To re-sign Mike Brown or not … that’s one of the questions the Bears will have to answer soon if they have not already tackled that issue in a Halas Hall board room.
If the organization has not already completed organizational meetings reviewing the 2008 season and charting a path for the offseason ahead, it will probably do so by the end of the week. That would give them next week to gear up for the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, which begins Thursday, Feb. 19.
One of the first orders of business for general manager Jerry Angelo is determining what to do with his own own players. All clubs hold exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until free agency opens Feb. 27. Brown and left tackle John St. Clair are the only primary starters from last season who will be unrestricted free agents. Wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, running back Kevin Jones, quarterback Rex Grossman, linebacker Darrell McClover and safeties Brandon McGowan and Cameron Worrell will be UFA’s. Weak-side linebacker Nick Roach and cornerback Marcus Hamilton are exclusive rights free agents.
Brown turns 31 Friday. He’s missed 44 regular-season games over the last five seasons, an extraordinary amount of time matched only by the unprecedented patience shown by the team. He left three games in 2008 without returning because of a calf injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve before the season finale at Houston.
If you just go on the reaction of Angelo at this time last year, it’s unlikely the club will ask Brown back. Angelo had moved on and then some time between his end-of-season comments and the opening of free agency, the Bears reversed course. Brown restructured his contract and returned for a season in which he almost made it through. He finished fourth on the team with 101 tackles, the third-highest total of his career.
What quarterback has been to the offense, safety has been to the defense. The Bears have had a revolving door there and as Grossman’s injuries contributed to much of the turnover at quarterback, Brown’s injuries contributed to even more change in the secondary.
In the past five seasons, the Bears have changed their starting free safety 16 times and their starting strong safety 14 times.
“Concern because you just look at our history with the amount of safeties we end up playing each year,” coach Lovie Smith said after the season when asked about the position. “We seem to get hit injury wise with it. It’s a tough position physically on guys that play. We’ll always be looking for good safeties to add.”
A case can be made that bringing back Brown would foster more instability at the position than it would provide. Not bringing him back will be a hard decision to make. Juggling the secondary when he’s out has proven to be difficult as well.
As far as the other free agents, St. Clair is seeking to be a starter and with the left tackle job being handed over to Chris Williams, he’ll have to look elsewhere if he wants to stay at tackle. The Bears, no doubt, would like to have him back but it’s unknown if they would be willing to make him any assurances about play time inside at guard. In the past, the club has let its free agents test the open market before engaging in real negotiations. That could happen here.
Lloyd will likely be one-and-done unless offensive coordinator Ron Turner has some real juice when it comes to the final say. Based on how Jones wasn’t used, he could be a longshot to return. Jones said he’d like to but he also sees himself as a starter. McClover also wants to return and that’s something that probably will happen as a piece for the special teams puzzle.