Everyone loves a quarterback controversy – except maybe the two players competing for the job, who can find it uncomfortable at best. But Kyle Orton, armed with a contract extension that puts him on equal footing with Rex Grossman, is looking forward to the opportunity.
"I'm just excited to finally get a chance to get a lot of reps in practice and compete for a job and get better," said Orton, who sat idle for two years before starting the final three games last season. "I'm more excited about the reps I'm going to be getting and just the opportunity."
The Bears have assured Orton that he will have the same chance to win the No. 1 job as Grossman, and they backed that up Monday with a one-year extension similar to what Grossman got in a one-year deal late last week.
Orton gets a $1.4 million signing bonus and a $100,000 workout bonus this year, and the Bears boosted his base salary from $520,000 to $1.3 million. Orton will earn $620,000 in base pay in 2009 plus another $100,000 workout bonus. Grossman got a $1.5 million signing bonus, a $1.5 million base salary for 2008 and a chance to earn another $1.5 million in incentives.
Over the past three years, since he was drafted in the fourth round in 2005, Orton has played only when Grossman was injured. It will be a different relationship, though, when the Bears' offseason program begins and then during training camp. Orton believes their relationship will be fine.
"Rex and I have been around each other for quite a while now, and I think we've got a good relationship and we're comfortable around each other," Orton said. "I expect it to be a stiff competition. I think that's how both of us want it. I know that's how I want it, and I'm just looking forward to it."
Orton went 10-5 as a starter his rookie year running a scaled-down offense, helping the Bears to the playoffs. He didn't play again until last Dec. 17, when he helped the Bears win two of their final three games.
"Kyle finished strong this past season with the last couple of games," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "He has played well every time he's gotten an opportunity to play."
Orton's passer rating last season was 73.9 compared to Grossman's 66.4, which he said helped him heading into this year's competition.
"It made the offseason a lot easier and just left a little bit better taste in my mouth and [helped] my attitude," Orton said. "I'm obviously ready to get back to work and excited to compete."
NEWS & NOTES
By giving Rex Grossman a one-year contract and Kyle Orton a one-year extension, general manager Jerry Angelo knows the Bears are still a long way from the solution to their quarterback dilemma.
"We haven't solved it," Angelo admitted. "With one-year deals, you're not solving anything. You're still in the hunt so to speak. We certainly feel good about the people that are contending at the position, but it's not solved yet."
That means the Bears, who draft 14th, will be on the lookout for a quarterback in the draft, maybe as early as the second round. Michigan's Chad Henne, Delaware's Joe Flacco and Kentucky's Andre Woodson could be available from the mid-second until the mid-third round.
"We're still going to look at that position," Angelo said. "We always look at that position every year. We've talked about four [quarterbacks this year]. We're really going to look at the quarterback position as hard as we look at any position. We've got to get the quarterback position stabilized. You can never have enough good quarterbacks." …
The Bears have far fewer holes to fill on defense than offense, but safety is a concern along with depth on the defensive line and at linebacker.
"Maybe there's a little bit more concern [at safety] because you have younger players," Angelo said. "You have Brandon McGowan (24 years old), you have Kevin Payne (24) back there, and obviously Mike Brown's still under contract. We feel good about Danieal Manning (25)."
McGowan finally stayed healthy for the first time in three seasons and started nine games last year, finishing sixth on the team with 80 tackles. Payne missed most of his rookie season with a fractured arm but showed flashes of talent before his injury. Manning started 15 games but was pressed into duty at cornerback for two games because of injuries, which seemed to hurt his development at safety.
Brown, an eight-year veteran and a Pro Bowl pick in 2005, has missed 43 games over the past four seasons with a variety of injuries.
"Mike played exemplary football and never missed anything [his first four seasons]," Angelo said. "We gave him a new contract. It's hard for Mike to get out of bed in the morning and show up [so] we can count on him. But we feel good about the players that we have there, and we feel that we can win with these players even if we didn't do anything outside of what we have on the present roster."
The Bears aren't expecting much help from the college ranks, since safety is arguably the weakest position in this year's draft. There may not be any safeties drafted in the first round and perhaps just two or three taken on the first day.
"The safety position I think is anemic," Angelo said. …
With a just-signed two-year contract extension through 2010, veteran tight end Desmond Clark will remain a factor in the passing game, even though it remains to be seen who will be quarterbacking the offense.
"I always try to focus on the tight end position," Clark said. "We really can't be focused in on what the quarterback situation is doing because it's going to take away from my production."
With either Grossman or Orton in charge, there is a level of familiarity, but that's just a start, Clark said.
"Just being familiar is not good enough," the nine-year veteran said. "We've got to get past that word because, if we just rely on that, then we're going to be in the same position that we ended up last year. Everybody has to step up. From the quarterback position all the way through the offense, the defense and the special teams."
The Bears' offense was 30th in total yards last season. …
Unrestricted free agent WR Bernard Berrian has made no secret of his affinity for working with Grossman. But the Bears' re-signing of the quarterback isn't enough by itself to get Berrian back, although it could help.
"I'm hoping it bodes well and makes it easier for Bernard to want to come back to us," Angelo said. "But we signed Rex because we wanted Rex. We want to sign Bernard because we want Bernard. If it works out that that facilitated Bernard wanting to be back even more, that's great."
Berrian's two longest receptions last season were delivered by Grossman, but all five of his receptions of 24-39 yards came from Brian Griese. …
According to one Bears source, getting three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris signed to a contract extension is a higher priority than re-signing Berrian, Lance Briggs or Brendon Ayanbadejo, their three highest-profile unrestricted free agents. Harris has one year left on his original contract.
QB Joe Facco
Pamela Key Schmalenberger/AP Images
QUOTE TO NOTE
"That is our priority. The only time we deviate from that priority is when we have a real need that has to be addressed. In years past we have done that at certain positions, but right now this year we want to stick to what we consider to be our philosophy to re-sign and reward our own." – Bears GM Jerry Angelo on re-signing his own players before they become unrestricted free agents.