Apparently the Bears will wait for the draft to do anything to improve their pathetic running game, which was the NFL's worst in average gain per attempt last season and No. 30 in yards.
They have subtracted two over-the-hill starting offensive linemen, guard Ruben Brown and tackle Fred Miller, without hiring any replacements. And they have stood pat at running back, which isn't very encouraging, considering the team's leading rusher, Cedric Benson, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and will be rehabbing a fractured ankle for at least the next several months. Backup Adrian Peterson averaged the same lackluster 3.4 yards per carry, while rookie Garrett Wolfe was even worse, at 2.7 yards per carry.
Other than showing glimpses of talent in his final two games of 2007, Benson did little to provide encouragement for the coming season. Unlike last season, the job won't be handed to him in training camp.
"He's got to compete," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "He's got to go out there and win the job. We're going to try to create competition at the position. We'll try to do it at all positions and we're going to certainly look at the running back position."
A month into free agency and four weeks from the draft, it's obvious Benson's competition will come from a rookie, presumably one with the home-run ability missing from the position the past few years. The Bears might even be looking for someone to replace Benson immediately as the featured runner, considering his extensive injury history since he was the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft.
"Injuries are a real problem now with Cedric," Angelo said. "He's been hurt four times (two sprained knees, separated shoulder and fractured ankle) and you have to be mindful of that. Durability is a big deal when you're talking about running backs."
Especially for a Bears team that "gets off the bus running the football," according to coach Lovie Smith, who looked more and more like a dreamer every time he said that as the 2007 season wore on. Still, the run game remains the cornerstone of the Bears' version of the West Coast offense, even though it appears they don't currently have a runner qualified to make the formula work.
"We want to be a running football team," Angelo said. "That's our goal. Our philosophy hasn't changed, and we have to have good backs to do that, so I'll leave it at that."
That's about all the Bears have done in the offseason, but that is expected to change on draft weekend, quite possibly on the first day.
After it was reported that the 49ers illegally contacted Briggs' agent, Drew Rosenhaus, during the 2007 season, the Bears filed tampering charges. Goodell determined, after an investigation, those charges were valid. As a result the 49ers will forfeit their fifth-round pick and swap third-round picks with the Bears, relinquishing their seventh selection in that frame (70th overall) and getting the Bears' choice five picks later.
Briggs, a Pro Bowl pick in each of the past three seasons, was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent a year ago, but the Bears designated him as their franchise player, keeping him under contract when he signed a one-year tender for $7.2 million. Briggs did become a free agent on Feb. 29, 2008, but he was re-signed by the Bears a day later to a six-year, $36 million contract that included $13 million in guaranteed money. Briggs will make $21.6 million in the first three years of the deal.
"We are appreciative of the efforts of the league office on this matter and support the commissioner's decision," Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips said. Goodell said both teams cooperated with his investigation into the allegations.
Bears nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek was the 73rd player chosen in 2006, and wide receiver Bernard Berrian, who signed a $24 million deal with the Vikings last month as an unrestricted free agent, was the 78th player chosen in 2004. Briggs was the 68th selection in 2003.
The Bears currently have eight picks in the draft; one in each of the seven rounds plus an additional third-rounder from the Chargers in a draft-day trade last year.
Tommie Harris made his third straight Pro Bowl playing the 3-technique, but he played most of the season at less than 100 percent because of nagging injuries, including a knee problem that required offseason surgery. Dusty Dvoracek, who missed his rookie season with a foot injury, played so well in the preseason that he was named the opening-day starter over veterans Anthony Adams (an unrestricted free agent) and Darwin Walker (a trade acquisition). But Dvoracek suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, and Walker was an absolute bust. Adams played well until a season-ending elbow injury in Game 12 ended his season.
"We have four pretty good defensive tackles back with Tommie, Dusty, Anthony, and we even talked about putting (DE/DT Israel) Idonije inside as well," GM Jerry Angelo said. "Where we've hurt at that position is the durability. We've lost players with injuries and that made us look a little more anemic than probably really what we are. If all our players come back healthy, we feel pretty good about it."
"Adam, just like some more of our other players, didn't have the type of season we were hoping for; (that) he was hoping for," Smith said. "But he's still a part of our ball club, and we're expecting him to come back stronger this year."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We feel really good about Mark Bradley, what he can do, and look forward to having Mark take another step, have an opportunity to compete and play and get on the field. I think Mark's going to step up and play well." — Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner on WR Mark Bradley, who caught six passes last season, his third in the NFL.
Lions wide receiver Roy Williams doesn't seem concerned by the trade rumors that have swirled this offseason.
"If it's a football decision, it's a dumb decision," said Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract. "But if it's a business decision, then it's going to be pretty good. I just do what I can. I'm here right now."
Williams, whose contract ends after the 2008 season, said coach Rod Marinelli called him and told him not to believe the rumors. Marinelli told Williams he was going to stay in Detroit and have the best year of his career.
"If it happens, it happens," Williams said. "If it doesn't, I'm going to play ball wherever it's at."
Does Williams want to stay in Detroit?
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I want to stay here. I think we're headed in the right direction."
Williams said as far as he knew his agent had not spoken to the Lions about an extension. Would he like to get a deal done before the season?
"I'm ready to do whatever," he said. "If they want to make me a Lion for life, I'm good with that. If not, I'm just going to play my type of ball and see what happens after that."
Williams said he did not consider voicing displeasure publicly or skipping voluntary offseason workouts as a negotiating tactic.
"Not at all, because I'd be hurting myself and I'm hurting this team," Williams said. "I'm not one of those guys where I'm going to be mad at you so we can get something done. I'm just going to do what I do. I'm a man of my word, a man of my work, so we can get something done like that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a free country. He can say whatever he wants. I'm just glad he's not here." - LT Jeff Backus, on former offensive coordinator Mike Martz's comment that the Lions are short two tackles.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Could celebrated quarterback Brett Favre be having second thoughts about playing again?
Three weeks after the league's only three-time MVP announced he had hung up his cleats, Favre had yet to make the retirement official by filing papers with the league office.
Favre's agent, Bus Cook, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he was unaware of where Favre stood with getting the paperwork done.
Once the retirement is finalized, the Packers will clear a whopping $11.4 million in salary-cap room this year for not having Favre on the books. Since the club already is well-heeled by having more than $20 million under the cap, general manager Ted Thompson isn't holding his breath for Favre to tie up the loose ends.
"We don't need the cap room," Thompson told the Journal Sentinel.
Although Favre said he was through playing during an emotional press conference March 6 at Lambeau Field, having a change of heart wouldn't be unprecedented. Former teammate Reggie White came back to play after retiring not once, but twice. Other prominent sports figures - including Michael Jordan in basketball and Jerry Rice in football - also couldn't resist the urge to return to action after they left for a short time.
Still, the Packers aren't counting on Favre to do an about-face in the next few months leading into training camp in late July. Aaron Rodgers, who was groomed to be Favre's successor after being taken in the first round of the 2005 draft, assumed the lead reins at the start of the offseason workout program March 17.
With quarterback Brett Favre having also retired earlier in the offseason, Green Bay is without the last two links to its last Super Bowl appearance, in the 1997 season. Davis, 39, was the oldest player on the team last season.
In contrast to Favre's desire to remove himself from football for the immediate future, Davis is remaining with the organization. He was tapped for the position of director of player development, which will allow him to be an adviser and sounding board for the guys on the team.
"My role is to help these players develop, get ready for life after football, transition into the league," Davis said. "I'd like to think that I'm a prime example that player development can work. After a long playing career, to be able to find a job within 30 days of retirement is pretty impressive, according to some people. I'll just try and give those guys the things that I did, and hopefully, they'll take heed to it and become better players off the field."
Thompson was named the George Young NFL Executive of the Year by The Sporting News, which cited the honor in its March 31 publication.
Voting was done by 48 executives throughout the league. Thompson received 19 votes, 10 more than runner-up Jerry Reese of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
"I'm honored to receive this award on behalf of the Green Bay Packers," Thompson said on the team's website. "We view this as a team honor and feel the coaches, players and staff should all be very proud of the job they've done in helping this franchise succeed. This award is a credit to their dedication and is particularly special because it's named for George Young, who was a tremendous champion for the NFL and a person I greatly admired."
All but 13 players on Green Bay's 53-man roster in the postseason last season were acquired on Thompson's watch.
Bigby, who emerged as a defensive catalyst in his first season as a starter, is a candidate to receive an extended deal before next season. His tender is for the minimum $445,000.
Green Bay's remaining unsigned exclusive-rights free agents are running back Ryan Grant and receiver Ruvell Martin. Grant has no interest in playing for the tender after his breakthrough second half of the 2007 season, but is participating in the team's offseason workout program.
The 6-2, 252-pound Gafford will have a chance to succeed Rob Davis, who retired after 11 years of handling the long-snapping duties with the team. Gafford was in the Packers' training camp in 2006. He was out of football last season.
The 6-5, 325-pound Toledo was a fourth-round draft pick by Miami in 2006 and spent two years with the Dolphins. The converted tight end will be tried at tackle.
The younger players started activities March 17. They will be joined by the veterans starting March 31.
"Probably 90 percent of our guys will be in town here on Monday," Davis said.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a lot easier to walk away from the game at 39 than it would have been at 29. So, I'm going to take the bull by the horns here. I know the organization is really behind me on this, and they expect big things and I expect big things of myself. I've already let some guys (on the team) know what my vision is, and I'm going to be very proactive in my approach. I just hope that these guys really buy into what we're trying to get done because it's really for the betterment of the players." — Retired long snapper Rob Davis, who has moved into the Packers' front office as director of player development.