The Chicago Bears won't hit the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University until Friday but 2013 Training Camp officially began this afternoon. Players, coaches and media members all moved in today to prepare for a grueling three-week stretch under the hot mid-summer sun.
To start off the festivities, GM Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman held an introductory press conference. The first topic of conversation, something Emery brought up before reporters even had a chance to ask questions, was the contract status of roughly half the team, whose deals run out after this season.
"The good positive news is that we again have come into camp with everybody under contract. That's very important," Emery said. "That allows our players to be focused, determined, disciplined in their approach to bring our fans who deserve it a championship team.
"I've said that with the understanding that we have a number of players that are under one year contracts or their contracts will expire at the end of this season. That will be part of the planning process for 2014. We are always open to dialogue with our players and with their agents, but I will tell you that where we're at with our current salary cap and the room that we have in our cap in our efforts to put together a championship team in 2013, I do not anticipate that we will do any extensions of contracts during this season, that all those will occur and the Bears that it will occur with will happen in 2014 and not during the 2013 season."
That doesn't mean players won't be re-signed, it just means it won't happen until next year.
"We like our players, we like our roster, that's why they're there. They know that. I think they enjoy the experience with the Bears, they very much appreciate being Chicago Bears and being part of this team and our efforts to win championships," said Emery. "I see a bunch of players that want to continue to be here and I think they've seen since I've been here that we will reward players that are on the upside and still improving and still are contributing, whether they are young or old as Chicago Bears and we will reward them."
With so many players expected to perform without any long-term stability for their families, is Emery worried it may cause locker-room backlash?
"If they put their best efforts forward and continue to improve as players, they'll be rewarded, so it's to their benefit," Emery said.
Count Jay Cutler, who is in the last year of his deal, among those who will not see an extension this year. Like some of the other veterans on the team, a great year in 2013 would give Cutler plenty of leverage toward his goal of earning a franchise-quarterback contract.
"If you're saying an enormous amount of leverage, we've had a great season, and that's a problem I look forward to," said Emery.
For now, it appears everyone within the organization is focused on 2013. So what can we expect from this Bears team under a first-time head coach who hasn't worked in the NFL since 2004? Is making the playoffs a realistic expectation?
"That's our goal, that's where we want to go, and that's what we're doing everyday, each and everyday," said Emery. "The steps that we take, the efforts that we make, the evaluations, the player's work, the coach's work, that's our goal. We know there's a lot of dust on that highway, and that part of the journey, but we're going to be unrelenting in our effort to reach that goal."
In order to reach that goal, Trestman said each of his players must "self-actualize."
"What we're trying to do is create an environment in which every player can be the best football they can be every day," said Trestman. "The only way to do that is for the guy next to him to try to do the same thing. Because of the interconnectivity of this game, you can't be the best you can be unless the guys around you are working at it.
"That's the sell. 'We can't be good unless you're good.' It's practical from the standpoint of going to fundamentals, finish, coaches creating environments for those players to be the best they can be. It's the whole process on a daily basis: coach-player, player-player, player-coach, coach-coach, that goes into getting this done.
"That's our goal: to bring out the best in these guys every day and we hope they want to bring out the best in us. That's where you create the edge every day, the sense of urgency. It's a message you send every day in different ways because not everybody hears that message the same way. That's the fun of being in front of 90 guys because everybody hears the message in different ways."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.