After star turns turned sour, these three get second chance with Bears
BOURBONNAIS — Even the most stable NFL pairings usually end in divorce.
Take quarterback Peyton Manning, whose age and neck injury — combined with Andrew Luck being available first overall in the 2012 draft — conspired to earn him his release after 14 years in Indianapolis. He ran that year to Denver, into the loving arms of John Fox’s Broncos.
“I think every one of these guys would like to see their career [with one team] go forever,” said Fox, now the Bears’ coach. “But the reality is it’s a young man’s game, and things change and organizations change, and people make adjustments.
“I don’t think that’s ever easy for anybody. But we’re all big boys. This is what we sign up for.”
The Bears are giving three players that second chance — a new start, away from the franchises to which they forever will be linked. Here’s how they’re faring:
Wide receiver Victor Cruz, who earned a place in Giants lore by winning a Super Bowl, doesn’t like the way “second chance” sounds.
“I didn’t squander my first chance,” he said.
The Giants cut him in February after seven seasons.
“That idea of a team once loving you and then saying, ‘Bye-bye, we’ll see you later,’ that’s definitely motivation in itself,” he said. “Any time you’re with an organization that, in a moment in time, you’re like, ‘I’m going to retire here. This is where I’m going to spend the rest of my career,’ and then that doesn’t happen, it’s tough.”
The Bears like how Cruz has looked in camp and don’t want to change what made him a star in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s too late in his career to go reinvent the route tree for him,” receivers coach Zach Azzanni said.
Cruz caught only 39 balls in 2016 but proved he could stay healthy after patellar tendon surgery.
“Those moves that I once did a few years ago are working,” he said.
From K.C. to Chicago
In March 2016, defensive end Jaye Howard signed a two-year, $12 million deal to stay in Kansas City. Eight games and one hip injury later, the Chiefs cut him.
“A lot of these guys saw me play in Kansas City but haven’t seen me play in a Bears uniform,” Howard said. “And I want them to know they’re going to get the same player.”
The question, after the Bears signed him to a one-year deal in May: Will his hip let him return to dominance? He hopes to be healthy by the season opener after offseason surgery for bone spurs.
“[The Chiefs] felt like they had to make a business decision,” he said, “and the Bears are going to be rewarded.”
Wright where he wants to be
The Titans drafted slot receiver Kendall Wright 20th overall in 2012. A year later, he caught 94 passes, fifth-most in franchise history. But they used him less with each passing season, and he finished with 29 catches last year.
The Bears gave him a one-year deal with $1 million guaranteed.
“It’s not really a second chance, but it is a clean slate,” he said. “I have no bad blood with [the Titans]. I don’t really care about them.”
He hopes his reunion with offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, who ran the Titans’ unit in 2013, prompts a renewal. Bears coaches praise his innate feel for the game and his ability to break off a route when he sees a weakness in the defense.
Wright’s attitude, questioned when he was with the Titans, hasn’t been an issue in camp.
“He’s like having a graduate assistant on the field with me,” Azzanni said.
Azzanni reminds his receivers of their past lives — not that they need the motivation.
“I’m telling Kendall Wright, ‘Hey, there’s a reason you’re not in Tennessee anymore,’ ” Azzanni said. “ ‘Now we’ve got you. Now let’s go prove everyone wrong.’ ‘Hey, Victor, there’s a reason you’re not in New York anymore.’
“So I’m putting those chips on their shoulders and reminding them constantly that, ‘Hey, this is your second chance. Let’s resurrect your career and see what’s going to happen.’ ”
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