The release of starting defensive end Alex Brown to save $5 million, after giving defensive end Julius Peppers a $91 million contract less than a month ago, doesn't seem to make much sense. But that's what the Bears did Thursday afternoon.
Brown started all 16 games in six of the last seven seasons and, after sitting out his first game as a rookie in 2002, never missed another. The 6-3, 260-pound Brown is fourth in franchise history with 43.5 sacks, trailing only Bears legends Richard Dent, Steve McMichael and Dan Hampton.
On the same day they signed Peppers, who will make $20 million this season, the Bears awarded a $15 million, five-year contract to Brandon Manumaleuna, a blocking tight end, who will make more than $6 million this season. But they didn't have $5 million to keep Brown, a proven two-way player who combined solid run defense with good pass-rush pressure.
Now the Bears have to hope that some combination of Mark Anderson, Israel Idonije and Henry Melton can do for them what Brown did by himself. They are also losing Brown's positive presence in the locker room and one of the team leaders.
Brown's tenure in Chicago also included 483 tackles, 55 tackles for losses, five interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks.
Brown has taken the high road ever since the Bears announced their plans to trade him or cut him.
"I am extremely grateful for my time as a Chicago Bear, and I wish the Bears the best," he wrote on his Twitter account. "I am glad that they gave me an opportunity to realize a dream I had as a child. I appreciate the fans, but as we all know, this is the nature of the business. Bear down!"
While the addition of Peppers made the Bears better defensively, the loss of Brown makes them worse. That two-steps-forward-one-step-back philosophy doesn't bode well for a team that needs to get back to the playoffs after a three-year drought.
The jobs of everyone on the coaching staff and many in the front office hang in the balance this year, and another season without a playoff appearance will result in significant changes throughout Halas Hall by 2011. The Bears have several defensive linemen who possess potential, but none is the proven producer that Brown was, even though he was not the type of impact player that Peppers is.
Anderson showed occasional glimpses last season of the 12.0-sack talent he flashed as a rookie, but the bottom line is he finished 2009 with 3.5 sacks and has just 9.5 sacks in the three seasons since 2006.
DE Henry Melton
AP Images: Nam Y. Huh
Idonije has been a valuable backup at tackle and end for his six years with the Bears. But he has never been considered a starting-caliber player, and he's never had more than 3.5 sacks in any season and has a career total of 8.0 sacks.
If the Bears honestly believed there was any chance of Melton contributing last year, they wouldn't have parked the fourth-round pick on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Last year's third-round pick, Jarron Gilbert, could also be in the mix at defensive end, although he probably figures more prominently at tackle. Although he was on the 53-man roster for all 17 weeks last season, he made brief and forgettable appearances in just four games and did nothing to raise expectations for this season.
NOTES AND QUOTES
Restricted free agent safety Danieal Manning is not participating in the Bears' offseason program, which began Monday, March 29, because he's upset at receiving the lowest tender offer ($1.176 million) from the team.
Manning has more starts at safety (38) than anyone since Lovie Smith took over as head coach in 2004, and maybe he deserves a higher offer. He's also got as good a chance of anyone on the roster to wind up as one of the starters at safety because he's the most physically gifted. He's also one of the better kickoff returners in the NFL, and that alone should make him valuable to the Bears, who place a premium on special teams.
But Manning has a much better chance of getting the multi-year contract he believes he deserves if he is in the building. The Bears' have a history of not negotiating with players who are absent, even though the offseason program is technically "voluntary."
And there doesn't appear to be a burgeoning market for Manning's services. A team signing him away from the Bears would only have to compensate them with a third-round pick, but there is no known interest in Manning from around the NFL.
Earlier in the offseason, there was speculation that Manning would get a long shot at strong safety, even though 37 of his 38 starts have been at free safety. The fifth-year veteran has the toughness and the willingness to support the run, but he has not been the most consistent tackler in the past, whiffing occasionally, even though he was in the right position. Manning also served as the Bears' nickel back for much of the 2009 season. ...
The Bears open their preseason schedule with a road game at San Diego against the Chargers the second weekend in August (12-15).
Their next two preseason games are at home, against the Raiders (Aug. 19-22) and then the Cardinals (Aug. 26-29). The preseason concludes in Cleveland against the Browns (Sept. 2-5). Specific dates and times for all preseason games, along with the regular-season schedule, will be announced later this month.
Each game will be broadcast live on WFLD-TV in Chicago and stations throughout the Midwest with Sam Rosen handling play-by-play and former Bears quarterback Erik Kramer as the color analyst. All four Bears preseason games will also be broadcast by the Chicago Bears Network in high definition.
The Bears last traveled to San Diego for their 2007 regular-season opener. They last hosted Oakland during the 2003 regular season. The Bears and Browns will meet in a preseason finale for the seventh year in a row.
QUOTE TO NOTE
"That sucks, man. God, that sucks. I'm sad. Alex has been one of my best friends on the team since he's been here. You won't find a guy more adored by his teammates than Alex Brown." – LB Brian Urlacher on the release of DE Alex Brown.
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