NFL: Bears fulfill most of free-agent wish list on Day 1
By Brad Biggs
CHICAGO — They sure didn’t act like men at the head of a regime in peril.
Instead, the Bears went boldly into free agency like the franchise never had gone before, busting out of the gate with general manager Jerry Angelo doing his best Daniel Snyder impression as the organization dipped into the McCaskey war chest Friday for contracts potentially worth $121 million.
The Bears likely never will fork over the maximum value in any of the three deals, but in landing defensive end Julius Peppers, the prize of free agency, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna and running back Chester Taylor, they certainly upgraded the roster at Halas Hall.
Peppers is a dynamic pass-rushing threat for a line sorely in need one. Manumaleuna provides offensive coordinator Mike Martz with a key piece he coveted and Taylor will compete with Matt Forte for the starting job.
Eleven months after the trade for quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears took a leap and a jump away from their identity as a draft-driven organization. A team that had entered free agency cautiously and occasionally spent big — for wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad or offensive tackle John Tait — went the way of Snyder’s Redskins, if just for a day.
“We weren’t looking to make a splash,” Angelo said. “We were looking to win. We prepared for a lot of scenarios. Fortunately for us, (this) was the one we wanted to pursue first.”
Perception is President Ted Phillips, who looked on from the balcony of the Halas Hall auditorium during the news conference, placed Angelo and coach Lovie Smith under a win-or-else edict. Phillips said two weeks ago the Bears wouldn’t go “hog wild” in free agency, but that’s what happened. He and ownership green-lighted the football men to spend big. Angelo and Smith are empowered and confident moving into 2010 after three seasons of missing the playoffs.
Why not? Smith has the defensive coordinator he sought in 2004 with Rod Marinelli and an offensive coordinator capable of putting 30 points on the scoreboard each week.
The key will be if Peppers, a five-time Pro Bowl performer, can invigorate a defense still in need of a playmaking safety. The Bears have had two double-digit sack seasons from ends since Richard Dent’s first stint with the organization ended in 1993. The investment — the max value of his deal with all of the bells and whistles is $91.5 million over six seasons with $42 million guaranteed — was made for Peppers not only to shine, but to make those around him stand out.
“I wouldn’t necessarily go so far as to say (I am the savior) because this team already has Pro Bowl and All-Pro players,” Peppers said. “I would see myself coming in as just another piece.”
Angelo made it clear there is no clear pecking order for the running backs.
Taylor, who is to receive $12.5 million over four seasons with $7 million guaranteed and $7 million this year, looks forward to more opportunities now that he’s no longer behind Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. He turns 31 in September but has only 352 carries the last three years after rushing for 1,216 yards on 303 attempts in 2006.
“I never got the opportunity to see what I could do the year after (2006),” he said. “I’m just looking for another opportunity to showcase my talent and help my team win.”
Manumaleuna, who signed for $17 million over five years with $6 million guaranteed, knows the intricacies of the Martz offense after five seasons with the Rams. He will be a complement to Greg Olsen, who evidently is not on the trading block.
At the minimum, the Bears have two solid role players for offense and an elite pass rusher with 81 career sacks who’s in his prime at 30.
“The best days are when you actually win but I think you have to have days like today where you improve your ballclub,” Smith said. “I think everyone would say the players we added will help us have better days ahead.”