Four Down Territory, Feb. 13: The final time we look at Rex vs. Kyle

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Delayed by some of the first news the Bears have made in a while, here is our final Four Down Territory for the week.

Q: Perhaps the most controversial argument amongst Bears fans seems to have been Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton heading into 2008. There are plenty of Orton haters as well as those who seem to be glad to give Rex the boot. Many fans still clamor for Grossman, making claims that the Bears will live to regret letting him go. What’s your position on this issue? Are there teams indicating an interest in Rex? Do you think releasing Rex will become another poor personnel decision by the Bears current regime?

Dave, Parts Unknown

A: First, we pledge this will be the final Grossman vs. Orton question we take, for a long while any way.

Second, the Bears are not letting Grossman go. This is a common misconception. Grossman becomes an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27 and there is nothing the Bears can do to prevent him from attaining this status short of placing the franchise or transition tag on him. The Bears are not releasing Grossman, waiving him, cutting him, throwing him out or evicting him. He is going to be a free agent.

Third, even if the Bears desired to retain Grossman, what in the world at this point would lead him to want to return? You know, besides nothing. His camp doesn’t believe he received a fair shake at the job last year but that neither here nor there for them now. It’s time for him to move on and he’s smart enough to know a change of scenery, change of coaching staffs and completely new setting is the best thing for him.

It looked like a fresh start was something Grossman would have benefitted from a year ago but he assessed the market and determined coming back to the Bears was the best chance he had at earning a starting job. If hindsight were 20-20, no doubt he would have gone out on the market. Grossman’s ship has sailed with the Bears, I don’t know how many other ways to convey this. If Grossman’s departure becomes a “poor personnel decision” there will be something worse–a clear signal the Bears couldn’t develop Grossman. That is where the failure will lie.

Q: When looking at the free agent class of wide receivers, one name interests me a lot and that is Nate Washington. He is a young guy just entering his fourth season. He has displayed the ability to make plays downfield. He has shown that he can play in bad weather on poor field conditions in Pittsburgh which is similar to Chicago. I think he is very similar to Bernard Berrian only we won’t have to spend as much to get him. I think that it’s time to stop spending our money on veteran receivers who have already peaked and start spending that money on young guys like Washington who have a ton of upside. What do you think of the possibility of Washington starting opposite Devin Hester next year?

Super Bowl Shuffler, Parts Unknown

A: You make an interesting comparison to Berrian and Washington is a deep threat with speed who has made some big plays in four seasons in Pittsburgh, not missing a game the last three years. The Steelers are generally pretty good judges of talent and they used a first-round pick on Santonio Holmes in 2006 and then took Limas Sweed in the second round last year, putting the squeeze on Washington, who was an undrafted free agent in 2005 from Tiffin, a small school in Ohio where he holds numerous records.

Washington posted career highs this past season with 40 receptions for 631 yards and has averaged 16.4 yards per reception in his career. The Bears have a vertical threat in Hester and might be better served to discover a big playmaker. Here is what we wrote about Washington in our Jan. 9 entry on free-agent wide receivers:

“Nate Washington’s name has been thrown out there. He made 40 receptions for 631 yards and three touchdowns this season for Pittsburgh. Here’s the issue with Washington–he’s been a role player for the Steelers. Washington made one start this season and has seven over the last three years. The problem teams can run into when they pay a No. 3 wideout from another organization to be a No. 2 wideout is they pay No. 2 money and get the same No. 3 production. That’s not to say Washington could not provide a downfield threat for the Bears, or any other team, but you have to be careful when projecting players into larger roles than they have performed.”

Q: With the attention of Bears fans focused on the quarterback position and clear indications that Kyle Orton is the man for 2009, I’d like your take on the 2010 quarterback free agent market. One name that jumps out is Philip Rivers. Do you think that the Bears would have a shot to get him and how would he fit in their system? Other names of interest: Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning and Jason Campbell. I know this is looking way ahead, but I’m not quite sold on Orton yet.

Scott, Sleepy Hollow, Ill.

A: You’re looking ahead? You’re dreaming too. This is Valentine’s Day weekend, not Christmas. Rivers would be a terrific fit but there is no way San Diego does not lock him up longterm. The Chargers have already started the process with the former No. 4 overall pick heading into the final year of his contract. The Giants are also expected to step up with a contract for Manning that could top $100 million in total value. Roethlisberger pulled down a $102 million contract with $36 million guaranteed last March. Campbell is as equally unproven as Orton but this sure gives you an idea what top quarterbacks cost, doesn’t it?

Q: I believe the main problem with the Bears offense lies with their wide receivers, with the exception of Devin Hester, gaining separation from cornerbacks. What have you heard or expect the Bears front office to do this offseason in addressing the position? Although I’m not a huge advocate of bringing in a headache like Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson something has to be done. That’s the only way we can determine if Kyle Orton is truly the answer, by giving him weapons to succeed.

Steve K., New York

A: There’s no question the wide receivers performed poorly during much of the 2008 season. Hester made real improvements in the second half and should be more productive given more time to work with Orton. The club took a step toward getting more explosive receivers on the field when it released veteran Marty Booker Friday, clearing a path for third-round pick Earl Bennett to get on the field. The Bears called him a starting-caliber receiver when they drafted him and, well, they’re in need of one. He’ll get a look and more help should be on the way but I wouldn’t hold out hope for Owens or Johnson.

Thanks for all the participation and thanks for reading as always. We’ll look to cover the bases on some other issues this weekend and get back into another Four Down Territory on Monday.

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