Four Down Territory, March 10: A change of heart with Mike Brown?

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If it rains like this next week, the Bears will have no chance of practicing outside at Halas Hall for the minicamp. Before we get washed away here, or buried under a pile of safety and receiver questions, let’s dive into the mailbag.

Q: Now that the first wave of free agency has passed and the Bears still haven’t addressed their need for a starting free safety, do you think there’s a chance they might still bring back Mike Brown? Brown seems to be the best option remaining given his knowledge of the defense, and I doubt Jerry Angelo will find someone in the draft that can contribute more, at least in the immediate future.

C. Washington, Kokomo, Ind.

A: This is just one of a handful of inquiries we’ve had about Brown recently. You’re the lucky one to have yours selected.

No, I don’t see any way the Bears have a change of heart and reach out to Brown. When they made the decision to move forward and not offer him a contract, that was a clean break. It’s one Angelo nearly made a year ago. Yes, Brown had value when he was on the field last season but he’s a strong safety and strictly a strong safety. Remember, the coaching staff made that switch to get him closer to the line of scrimmage midway through the season. Brown isn’t the answer to their strong safety needs. The second half of the season was also when Brown had trouble finishing out games. You’ll recall he couldn’t finish three games and then was placed on inured reserve before the season finale at Houston. The Bears were in the playoff hunt. If they felt Brown could help them in the playoffs, he would have remained active. That tells you a little something about what was at least a four-week injury, right?

There’s not a person I know around the team who doesn’t have high regard for Brown. It makes sense to move forward without him, however. No one can say what Brown has left in the tank. Everyone wants to see him continue but how can you have faith in the guy? I think if the Bears believed they could be confident about Brown moving forward, they would have offered him a deal. And again, Brown doesn’t solve the free safety issue. Let’s get that clear.

Q: Gerald Sensabaugh has signed with the Dallas Cowboys now on a one-year deal and the list of veteran secondary help, specifically at safety, is down to just a few names. I’ve read the Bears are interested in Darren Sharper to add depth. If not him, are the Bears interested in Roy Williams? Williams has had some arm injuries but provided he’s healthy wouldn’t he help? Can they sign someone?

Stephan K., Seattle

A: More safety questions. I never heard any indications the Bears could become a player for Sensabaugh. The one axiom that repeats itself every offseason is you never say never when it comes to the NFL. Raise your hand if last week you would have predicted Terrell Owens to be a match for Dick Jauron, Ralph Wilson and the Buffalo Bills. However, any connection that may have been made between Sharper and the Bears was merely a ploy by the player to drive up his price elsewhere or create a market for himself. The Bears were not in the market for Sharper, who like Brown, is best at strong safety at this point. It wouldn’t matter if Williams’ broken right forearm is as good as new. The issue with him is with his legs and his mobility. He’s a serious liability in coverage. That’s what the Bears are trying to avoid at safety and it’s a good reason to seek an upgrade over Craig Steltz. The one thing the Bears probably feel they have done pretty well with is drafting defensive backs on the second day of the draft.

2002–Bobby Gray, fifth round. He stuck around for a little bit and it was kind of confusing when you had Gray, Mike Green and Mike Brown all in the secondary at one time.

2003–Todd Johnson, fourth round. He was a serviceable strong safety who was a core special teams player.

2004–Nathan Vasher, fourth round. Made it to a Pro Bowl in his second season.

2005–Chris Harris, sixth round. Harris or Adam Archuleta? Yes, they goofed on that evaluation.

2007–Kevin Payne, fifth round. Looks like he’ll get the first crack at the strong safety job.

2007–Corey Graham, fifth round. He figures to have a leg up as the starter at right cornerback.

2007–Trumaine McBride, seventh round. It’s no small feat for a seventh rounder to stick around for two seasons.

2008–Craig Steltz, fourth round. Right now, it looks like he opens minicamp as the free safety. We’ll see next Tuesday.

2008–Zack Bowman, fifth round. He’ll be in the mix for a backup job somewhere.

Jerry Angelo had his opportunity to strike for a playmaking safety. He could have dealt linebacker Lance Briggs to Washington in 2007 in exchange for the sixth pick in the draft, which he could have used to select LSU safety LaRon Landry. Keeping Briggs was the right move. The Bears need a free safety. Signing a player who cannot play free safety–like Williams or Sharper–doesn’t solve the problem. Square peg. Round hole.

Q: What are your thoughts on how the Bears will improve what may have been the worst wide receiver group in the NFL last season? Many of the options in a weak free-agent market have signed on elsewhere. It seems unrealistic to expect dramatic improvement simply from elevating Earl Bennett (who for whatever reason could not get on the field last year) and adding a first-day draft pick who likely will not be one of the top-three prospects at the position given the Bears’ draft position. Historically, rookie receivers generally don’t make much of an impact that first year. In a make-or-break year for Kyle Orton in his contract season, are they going to give him some more weapons?

Joe B., Oxford, Conn.

A: This is a popular topic right now. You make some solid points because depending on your running back, who led the team in receptions, and tight ends is no way to prop up a passing game. From the outside looking in, it appears the Bears are working to strengthen their running game. They’ve fortified the offensive line and will probably do more if they re-sign John St. Clair and select a tackle high in the draft. They’re not going to pay Kevin Jones $2 million this season to get a good view of the games. But, yes, Orton needs some more help. The Bears’ quarterbacks have for years. Now, the offensive production didn’t really dip last season with Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, but that doesn’t mean it was acceptable. At this point, I don’t know what you do other than hope for some improvement from within. More important than Bennett is going to be the development of Hester. He needs to get better first and foremost. But beyond that, I don’t have any magical answers here. I’m not going to tell you the Bears are going to chase Torry Holt when (not if) he’s cut loose from the St. Louis Rams if I don’t think it will happen. Am I ruling it out? No. It looks like there could be a sizeable market for Holt right away, including the New York Jets and Tennessee. Remember, the Bears could run down the block waving cash at him all day but if he’s not interested in the Bears, all they’re going to do is get exhaust fumes in their face. This question can be posed about 20 different ways. I wish I had an answer that provided a better picture of the future.

Q: My question still remains. With the lack of young, solid starting wide receivers that are or were on the list of unrestricted free agents, I still cant understand the lack of interest in Anquan Boldin. The Cardinals recently acquired Bryant McFadden, meaning the needed a cornerback. The Bears had perfect trade bait in Nathan Vasher and draft picks which could have helped fuel a trade for Boldin. I understand Jerry Angelo’s philosophy in building through the draft and not overpaying for 30-plus-year-olds or underachieving role playing wide receivers but why would they not try to acquire this young solid starter? Yes, he is going to demand a large contract but so is a rookie wide receiver drafted in the top 20. They have the cap room to give Boldin the contract he wants and it eliminates the need to draft and or develop a rookie wide receiver or a second-year receiver like Earl Bennett. If the Bears want Devin Hester to develop into a true No. 1 receiver he needs a solid contributor on the opposite side not a another project. If they made the trade they could then concentrate on getting line and secondary help in the draft. Why not Boldin?

Joe Q., Parts Unknown

A: Joe, you put together a compelling case and make some observant points. If the Bears could eliminate some of their real needs before the draft it would make life easier for them in the draft. I completely agree that paying for a known quantity like Boldin is a far smarter investment than throwing dollars at a rookie wide receiver in the draft. Now, picking at No. 18 the Bears are not looking at the kind of burdensome contract they had to write Cedric Benson in 2005, one that took nearly $14 million out of the McCaskeys’ vault.

But your argument falls apart in a couple key areas, kind of like the Bears’ playoff chances crumbled before their eyes in Houston in the final week of the regular season. Let’s just assume, or better yet, pretend for a minute the Cardinals are indeed interested in moving Boldin.

“The Bears had perfect trade bait in Nathan Vasher … ”

Perfect for who? The Bears and no one else. What type of trade value do believe exists for Vasher right now? He’s an awful long ways removed from one Pro Bowl season. He’s played in 12 games over the last two seasons. I’m not saying Vasher, at 27, cannot turn things around and be a very good cornerback in this league again. But he hasn’t been able to do the first thing, which is stay on the field, lately. Vasher and what bounty of draft picks brings Boldin? McFadden, a starter for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, is going to compete for a starting job in Arizona. Do you realistically think the Cardinals are going to part with one of the top-10 receivers in the game for Vasher and draft picks? Why trade Boldin when you can get McFadden without parting with compensation? They signed him to a $10 million, two-year contract. That’s a modest price if he turns into a starter for there after he missed a handful of games last season with a broken forearm.

At this point, I don’t believe the Cardinals are going to try to trade Boldin. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to trade away one of the best players in the game. He’s got two years remaining on his contract. It would be a better move to see if they can, at some point, work out a new deal for him.

You make some other good points about developing Hester with an unknown across from him. I agree. You just can’t call Vasher “perfect trade bait” or even just “trade bait” at this point. That looks like a sweetheart deal from the Bears’ perspective because it is.

Thank you for all of the participation and questions. We’ll get back to the mailbag and Four Down Territory again on Wednesday. Send in your questions.

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