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Tuesday, January 25, 2011
What's fair value for Lovie extension?

By Michael C. Wright

Lovie Smith
Jerry Angelo said he's working on Lovie Smith's extension, but what will it be worth?
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo revealed Monday that a contract extension is in the works for coach Lovie Smith.

Perhaps now it's time to ponder some factors that could go into getting something done for Smith, who has one year remaining on a four-year, $22 million contract he signed shortly after taking the Bears to the Super Bowl after the 2006 regular season.

"We're fine, we'll get into that," Angelo said Monday, a day after the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game. "Right now, the first thing I did when I got up this morning -- it was hard to sleep last night -- that was not on my mind. We have a number of things on the agenda, and we'll talk about that. When there's something to announce we'll announce it. It's that simple."

But is it really?

With Smith earning more than $5 million annually, other than the obvious question of whether Smith deserves an extension is the issue of what would be the next step up for the coach in terms of a salary increase. Former Bears quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who left Stanford to become coach of the San Francisco 49ers, received a five-year, $25 million deal, which puts him on a salary level close to Smith, despite him not ever coaching a down in the NFL.

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sat out of football a year before returning to the league to the tune of $35 million over five years (Redskins owner Dan Snyder has a reputation for being a big spender), and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll left USC prior to the 2010 season for a reported NFL salary of $33 million over five years.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the NFL's longest-tenured head coach, has taken six teams to the playoffs since 1994, with no Super Bowl rings and just one appearance in the league's championship game. But he's making a reported $5.75 million annually, while Eagles coach Andy Reid signed a three-year extension in 2009 that pays him $5.5 million per year.

So the Bears have to determine where Smith fits. In seven seasons with the Bears, he's won three division titles, and has taken the team to the postseason three times, where it has a 3-3 record. By comparison, Reid has taken the Eagles to the playoffs eight times in 11 seasons with five NFC title game appearances and one trip to the Super Bowl. Fisher, meanwhile, has led the Titans on six playoff trips over the past 12 seasons, three division titles, two AFC title games and a Super Bowl appearance.

It appears Smith would be in line to receive an increase commensurate with the $5.75 million Fisher receives. The question then would be whether Smith would agree to those financial terms. The length of the contract (Reid signed a three-year extension) would also be somewhat of an issue, although Smith has stated the desire "to be there for many years to come."

Does Smith deserve an extension? That's debatable. But the truth is that although he's no Bill Belichick -- reportedly earning more than $7 million annually -- Smith compares favorably to Fisher, having achieved the same milestones (three division titles, two conference title games and one Super Bowl appearance) despite a shorter tenure.

The support Smith receives from his players and staff is also telling, not to mention how he held the team together through widespread criticism of his defensive system, quarterback Jay Cutler, the offensive line, and the receiving corps, in addition to myriad other issues.

"The one thing he's done is he's stayed consistent the entire year through the ups and downs," defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. "This is a good football team. We were able to carry his message to the players, and [now] the players know they're good, too."

Several players, most notably linebacker Brian Urlacher and center Olin Kreutz, have campaigned publicly not only for Smith to receive an extension, but to be given strong consideration for coach of the year.

Urlacher credited Smith with "all of" the team's 2010 success.

"Coming into this season, he believed in us. This summer, he told us we were going to be good, and we've been just that," Urlacher said. "He never doubted us, and we appreciate that."