The door at Halas Hall that Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had left open just a crack for unrestricted free agent linebacker Lance Briggs swung wide open Saturday night, and the three-time Pro Bowler strolled through, accepting a $36 million, six-year contract, including $13 million in guaranteed money, to remain in Chicago.
The relationship between Briggs and the Bears has often been contentious since he turned down a six-year, $33 million offer two years ago. Last year at this time the Bears used the franchise tag, dreaded by players, to keep Briggs in town with a $7.2 million salary. That was a source of aggravation to the five-year veteran, who sought a long-term deal with a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $20 million and at one point vowed never to play for the Bears.
Briggs, 27, reluctantly accepted his status last season with assurance from the Bears that they would not use the tag on him again this season. Although he had not received offers from any other teams in the first two days of free agency, Briggs' agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Bears had continued to talk.
Last week at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, when asked about Briggs and the Bears' other high-profile free agents, Rex Grossman and Bernard Berrian, Angelo said: "We made it clear we wanted them back. They've made it clear that they would like to be back, and we're going to do our best to make sure those things happen."
While the Bears have huge holes to fill at wideout and on the offensive line, plus lesser concerns at running back, Briggs' return should help them regain the level of defensive play they achieved in the Super Bowl season of 2006, when they finished No. 3 in points and No. 5 in yards allowed. Those numbers plummeted to 16 and 28, respectively, last season, when an epidemic of injuries sidelined seven starters for varying lengths of time.
Briggs missed one game with a hamstring injury and another with a hip problem, but he was voted to his third straight Pro Bowl and his 140 tackles were second on the Bears to Brian Urlacher. Briggs led the Bears with 10 tackles for loss. In the three previous seasons, Briggs' total of 514 tackles were tops on the Bears, well ahead of the 461 of Urlacher, who missed seven games with injuries in 2004. The two games that Briggs missed last season were the first of his five-year NFL career.
NEWS & NOTES
The Miami Dolphins no longer considered nine-year veteran Marty Booker a No. 1 wide receiver when they cut him last month, but he could revisit that role with the Bears.
Booker, who set the Bears' single-season franchise record of 100 receptions back in 2001, re-signed Monday night for two years with the team that drafted him in the third round out of Louisiana-Monroe in 1999. Booker caught 50 passes last season, but his 556 receiving yards were his fewest since his second season with the Bears. Still, Booker caught exactly as many passes in his second-best season with the Bears (97 in 2002) as the rest of the Bears' wide receiver corps – Mark Bradley, Devin Hester, Rashied Davis and Mike Hass – have caught in their combined NFL careers.
That makes Booker, who turns 32 on July 31, No. 1 by default, even though he isn't the same receiver as he was in `01 and `02, when he caught a combined 197 passes for 2,260 yards and 14 touchdowns. Booker lacks the speed of Hester and Bradley, but at 6-0 and 210 pounds, he provides a tough, physical presence lacking since Muhsin Muhammad was released late last month.
WR Marty Booker
Tom Roberts/AP Images
Booker's drop in production in Miami is partly attributable to the Dolphins' offensive woes. They were No. 28 in the NFL last season in total offense and No. 29 in scoring a year earlier, alternating Daunte Culpepper, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, John Beck and Trent Green in a Bears-like carousel of ineffective quarterbacks.
Two years after the Bears awarded Booker a seven-year, $28 million contract following his breakout season of `01, they traded him, along with a third-round pick, to the Dolphins for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye.
Booker had one year left on that deal when he was released by the Dolphins, who have been cleaning house under new head of football operations Bill Parcells. After five seasons with the Bears, Booker was fifth in team history with 315 catches and sixth with 3,684 receiving yards. He has 509 career receptions for 6,311 yards and 34 touchdowns. …
Beginning with his third season as a starting quarterback, Brett Favre's Packers defeated the Bears 18 times in 20 games from 1994-2003, and he was 22-10 lifetime in the NFL's most storied rivalry.
So, in many ways, Favre's Tuesday retirement is a good thing for the Bears – almost too good to be true.
"I think this announcement comes about 17 years too late, and I don't know if I will completely believe it until Green Bay opens the season without No. 4 lining up under center," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said. "In all seriousness, no one has given more to our game than Brett Favre."
The Bears-Packers rivalry won't be the same without Favre, even though it became terribly one-sided in his heyday. Win or lose, it was always a challenge for the Bears to contain Favre, who threw 53 TD passes against them while completing 62 percent of his passes for 7,660 yards. …
Even though the Bears got the better of Favre in recent meetings, intercepting him 13 times in their last six meetings, while he threw just 2 touchdown passes, they still held him in high regard.
"I have a lot of respect for the guy," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "The guy is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The list of great things he's done goes on and on. It makes it that much more fun to play against him. It's fun to play against a competitor like that. You have to beat the best to be the best. He's been doing it for so long and he's such a competitor. Just the way he plays makes everybody respect him."
The challenge of playing against Favre twice a year is something a lot of Bears will miss, but it's something they'll probably talk about for a long time.
"I can tell my kids that I played against Brett Favre, that I've beaten Brett Favre," Ogunleye said last season. "You never know what you're going to get out of him. He's just a general. He's a leader. I like the way he operates on the field." …
Hours before they were planning to release quarterback Brian Griese rather than pay him a $300,000 roster bonus on March 4, the Bears traded the 10-year veteran to the Buccaneers Monday for an undisclosed 2009 draft pick, believed to be a sixth-rounder.
Griese, 32, started Games 4-9 last season after Rex Grossman was benched and completed 161 of 262 passes (61.5 percent) for 1,803 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, all of which were team highs, as was his passer rating of 75.6. But the Bears have decided that the starting job in 2008 will be decided between Grossman and Kyle Orton, both of whom signed new contracts late last month.
When Griese suffered a minor injury to his left shoulder in his last start, the Bears used that as an excuse to get Grossman back in the starting lineup. When Grossman suffered a sprained knee, Orton was given the final three starts of the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I got the market that I felt like I was supposed to get. Like I said, I got the market. My contract is right in line with Adalius Thomas and his contract from last year. There's three or four years that my contract is right in line with his. So I'm not mad. I'm happy." – Bears LB Lance Briggs after accepting $36 million over six years from the Bears with $14 million guaranteed. Thomas got $20 million guaranteed.