The Bears and Marty Booker seem to be perfect for each other.
The Bears get a physical, veteran presence at wide receiver, two things the current roster is lacking, and at the bargain rate of $3.5 million for two years. Booker gets the chance to once again be the go-to guy in someone's passing game, as he was from 2001-03 in his first go-round with the Bears.
"Going anywhere else, I would have had to take that role of being a No. 2 or No. 3 guy," Booker said. "Coming into Chicago, I have the opportunity to get that No. 1 job and be the No. 1 guy. Plus Chicago is where it all started for me. I still feel I have some unfinished business up there."
After Booker was traded from the Bears to the Dolphins during the 2004 preseason, he was forced to take a back seat to talented 2005 Pro Bowl pick Chris Chambers, although he still averaged 48.5 receptions and 657 yards in his four seasons in Miami. But he was released late last month in a cost-cutting maneuver that saved the Dolphins almost $4 million under the salary cap.
Last year, his 50 catches ranked just 29th in the AFC, but they were more than the total of all the other returning wide receivers currently on the Bears' roster.
"I just feel I didn't get the opportunities I wished for when I was in Miami," he said. "Given opportunities, I know I can still play this game at a high level."
Booker was a Pro Bowl pick in 2002 after back-to-back seasons of 100 and 97 catches, the top two performances in Bears history. He watched with mixed feelings when several of his former teammates, including quarterback Rex Grossman, participated in Super Bowl XLI in Miami.
"The whole trade thing, it was something that just jumped on me so quick, and I didn't see it coming," Booker said. "It was tough. But we all understand that's the business side of it. You always have to adapt and overcome. I put it behind me and moved on.
"(But) sitting there, down here especially, with the Super Bowl being here in Miami when Chicago played Indianapolis, it was kind of tough. You always want to root for the guys that you played with, (but) you're also like, ‘Man, I don't want them to win and I'm not there.' It was good to see them make it and hopefully I will get that chance again myself."
Lloyd was released by the Redskins Feb. 26 after catching two passes in nine games last season, when he missed part of the season with a fractured collarbone. He caught just 23 passes in 2006. The Redskins gave up on the former Illinois star two years after signing him as an unrestricted free agent to a deal that included a $10 million signing bonus.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Lloyd was originally a fourth-round draft pick of the 49ers, and in his best season, he caught 48 passes for 733 yards for them in 2003 before signing with the Redskins. He caught 43 passes for 565 yards a season earlier.
Lloyd's connection with Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner was instrumental in the 26-year-old signing a one-year deal to attempt a resuscitation of a career that appeared bright before taking a downturn in Washington.
"I think it just means a lot as far as the trust factor and Coach Ron knowing the things that I'm able to do and believing in me," Lloyd said. "That gives me a lot of confidence, the comfort level that I have with Coach Ron Turner.
"It's big, just because the past two teams that I've been on, it hasn't been the smoothest ride in the world. So to really have somebody in my corner who really believes in me and has known me since I was 17 years old and really knows the foundation of what kind of person I am, it means a lot, especially the times that I'm in right now."
There are plenty of knocks on the former Illini, including inconsistent hands, a suspect work ethic and an attitude bordering on arrogance that has rubbed coaches and teammates the wrong way and contributed to his falling short of expectations. But Lloyd is also an extremely athletic player with great leaping ability, and he's capable of making spectacular catches, although he has only average speed.
"I think the best thing that I can do for myself is just come in and work, and that's not anything that I haven't done," Lloyd claimed. "I'm not going to sit here and say that it's all my fault. I'm not going to say that it's all somebody else's fault. The circumstances just weren't right. I'm just going to continue to try to find my fit and try to find my path in this league because I feel I have the talent to play."
Lloyd was a two-time 1,000-yard receiver for the Illini and a track standout in the high jump, long jump and 60-meter hurdles. And Turner recalls a lot of positives from his recruitment of Lloyd as a high school player and the three years they spent together at Illinois.
"I think Brandon's a playmaker," Turner said. "I've known him since he was 17 years. He was very productive (at Illinois), so I've got a good feel for what he can do. (Receivers coach) Darryl Drake and I went back and looked at all his film from the last couple years and feel he can still play and that hopefully he can come in and be a good fit with the receivers that we have here right now. We're looking forward to that competition."
Lloyd joins a group that includes recently signed nine-year veteran Marty Booker and talented but inexperienced Devin Hester and Mark Bradley.
Before Rod Marinelli became the Lions' head coach in 2006, he spent 10 years as Tampa Bay's defensive line coach. He won the Super Bowl with the Buccaneers at the end of the 2002 season.
As he tries to turn around the Lions, he keeps bringing in former Bucs — players like defensive end Dewayne White and fullback Jon Bradley; coaches like defensive coordinator Joe Barry and secondary coach Jimmy Lake.
He has brought in four more recently: safety Dwight Smith, defensive tackle Chuck Darby, cornerback Brian Kelly and safety Kalvin Pearson. He has called the familiarity "a big positive." Everyone knows each other — and the Tampa Two system — intimately.
More than anything, though, Marinelli knows he's getting his kind of guys. Take Darby. Toughness might be the virtue Marinelli holds in the highest esteem, and the Lions think Darby has a lot of it.
"He's the toughest football player that I've ever been around," Barry said. "He's an absolute war daddy. There's a lot of tough football players, but Chuck's the type, he has the toughness, it oozes out of him. He really demands the players that he plays with to be as tough as he is. It's an unbelievable attribute that he has."
Darby is expected to provide leadership, while helping fill the hole created by the trade of Shaun Rogers. He is a Marinelli guy, through and through.
"Rod Marinelli is a man that doesn't judge you by your size," Darby has said. "He judges you by your heart. He doesn't care if you're 6-4 or 6-5. There's one important thing he cares about — if you can play football. He gets the best out of you. He's a great coach, a great person. He's going to get Detroit back on track."
Asked what Marinelli did to develop him as a player, Darby said: "He took his time with me and developed me as a good player. He moved me around. I played at end, at tackle and at nose guard, but I found my spot at the tackle position. To me, he's a father as well as a coach. The times when I dropped off and did bad, he always pushed me to do better. He's a great person and a great coach. He's going to get Detroit back on track. He's just going to take it one snap at a time, like he always says."
Bell played the first 4 1/2 games, then never saw the field again. Foster was benched multiple times, then finally lost his job permanently. Both became unrestricted free agents, and many assumed they would be gone.
But both are back. Bell signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal. Foster signed a one-year, $1.1 million deal. In both cases, both sides didn't have better options, and the Lions hope things will be different now that Jim Colletto has replaced Mike Martz as offensive coordinator.
Bell started the Lions' first five games last year. He had 15 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown in the opener at Oakland, but only 29 carries for 95 yards afterward. He fumbled on the three-yard line Sept. 30 against Chicago.
But Kevin Jones returned from a foot injury, and as his role increased, Bell's role decreased. Bell didn't play the second half Oct. 7 at Washington. He said his agent brought up the idea of a trade.
Bell never played again. The Lions didn't use him for the last 11 games. But they need him now. They lost T.J. Duckett in free agency and lost out on Julius Jones in free agency, both winding up in Seattle. With Kevin Jones trying to return from knee surgery, the Lions opted to release him March 13, leaving Bell and Brian Calhoun, who's coming off his own knee injury, as the only options currently on the roster.
The Lions hope Colletto's offense will suit Bell better.
"He'll fit some of the zone runs that we're running right now," coach Rod Marinelli has said. "Our offensive staff sat down and said, ‘He fits what we're trying to do.' It's not as much coming out of the backfield for him and maybe as many different runs, just a few basic runs. I think he's got a chance to fit some of that."
Foster was eventually replaced last year by Damien Woody, who came off the bench, moved from guard and played right tackle for the first time since high school. The Lions wanted Woody back to play right tackle, but he signed a huge contract with the New York Jets.
Their rationale for bringing back Foster is likely this: There were few options on the market, and Foster provides some insurance. He struggled last season because he went from the Broncos, who ran a relatively simple, run-first offense, to the Lions, who ran a complicated, pass-first offense. Now that the offense will be more simple and balanced, and Foster will have a better chance to succeed.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Donald Driver, among a slew of Packers players and coaches, saw firsthand at a recent function in Green Bay that a long-haired Aaron Rodgers bears a stronger resemblance to Brad Pitt than the legendary man he'll be replacing.
Short of having Angelina Jolie on his arm, that's just the way Rodgers wants to be portrayed as he finally steps into the limelight as Green Bay's starting quarterback.
"I'm not Brett Favre. If (fans) want me to be the next Brett Favre, I'm not going to be him," said Rodgers, perhaps the most popular Packer on hand for the team's annual Fan Fest at Lambeau Field on March 7 and 8. "I'm Aaron Rodgers. That's who I am. I'm going to be the best quarterback I can be. (Favre) did it his way, and I'm going to do it my way, and hopefully, I can be successful."
Having accepted his lot as a sideline observer his first three years in the league, the time has come for Rodgers to assume the reins of the offense, after Favre confirmed his retirement March 6. General manager Ted Thompson's inaugural first-round draft pick, in 2005, is about to shed the rather meaningless title of "Heir Apparent" that was linked to his name.
"I've been waiting my whole life for this," the 24-year-old Rodgers said.
The timing of succeeding the league's only three-time MVP couldn't be better for the former Cal standout. The Packers return all of their key players — sans Favre — from last season's high-octane offense, which contributed greatly to the young team's overachieving run to nearly an NFC title.
"I'm in a good situation; I've got a great team around me," Rodgers said. "A lot of people have been focusing on what I'm going to do. It's what the team is going to do, really. I'm an important part of that, and I know my role.
"I need to play well, and I'm not really going to have a grace period, either. The expectations that people are going to have are very high. The expectations I have of myself are very high as well."
Driver said football's "A-Rod" proved himself to be ready for a lead gig last November, when he relieved an injured Favre and almost rallied the Packers to a win in a colossal game at Dallas after they fell behind by 17 points.
"He knows he can play in the National Football League. He wouldn't be here this long if he couldn't," Driver said. "I'm just hoping he goes in saying, ‘Hey, I believe in those guys.' That's what he came in the huddle against Dallas and said — ‘Hey, guys, believe in me.' It wasn't about us believing in him. I wanted him to believe in us, that we were going to try to win the game for him. That's his mindset right now; that's the way he wants to play the game. He knows now it's Aaron Rodgers' time. It's nobody else's."
Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman said Rodgers has the "it" factor as a quarterback, possessing critical qualities as a leader and a competitor.
Even retired Packers general manager Ron Wolf, who has limited knowledge of Rodgers' abilities, spoke highly of what Favre's successor can mean for Green Bay's future fortunes.
"It'll be hard. But, I'm sure that the Packers are glad to be in a position like (this), to have a player of the caliber of Aaron Rodgers to step in and play," Wolf said. "Look at the quarterbacks some of these teams have right now. It's ridiculous. And, they're raising ticket prices. It's even more ridiculous."
Favre informed the team during the first week of March that he would retire at age 38. The somewhat surprising decision was made formal March 6, when a tearful Favre was front and center for a farewell news conference in Green Bay.
The next two days, the Packers and some of their supporters had their first taste of the post-Favre era at the annual Fan Fest held at Lambeau Field.
"I think we're all still dealing with that," general manager Ted Thompson told attendees. "We understand the task at hand. We look forward to the challenge. But, at the same time, gosh, what he's meant to this place, what he's done for the Green Bay Packers and the National Football League, it's a big hole (he left), and we have a lot of work to do."
Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and veteran players such as defensive end Aaron Kampman chose to not dwell on going forward without Favre. Rather, they were eager to get back into the swing of things with the start of the team's offseason workout program March 17 and begin building on last season, when Green Bay exceeded expectations by going 13-3 in the regular season and advancing to the NFC Championship Game, in which it lost to the Giants by a field goal in overtime.
"The way we ended the season was tough," Kampman said. "But, just living in the Green Bay area, I've had so many fans come up and say, ‘Thanks for the season. This was a lot of fun. This was really enjoyable this past year.' It's helped me continue to see that, hey, you don't want the last game to taint what we accomplished this past year.
"I think we still have a ton of momentum going as we head into the offseason program. Just seeing the guys (at Fan Fest), the energy that was there, I think, is a very positive thing. You also hold that last game as a motivating factor, but in the same sense, there's a lot of positive energy still kind of flowing through this place."
True to his nature, Thompson hadn't made a stir in the first two weeks of free agency. The Packers have few holes to fill, but they have ample resources with about $30 million in salary cap space.
Since Favre's announcement, the team has been looking into possibly acquiring a veteran backup for new starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It expressed interest in ex-Packer Mark Brunell and Trent Green, who subsequently signed with New Orleans and St. Louis, respectively. Jacksonville free agent Quinn Gray was in for a visit March 11.
The only other free agents known to have visited the Packers are Detroit defensive end Corey Smith, St. Louis linebacker Brandon Chillar and Cincinnati receiver/returner Tab Perry.