequently said at the combine last week that he had recently placed a call to Favre, in part to apparently clear the air.
"We had a nice talk," Thompson said. "I just called to make sure he's doing fine, to make sure he and I are OK, and we are."
Murphy said he's spoken with Favre on a couple occasions in the offseason.
The venerable franchise's new off-field leader didn't downplay what the significance would be for the team next season if its on-field leader returns after having a renaissance last season. Favre was instrumental in the youthful Packers' surprising 13-3, division-winning regular season and their advancement to the NFC Championship Game.
"A lot of the expectations will ride on whether Brett Favre will come back," Murphy said. "Certainly, if he comes back, it gives us our best chance to get to the Super Bowl and have another great year."
Green Bay, which was on the verge of making it to the Super Bowl last season, is armed with nearly $20 million in salary-cap space.
"I don't think we're planning on any huge splashes. If there is some area we can help ourselves, we will take a look at it," said Murphy, speaking at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon Feb. 27.
The Packers signed only one free agent of note last offseason: former New York Giants cornerback Frank Walker, who played sparingly as the dime back and probably won't be re-signed as an unrestricted free agent.
"If we disagree on something, we'll talk it out (and) hopefully reach a consensus on it," Murphy said of his working relationship with Thompson. "Ultimately, you have to make a decision that is in the best interests of the organization ... (and) if things don't work out and the football program is not going in the right direction, it's incumbent on me to make a change. But, we are far from that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's Brett's call. He, more than probably anybody I've ever been around, has earned the right to be able to decide. Any player can, but I think certainly he has, as we have said over the last several years, the right to make this choice. We've been in conversation with him, and as he's always done, he understands the needs of the team and he doesn't want to put the team in a bad spot." — General manager Ted Thompson, on allowing veteran quarterback Brett Favre to go right up to the start of free agency on waiting to inform the team of his intentions for playing next season.