Chicago Bears: labor



LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears punter Adam Podlesh, who also serves as the team’s union representative, called the reported agreement between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association “a relief for everybody,” but added the situation isn’t getting much traction from teammates in the club’s locker room.

“I think everybody wanted to get it done on both sides of the negotiations,” Podlesh said. “I have to assume they wanted to find some sort of agreement. Obviously, I’m not in the middle of all that. But I think them getting some sort of common ground, getting it finished, getting to work -- just like what happened with the players and owners a couple of years ago -- is the best thing for football.”

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Sources: 'Real' refs could work this week

September, 26, 2012
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The NFL and the NFL Referees Association made enough progress in negotiations Tuesday night that the possibility of the locked-out officials returning in time to work this week's games has been discussed, according to sources on both sides.

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Source: Bears offer Forte $13-14M

September, 1, 2011
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Contract negotiations between the Chicago Bears and running back Matt Forte have heated up to the point where the team has extended a contract offer worth $13-14 million guaranteed, a Bears source said Thursday to ESPNChicago.com.

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Gould: Bears' camp starts on Friday

July, 25, 2011
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears player representative Robbie Gould confirmed on Monday that the Bears are heading to training camp on Fri., July 29 on the campus of Olivet Nazarene in Bourbonnais, Ill.

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The NFL Players Association executive board and 32 team reps have voted unanimously to approve the terms of a deal to the end the 4-month lockout.

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Source: Kreutz a priority for Bears

July, 25, 2011
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Step 1 in bringing the Chicago Bears' offensive line to respectability will kick off with the team beginning serious negotiations with free agent center Olin Kreutz on a new contract as soon as the new CBA is ratified, according to an NFL source.

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CHICAGO -- They disagree about whether there’s a sliver of positivity hiding somewhere within the NFL lockout.

But there’s no doubt Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and running back Matt Forte would be ready to go if the current labor strife -- as widely predicted -- ends later this week.

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Harris doubts camp starts on time

July, 7, 2011
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Count Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris among the pessimists regarding the state of affairs relating to the NFL lockout.

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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears kicker Robbie Gould, the team’s player representative, said Saturday that he is optimistic that the NFL lockout will be resolved in time to play this season.

“I think that we’ll be playing football at some point, it’s just a matter of when,” Gould said on ESPN 1000’s Chicago’s GameDay.

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Urlacher: Veteran teams to have edge

June, 16, 2011
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CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher expects head coach Lovie Smith to conduct a normal training camp once the NFL lockout ends and football related activities are allowed to resume.

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Sources: Roger Goodell, owners meet

June, 1, 2011
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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and a small but critical group of owners gathered in a Chicago suburb to discuss the league's labor situation Wednesday, two days before the league and NFL Players Association are scheduled to go before the U.S. 8th Circuit Court, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

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The NFL lockout has put players and owners in limbo. The ripple effects are also felt by people whose lives or businesses touch their teams. Here are their stories:

Situated across Highway 45/52, and tucked conveniently next to the campus of Olivet Nazarene University -- host of Chicago Bears training camp since 2002 -- T.J. Donlins fills quicker than its bartenders can pour a pint once the sun goes down over Bourbonnais, a town of 19,119 located 50 miles south of Chicago.

Bears Bar
Courtesy of T.J. DonlinsBusiness typically more than doubles at T.J. Donlins during training camp.
The bar’s co-owner, Tom Richmond, estimates that business picks up 2 1/2 times its normal pace in late July during training camp. But with no end in sight to this NFL lockout, camp is in serious jeopardy.

So is business at T.J. Donlins.

“Business is flat going into [training camp], but that’s normal,” Richmond said. “We do a nice bit during the three weeks they’re here; we love them. Unfortunately, this will affect us directly. Camp is a nice spike that we have come to kind of depend on. Being a small business, it helps quite a bit. So everybody here has their fingers crossed. We hope it happens -- this lockout ends.”

Football fans in the know smartly cram into T.J. Donlins during camp to cool off with beer specials, which begin at $1 and go up to the $2 Killian’s pints on Tuesdays. More appealing than the cheap beer, though, is the sightseeing.

On any given night, a few coaches, players and scouts come in, graciously sign autographs, and mingle with patrons. Some hang out on the back patio deck to team up with locals for games of bag toss.

Richmond said the training camp traffic results in additional business during the season from travelers who had visited over the summer.

“The Bears have been so good to the fans. The first year or two, it was testy because they were such a novelty,” Richmond said. “People bothered them to the point they couldn’t even sit down. Over the last seven years, it’s been good. They come out en masse sometimes. They’re courteous and will give plenty of autographs.”

Those good vibes could end soon, though. Richmond, who opened the bar in 1983, knows business will continue regardless of the lockout’s outcome. Still, he’s hoping to not have to find out what life sans training camp entails.

“Every bar in America has the NFL on their screen on Sundays. So I know there’s a lot of stuff revolving around this for a lot of people, especially us,” Richmond said. “I just hope they all come to a happy agreement.”

Bears mailbag: Will Bears be prepared?

May, 16, 2011
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Q: How important are organized workouts during the lockout? Are the Bears and Jay Cutler falling behind? Should I be nervous as a die-hard Bears fan that my team is being lazy in the offseason? -- Christopher (Naperville, Ill.)

A:
Should you be nervous about the lack of organized Bears workouts? No. Almost every single player on the roster has been training for the upcoming season since March. Running back Matt Forte and tight end Greg Olsen have been working out together back in Chicago for weeks. Other players like center Olin Kreutz, guard Roberto Garza, linebacker Nick Roach, defensive tackles Matt Toeaina and Anthony Adams, and wide receivers Johnny Knox and Rashied Davis (just to name a few) have spent much of the offseason training at professional off-site facilities in the area. Others like safety Chris Harris, cornerback Zack Bowman, defensive tackle Marcus Harrison and quarterback Caleb Hanie (just to name a few) opted to train the past few months out of state. I’m sure there is a risk that a few players could report to training camp unprepared -- the first practice is scheduled for July 23, lockout permitting -- but the majority will be in shape. Now, would it be nice to see Cutler throwing to the receivers, tight ends and running backs? Sure. Is it vital to the success of the 2011 Bears? No. Be nervous about the NFL being potentially forced to cancel regular season games in the fall because of the labor dispute. Don’t sweat Cutler and the receivers not playing catch and running a few routes in May.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Hanie
AP Photo/David J. PhillipCaleb Hanie's performance in the 2010 NFC Championship game proved he's more than capable of being the Bears backup quarterback in 2011.
Q: Settle the backup quarterback debate for me. Will Nate Enderle be the No. 2 quarterback behind Cutler in the upcoming season? -- Peter (Madison, Wis.)

A:
Enderle will be the No. 2 if Hanie pulls the NFL version of Steve Sax and somehow forgets how to throw a football. I mean that with absolutely no disrespect towards Enderle, but there shouldn’t be any question about whether or not Hanie is worthy of the being the primary backup. Forget for a moment that Enderle is a rookie fifth-round pick out of Idaho who will probably require quite a bit of seasoning before he is NFL-ready; Hanie came off the bench ice cold and almost led the Bears past the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. How can that not buy him the benefit of the doubt from the coaching staff?! The Bears took Enderle for two reasons, (1) Martz likes him, obviously and (2) Hanie is expected to leave via free agency whenever he gets the chance -- probably in 2012. But in 2011, barring an injury or a totally unexpected collapse, the Bears quarterback depth chart will read: No. 1 Cutler, No. 2 Hanie and No. 3 Enderle.

Q: Guys, as a graduate of West Virginia, I’m excited the Bears took linebacker J.T. Thomas in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL Draft. What are his chances of playing next year? -- Elliot (Crystal Lake, Ill.)

A:
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo probably feels good about Thomas’ chances of making the 53-man roster, since he chose Thomas at No. 195 over a few other linebackers the Bears also liked in the draft. Unless Thomas turns out to be the second coming of Michael Okwo or Marcus Freeman, he should step in and provide relief on special teams while also giving the Bears a little extra depth at the linebacker position. While the Bears are expected to attempt to re-sign Brian Iwuh, it would be nice if the organization could find an eventual replacement for Lance Briggs on the weak side. Don’t get me wrong, Briggs is still a great player, but he’s going to be looking for a new contract in another year or two (Briggs is under contract through 2013) and will be the Bears be willing to pay another linebacker in his early 30s? Anything can happen between now and then, but if Thomas turns out to be a good player, he could figure into the future plans of the organization. Of course, Okwo was drafted in 2007 to be the heir apparent for Briggs, and we all know how that turned out.

Q: What’s the likelihood the Bears bring back punter Brad Maynard? He was terrible last year, in my opinion, and the Bears need to cut their losses and move on. What’s the deal? -- Luke (Waukegan, Ill.)

A:
Right now, the odds of Maynard playing for the Bears in 2011 are remote. Although the punter is still regarded in many NFL circles as the best directional kicker in the game, the Bears were unhappy with Maynard’s statistics and performance last season -- 35.2 yards per punt net average. The Bears sound content to move on and sign a new punter in free agency (whenever that begins) to compete with Richmond McGee for the starting job. However, I continue to believe the Bears would be better off bringing back the veteran for another year. Unlike in 2010, not only will Maynard be healthy when the season begins, he’s going to extremely motivated to prove his doubters inside the building wrong. Plus, why make a change at punter in the same year when the rest of the special teams units could undergo a major overhaul depending on the free agency rules put in place for the upcoming campaign. The Bears have a really good thing going with their trio of specialists -- Maynard, kicker Robbie Gould and long snapper Patrick Mannelly --why screw up the chemistry?

Q: I’ve heard you guys talk about the Bears’ need at defensive end. Why? Didn’t they sign Julius Peppers last year? Isn’t Izzy Idonije coming off a career year? That doesn’t make any sense. -- Joe (Niles, Ill.)

A:
First off, you can never have too many players with the ability to rush the passer. If anybody knows that, it’s Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who saw the defense fail to consistently pressure the quarterback in 2007, 2008 and 2009. What did those years have in common? The Bears missed the postseason, putting Smith on the hot seat in 2010. Secondly, Idonije, 30, has only been a full-time starter for one season, and while it’s certainly possible he puts together another solid year, to simply assume it’s going to happen would be foolish. Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick in 2010) is best known for effectively ending Brett Favre’s legendary career, but besides that one memorable snap, Wootton didn’t provide too many other highlights. It would be wrong to write off Wootton after one season, but the Bears need to protect themselves in the event Idonije’s production tails off or Wootton fails to pan out. Plus, Peppers, who faces at minimum a double-team every play, turned 31 years old back in January. Maybe Henry Melton moves outside if rookie Stephen Paea or somebody else locks down the under tackle spot, but right now, that’s impossible to predict. What the Bears need to do, and I believe they will do, is address defensive end in free agency for the second consecutive year.
LONDON -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will play the Chicago Bears at London's Wembley Stadium in October if the NFL season isn't altered by a labor dispute.

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NEW ORLEANS -- We caught up with Bears general manager Jerry Angelo on Monday at the NFL owners meetings. In this wide-ranging interview, Angelo spoke about quarterback Jay Cutler, the lockout, the NFL draft, the team’s plans for free agency and some of the potential options for replacing recently-departed defensive tackle Tommie Harris:

Now that the NFL has officially locked out the players, and teams can’t be in contact with them, how are the Bears proceeding?

Jerry Angelo:
They educated us long before the lockout happened. We were all hoping we wouldn’t get to this point, but we’re going on. Like I said at one time, ‘Business as usual’. We’re confident that we’re gonna be back and going. Hopefully, it’s gonna be sooner than later. No more than that. We have plenty enough to do to keep us busy; the draft if nothing else. You know, we still have to look at free agency. So there’s a lot on our plate. There are a lot of players in free agency. So that’s a lot of players to get through. So in some ways the additional time helps to some degree.

This team considers the under tackle position very important. How does Henry Melton fit in as a potential player to fill the role vacated by Tommie Harris?

JA:
Well, he made improvement. He played a goodly amount. Obviously, the plan is for him to play more, and hopefully be the starter. He’s still a work in progress. But everything we saw this past year, in particular during the season, we liked. He just kept getting a little better, a little better. The arrow’s going up. We feel, physically speaking, he’s got everything you want in terms of size, speed, toughness. That’s not any question. Now it’s just a matter of learning the position and that will come with the repetition of more play. We feel real good. No guarantees, but everything we look for he has. That’s the good thing. He has shown that at some point or another.

Looking at the draft, are there areas that you’ve maybe moved beyond, maybe eliminated. Or are you still open to every position?

JA:
You like to say you want to take the best player available. You still have to fill your needs. In the event the draft comes before free agency, that might alter our thinking somewhat. I’m sure it will. But we feel this year -- from our perspective -- is a very good year for offensive linemen. You have to play the course based on what it gives you. Right now, the linemen are good, particularly the defensive linemen. It was good last year. It’s good again this year. There are a number of offensive linemen -- I don’t think they’re necessarily bell cows like there are on the defense -- but it’s still a good number of quality players.

The thing that creates the biggest challenge in this draft [is] there’s probably about four positions that we would look at and say it’s not up to par as what normal drafts would give you. That will be the biggest challenge: how does that affect the draft as a whole with teams and how they assess it? Maybe some teams won’t see it that way. But as we’re going through our evaluation process we’re seeing probably more positions where it wasn’t to the level that you’d like it to be or maybe that you’d see year in and year out.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Nell RedmondLast offseason the Bears made a splash in free agency by adding Julius Peppers.
You landed the most coveted free agent last year in Julius Peppers. Once free agency starts, could you see this team doing something like that again?

JA:
Last year was a different situation. Usually you don’t see players of that caliber come on the marketplace. So we have a plan. I think our plan is sound. But we also, when something presents itself, we want to have the ability to make a move. So we’re not so much in cement with anything. I always say this: ‘the cement has already been laid, but it’s not dry.’ So until we know what the prospects are out there…am I saying that we’ll come out and have a big splash in free agency? No, I’m not saying that. In this type of situation, there are so many players. There’s maybe two or three that people would say are special, and there are probably a dozen paid like they’re special. But they’re not special based on the value of their position.

Last year, we saw a special player [in Peppers] who played a special position that fit our scheme. So in our minds, that was the right thing to do. Do I see that happening in this free agency market? I don’t really see that at this point. But again, until we know what’s out there for sure… And we have a lot of coaching changes. How does that play into free agency, players being released after teams access [their needs], in particular if it comes after the draft? [There are] just too many moving parts right now. Everybody is just kind of doing their guesswork. But you have to prepare for as many scenarios that might be presented. That’s the art of this. That’s what you have to be able to do: be prepared to act, and not react. It’s much more challenging this year.

Having such a veteran roster, is this team better equipped to weather a work stoppage or major delay?

JA:
I would say yes, given that our staff is intact, given that we have a veteran team as compared to some, absolutely, particularly those [teams] that have new staffs. As I said in my [season ending] interview, if we had to play [today] we could line up with 21 starters in our minds, and feel comfortable with those players at their positions. So that’s a pretty good starting point given the dynamic that some teams will have to deal with.

You haven’t had a first-round pick in a couple of years, and that’s one of the criticisms you’ve endured -- that you don’t hit on those first-round picks. Having all your picks this year, do you feel any different or extra pressure to draft well?

JA:
No. They can’t beat up on the first-round picks from the last couple of years (laughing) because of the obvious reasons. But we feel real good. Our formula to draft well is very, very sound. I’m very comfortable with our philosophy and how we look at the draft. I wish you could be educated more about the things that we see that you aren’t privileged to see, and how that impacts our evaluation. There are a lot of things that come into affect with the draft, at least from our standpoint. Picking at 29th, obviously it’s hard to think that we’re gonna hit a home run at 29; very hard to do. If you try to do it, you may. But if you don’t, what are you left with? I think that’s important because when we look at any draft, we want to come out with four starters. Naturally, you would want to use those first four picks to say that. You want to keep your eye focused on [whether you can] win with a player. We’re very focused on that. Naturally, when you’re at the top you’re gonna get a player who has more glitter to him. He probably has a pretty good floor, too. We really want to get the player with the most talent, with the best floor.

Do you need that player to contribute right away?

JA:
From my perspective, we’d like to think they can contribute. They’re going to get play time, they’re going to dress on Sunday. That will then be determined based on when we get into camp, hopefully we’re going to have a good offseason, too, and then we’ll see where it goes. I think [the expectation for the picks to contribute right away is] realistic. These kids are coming out well prepared. I don’t think that’s unrealistic at all.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Bears think Jay Cutler can make a big leap forward in his second year in their system.
This isn’t an interview without a Jay Cutler question (Angelo laughs). With you guys being prohibited to speak to Cutler, are you worried about whether he’ll get to spend sufficient time working to clean up some of his mechanics, for which he’s been widely criticized?

JA:
Anything he needs to get better at is coachable. It’s very coachable. I don’t see anything [that can’t be fixed]. I’d rather have a guy with a lot of talent, [who] needs some cleaning up so to speak, than have a guy that’s picture book with mechanics, but he doesn’t have the talent necessarily to do the job. Jay has done, will continue to do everything in his power to be the best that he can be. It’s important to him. He’s got excellent coaching. There’s some things that all players have to work on to get better at, him included. I don’t come away feeling apprehensive or skeptical in terms of where he’s going. He was in a new system last year with a lot of new faces, particularly on the offensive line. And we wouldn’t have done what we did last year without him.

There’s usually a big jump between Year 1 and Year 2 in a new offensive system, right?

JA:
I’m hoping we see that big jump, and there’s no reason to believe that we won’t. We’re all expecting to see that, and for the reasons you’re saying. We had new coaches, a new system. [On the] offensive line, we were playing musical chairs with the last position you want to play musical chairs with, [and he was] still getting familiar with the wide receivers. So we added some pieces. We went through some growing pains. But I really thought we handled a lot of things well given the rollercoaster we were on, particularly early in the season. I really think that we did build a good base, and we’re gonna build from that base going into next year.

Where does tight end Greg Olsen fit in this offense after having seen how he’d perform under Mike Martz’s system in 2010?

JA:
I think he’ll be more prominent this year, not that he didn’t have a role last year. But I think you’ll see a lot more things more consistently because of the familiarity that our coaches have with him. I know how much talk there was about, ‘Does he have a fit at all?’ We felt good because of the fact that we know the person, how important football is [to him]. He’s got talent. Any good coach, or any good system I’ve ever been around always finds a way to accentuate the best players. I felt we did that. I expect him to take a big jump next year. There’s no reason to believe he won’t. I really thought he improved his overall game, in particular his blocking, too.

Can you give us an update on some of your free agents such as Olin Kreutz and Anthony Adams?

JA:
I can’t really get into that right now. So it’s a moot point. When everything gets resolved, we’ll have our game plan. We certainly like our players.

How confident are you in this lockout being resolved quickly?

JA:
I can’t speak. I’m not in the negotiations. I’m confident that both parties see the big picture. We’ve got a great game, and our players want to play as much as we want them to play. So we’re moving forward, and at some point we’ll be playing football again. I do know that. We’re all hoping it’s sooner than later.

Can Matt Toeaina play that under tackle role?

JA:
He has played it. It’s free agency. There will be other players to look at. [Toeina] can [play that role]. Marcus Harrison can play that role. We signed a player in the offseason -- Tank Tyler -- who has played that role. So we have some people that we feel can do that. When a guy’s a free agent, obviously, you don’t know for sure. So we have to plan with the players that we have presently. We’re OK. Like I said, we’ll just see.

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