NFL Nation Archive: July 2011

Giants fans are getting restless -- in general, actually, but specifically about what's going on with Ahmad Bradshaw, the free-agent running back whose contract negotiations with the team have taken longer than expected and who remains unsigned as the clock ticks toward midnight on a Sunday on the East Coast.

Bottom line: I'd still bet on a Bradshaw return to New York. But he and his agent have clearly been working very hard to create a market that will allow him to get top dollar. And based on this Star-Ledger report that Jason Snelling is visiting the team Monday, it appears the Giants are getting annoyed and would like a resolution of this situation sooner rather than later.

A quick recap:

A couple of weeks ago, when it appeared the NFL lockout would be ending soon, Bradshaw and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said publicly that Bradshaw would be interested in playing for the Miami Dolphins. It appeared to be a fit, and there was some interest from the Dolphins' end. But they traded for Reggie Bush last week, and that door closed.

Last week, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who lost the starter's job to Bradshaw last year, agreed to a restructuring of his contract. The main reason Jacobs agreed was because he didn't want to get cut. But Jacobs and Bradshaw are friends, and the team's pitch to Jacobs was that the restructuring would help free up salary-cap space and money to help them keep the two together. Still, however, the week ended without a new deal for Bradshaw.

Sunday morning, there were reports that the Washington Redskins were interested in Bradshaw. This seemed odd, because the Redskins have lots of running backs to whom they want to give carries and they aren't making signings that big right now. They're putting together pieces for a rebuilding project. And while Bradshaw is young and talented enough to be a guy around whom to build, it's highly doubtful that Washington would offer the kind of commitment for which Bradshaw is looking. Later in the day, the Redskins acquired Tim Hightower from the Cardinals, presumably closing the door on Bradshaw in Washington.

John Clayton reported Sunday afternoon that Bradshaw was scheduled to visit the Cincinnati Bengals this week. But within minutes of that report, Cedric Benson agreed to a new deal with the Bengals, which likely means Benson got scared by John's report and agreed to Cincinnati's offer. This closed the door on Bradshaw in Cincinnati.

So the Giants, who have other business (Kevin Boss, Steve Smith, free-agent linebackers, this Osi Umenyiora mess) to attend to, seem to be getting sick of waiting to see which team Bradshaw will flirt with next, and they're bringing in Snelling. Bradshaw is better than Snelling, and certainly the Giants would prefer to keep him. But they'd also like Bradshaw in camp sometime soon, and there comes at point at which they'll have to decide to move on without him if he's not ready to commit. The Giants don't play around, and I believe that if Bradshaw drags his feet much longer they could go on to Plan B, be that Snelling, Ronnie Brown or some combination of backs on the market. They still do have Jacobs, remember, who's a pretty valuable backfield piece when healthy.

My guess is that the Snelling stuff does to Bradshaw what the Bradshaw report did to Benson -- prods him to look a little more seriously at whatever it is the Giants have on the table. I'm sure it's not ashtray change, whatever it is. And while it might be fun to keep looking around, the market isn't exactly booming anymore and he may be better off taking the deal from the team he knows and likes rather than risking them making it disappear.
The San Francisco 49ers scored a welcome victory Sunday with news that running back Frank Gore would report Monday following a brief holdout.

The team did not disclose whether Gore received any additional money, or whether he would have to pay $90,000 in potential fines for skipping camp to this point.

Fans shouldn't care much either way unless the 49ers improbably committed significant resources toward a long-term extension. Gore has played at a high level for a long enough time to justify such a reward, but it's tough investing in a 28-year-old running back coming off an injury-shortened season.

Getting Gore into camp and working within the 49ers' new offense was the most important thing.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Here's a trivia question for you: How many preseason games has Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews played in his career?

Put it this way: He's played more seasons (two) than preseason games (one).

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews
Al Bello/Getty ImagesClay Matthews has collected 23.5 sacks in his first two seasons in the league.
With all the hand-wringing going on in recent months about missed offseason practices and shortened training camps, it's worth noting Matthews' alternative path. In each of his two previous training camps, Matthews has suffered a significant hamstring injury. In 2009 it cost him more than two weeks of practice and three preseason games. Last season, he suffered the injury during the second week of camp and didn't return to practice until days before the regular-season opener.

Those absences hardly slowed him on the way to a combined 23.5 sacks over those two seasons. So I had to stifle a laugh Sunday when Matthews went out of his way to note offseason work designed to lessen the possibility of a summer injury.

I asked Matthews: "Did you really need those camps?"

Matthews' response: "What do you think?"

Me: Uh-oh. Don't hit me.

Matthews added: "Obviously I would like to be out there with the team, but fortunately I stood aside and made mental notes and stayed involved in the defense and everything. But hopefully we can stay healthy this year. For the most part, I'll be ready to go."

Matthews said he had slimmed down this offseason, taking advantage of a consistent workout schedule in California and adopting a more disciplined eating program. He wouldn't say if he reported to camp at a lower weight but joked "I just got myself a six-pack."

In all seriousness, Matthews does appear slimmer. He said he put "extra emphasis on running and field work" during the offseason so he could make sure he was able to "handle anything I need as far as running and lifting" this summer.

I can't even bring myself to note that Matthews has made it through the Packers' first two practices of camp considering players aren't wearing pads and there has been no real contact. (Wait, I just did.) Monday evening will feature the Packers' first padded practice of the summer.

Before we sign off, however, here are a few thoughts from Sunday evening's session:
  • The Packers have been cautious with defensive end Mike Neal, the heir apparent at right end who still isn't completely recovered from shoulder surgery. He has been in uniform but hasn't participated in team drills, so obviously I haven't gotten much of a read on him. Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been singing the praises of C.J. Wilson, who has been working with the first team, but Wilson suffered a bruised calf during a special teams period Sunday night.
  • If a rookie has stood out in the past day, it's tight end D.J. Williams. He has connected with quarterback Aaron Rodgers on a number of downfield passes and made a one-handed catch near the sideline Sunday night that caught my eye. The Packers are limiting Jermichael Finley (knee) and holding out Andrew Quarless (hip flexor), so Williams has a significant opportunity to make an early splash. You wonder if he has a chance to unseat Quarless on the depth chart.
  • Finley did some work in 7-on-7 drills and McCarthy said he could join full-team drills by Wednesday. There has been no setback in Finley's recovery from a knee injury, but the Packers are giving him as much time as they can to ease him back into football activities.
  • Rookies Randall Cobb and Alex Green have gotten significant work at kickoff returner. It's hard not to get excited about Cobb's speed and the aggressiveness he hits the hole with, even if he's just in shorts and a helmet.
  • Rookie Derek Sherrod said he has never played guard in his life and didn't know he would be moved to left guard until he reported to training camp. Still, he doesn't look out of place and McCarthy noted that his addition has given the Packers the biggest offensive line they've had in some time.
Yeah, there was some traffic. Next time I'll take the train so I can work on the way down. Lesson learned. Or I need to hitch a ride with Mortensen on that bus he's got.

Anyway, some stuff happened while I was on the road, and I'm going to start with the Redskins, who made a couple of moves.

They traded 35-year-old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday and a conditional draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for 25-year-old running back Tim Hightower. I put the players' ages in there for good reason, since it's the latest illustration of what the Redskins are up to -- namely, getting younger and rebuilding with their eyes more on the future than on 2011. They've been remaking their defensive line with the additions of Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen and the subtraction of Jeremy Jarmon and now Holliday. More moves might be coming there, and if they do, expect them to fit in with most of the moves the Redskins have been making -- moves for younger, hungry players who are already good and somewhat established but have room to grow as the team moves on into the future. Hightower enters the running back mix with Ryan Torain, Roy Helu and Evan Royster. He's got the most experience of that bunch, and Mike Shanahan likes having depth at the position. Sensible move that gets them younger overall and brings in something of a veteran presence at a position where they lacked it.

They re-signed right tackle Jammal Brown, who started slow last year in his first season with the team but improved in the second half as he became healthier, to a five-year, $27.5 million contract. This move was expected, though there was some thought they'd look elsewhere. (Denver's Ryan Harris had come up in some speculation.) Continuity is good for an offensive line, and Brown will return for a second year in Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Left-to-right, the Redskins' starting offensive line right now is Trent Williams, Kory Lichtensteiger, Will Montgomery, Chris Chester and Brown. Everybody but Chester from that group was on the team last year.

They also brought back H.B. Blades, who'll be a special-teamer and a backup for them at the inside linebacker spots. Depth is good, and with Lorenzo Alexander possibly moving inside to make room for first-round draft pick Ryan Kerrigan on the outside, the Skins have it.

The Redskins have had a very busy -- and I think a very good -- first week of free agency. They're not making the kinds of moves that make you think they'll just right into 2011 contention, because they likely won't. But in the second year of a five-year contract, Shanahan is building a team, and trying to do it the right way. And don't look now, but it appears Dan Snyder has been staying out of it. Just like he promised.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- At the Jaguars’ first of seven padded practices at training camp, I took notes on a bunch of stuff but feel compelled to feature one item in particular.

The snapshot sticking on this impressionable mind is of a Blaine Gabbert-to-Cecil Shorts connection the team hopes is a big one for the offense for a good while.

It’s super, super early of course.

But we’re at the stage of offering super, super early thoughts.

Gabbert, the 10th overall pick in April's draft, and Shorts, a fourth-rounder out of Mount Union, look to have some immediate chemistry. Reporters who’ve followed this camp from the start say they can’t remember a drop and already have a sense that Gabbert is regularly looking for Shorts.

At this practice they connected for a red zone touchdown at the center of the goal line on a dart fitted between multiple defenders.

Gabbert throws a beautiful ball -- it zips out of his hand. Sunday night he found tight windows both from the pocket and on the move, hitting a variety of receivers including Shorts, Dontrelle Inman, Armon Binns and Jamar Newsome.

With no chance at an in-bounds catch, Binns impressively went up and pulled in one overthrown ball right in front of where I was standing.

Gabbert dropped a silly fumble when he took off running one time.

Unless Gabbert somehow blows David Garrard away in camp, Shorts is more likely of the draftees to have an early role for the Jaguars. He could easily be part of three-receiver sets.

“He’s off to a good start for not having the OTAs and the offseason work,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s got some polish to him for a smaller school guy. He’s certainly been coached well. He’s fit. He’s all business. He’s made a nice impression to begin camp .… I think he’s going to be a real good player.”

A few other notes:

Marcedes Lewis told Tania Ganguli he’ll join the team Monday and tweeted about being en route. The tight end, who signed a franchise tag for just under $7.3 million, has been holding out for a long-term deal.

Del Rio said he told Lewis that the team would keep him out of full contact work while he participates in meetings and everything else and irons out a deal.

The coach said he thought there could be a contract by Thursday.

The Oklahoma drill is a huge fan favorite, and I found this version more entertaining than the one I saw a couple of years ago.

Del Rio said he wanted the one-on-one matchups to come down to the final showdown between right tackle Eben Britton and end Austen Lane, though the press had the score 4-2 in favor of the defense heading into the finale.

Lane handily won the first and third snaps of the best two out of three. Afterward he rated his performance against a teammate he fought with Saturday night as “strong to quite strong.”

Live from Spartanburg

July, 31, 2011
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- I just arrived in “Sparkle City’’ and will be doing interviews and watching the Carolina Panthers practice Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.

I’ll provide some live updates and notes and also will be gathering information for our Camp Confidential series and our season previews.

Updating our earlier item on guard Justin Blalock returning to Atlanta, his six-year contract is worth $38 million with $16 million guaranteed.

Now, on to some links about the day’s happenings around the division.

The Saints, who are assembling one of the league’s deepest defensive backfields, signed former Baltimore cornerback Fabian Washington.

Tampa Bay safety Cody Grimm admitted he’s not fully recovered from the leg injury that ended his rookie season. But Grimm said he expects to be 100 percent by the start of the regular season.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton said he believes defensive end Will Smith finally will have to serve the four-game suspension for violating the league's rules on performance-enhancing substances that was tied up by the legal system since 2008.

Safety Roman Harper said he really didn’t want to leave New Orleans. But he might have if the Saints hadn’t stepped up with a four-year, $28.5 million contract.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers are very much in the market for another quarterback. Presumably, they want a veteran to help mentor Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Makes you wonder if Jake Delhomme, who was released by Cleveland, could be up for a return to Carolina.
RENTON, Wash. -- A few thoughts after Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll addressed reporters following practice Sunday:
    [+] EnlargeSeattle Seahawks Lofa Tatupu
    AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenLofa Tatupu finishes his tenure in Seattle with 550 tackles, seven forced fumbles and 10 interceptions over six seasons.
  • Lofa Tatupu fallout: Carroll spent the bulk of his post-practice news conference fielding questions about Lofa Tatupu's release following six seasons with the team. Carroll kept saying the move was best for all parties, but he did not offer examples when asked how the move made Seattle better. Tatupu refused a cut in pay. Carroll's contract gives him control of the roster, so he could have kept the linebacker around. The two were together at USC. But with the Seahawks implementing a youth movement, the team was comfortable parting with Tatupu after the three-time Pro Bowl choice declined to slash his scheduled $4.35 million salary. That is the simple part. I found the rest harder to comprehend.
  • Reading between lines: Carroll repeatedly cast Tatupu's release as a mutual decision and as a win-win, as though the parties had gotten together over dinner to plot out ways to help improve each others' lives, with Tatupu deciding that, come to think of it, he needed to reduce his pay or be fired. Carroll: "Because this was a decision that we agreed to, I support him. I support him in this. We helped him in this regard and he helped us. It's a mutual agreement that we made that we both feel good about." It's tough to imagine any person in any field of work feeling good about losing his job after refusing a pay cut. But in casting this as a "mutual" decision -- Tatupu deciding it was time to move on -- Carroll avoided declaring publicly that Tatupu had declined as a player.
  • More on the linebackers: David Hawthorne takes over at middle linebacker for Seattle, with Leroy Hill the favorite at weakside linebacker, the position Hawthorne played previously. Aaron Curry remains at strongside linebacker. Hill and other players with new contracts cannot practice until Aug. 4 at the earliest. Rookie seventh-round choice Malcolm Smith is practicing at weakside linebacker while Hill watches. Hill said he spoke extensively with Tatupu, his fellow 2005 Seahawks draft class member. Hill: "I've been through it [taking a pay cut] and it's tough. It's a tough decision to make and you know he made his decision and you got to respect him for his decision and move on."

The bottom line? The Seahawks are getting younger, Tatupu has declined in their eyes and his salary was higher than the team wanted to pay. Sure, Tatupu could have stuck around, but only on the team's terms. There's nothing mutual about that.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that linebacker Brandon Siler has reached a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A source close to the situation told me that Siler will take a physical with the Chiefs and is expected to sign if he passes. Siler will likely compete for a starting job at inside linebacker. If he doesn’t unseat the solid Jovan Belcher, he will likely be a solid special-teams player.

This is an interesting move. The Chargers didn’t put a premium on Siler, but he can help the Chiefs if he signs.

Meanwhile, the Union-Tribune reports there is a ”slim chance” that the Chargers will bring back receiver Malcom Floyd. His market has been slow to develop.

The Broncos are visiting with former No. 8 overall pick Jamaal Anderson. Denver general manager Brian Xanders was with the Falcons when they took the defensive lineman in 2007.

I still wouldn’t be surprised if the Chargers make a run at San Francisco’s Manny Lawson. They have added former 49ers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy. New San Diego defensive coordinator Greg Manusky came over from San Francisco.

The Rams kept defensive tackle Danny Muir. He was connected to the Broncos.

The Union-Tribune reports former Charger linebacker Antwan Applewhite has agreed to terms with the 49ers. He was cut last week.
Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams could be running behind Deuce Lutui for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011.

Not so for Tim Hightower.

Lutui's return, announced by the Cardinals on Sunday, came after the veteran guard failed a physical examination with the Cincinnati Bengals. Lutui had agreed to terms on a contract with the Bengals after becoming an unrestricted free agent with Arizona. He gives the Cardinals another guard with considerable starting experience. Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack also signed with the team recently. The team previously signed Daryn Colledge from Green Bay in free agency to replace the retiring Alan Faneca at left guard.

Lutui and Womack in particular are massive men. Lutui's battles making weight have concerned the Cardinals over the years.

Hightower's departure to the Washington Redskins returned a conditional late-round pick and 35-year-old defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported. Holliday has played in 31 games, starting five, over the past two seasons.

Hightower's fumbling troubles -- he lost four in each of the last two seasons -- cost him playing time. His future with the team came into question when the Cardinals used a 2011 second-round choice for running back Ryan Williams.

Wells, Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling give the Cardinals a diverse group of backs. Finding a roster spot for Hightower might have been difficult, although Wells' problems with injuries add some risk to the equation for Arizona. The Cardinals have at times favored running Wells from personnel groupings with two tight ends and no fullback. The team could have additional options along those lines after adding tight ends Rob Housler, Todd Heap and Jeff King this offseason.

The Cardinals have been busy over the last several days, adding quarterback Kevin Kolb, among others. The team also has interest in receiver Braylon Edwards, according to Mike Jurecki of XTRA 910 AM in Phoenix.

Such activity has surely caught Larry Fitzgerald's attention as the Cardinals work toward convincing him to stay with the organization beyond 2011, the final year of his contract.
Amid controversy, the Cincinnati Bengals have agreed to terms with running back Cedric Benson to a one-year deal, ESPN's Adam Schefter reports. This shouldn't be a huge surprise, as Cincinnati has made Benson a priority from day one.

But Benson cost himself a lot of money following an alleged assault a few weeks ago. The Bengals were expecting to give Benson a multiyear extension but instead gave him a one-year contract. Benson could be facing a suspension if found guilty and would miss multiple games this season.

The Bengals were not deep at running back and needed Benson almost as much as he needed the Bengals. Thus far, none of the top running backs were willing to go to Cincinnati in free agency and interest in Benson dropped dramatically after his arrest.

The best the Bengals can hope for is that Benson is innocent and can play the full season. If that's the case, Benson has a chance to redeem himself by having another big year, which would set himself up for the type of contract he could have received this summer.
Earlier Sunday, I joked that some kind words from quarterback Aaron Rodgers had started a countdown on the return of free-agent fullback John Kuhn to the Green Bay Packers.

I guess it was no joke.

In a matter of hours, the Packers re-signed both Kuhn and another Rodgers favorite -- receiver James Jones -- to three-year contracts. Here's the Kuhn story from Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Perhaps Rodgers already knew about both moves when he spoke with reporters, but you have to wonder if Rodgers' public (and private) lobbying didn't play at least a partial role in the returns of both players.

Rodgers told a group of reporters that "we need to add John Kuhn back" because he and Jones "are important to us." Speaking later to Don Banks of Sports, Rodgers added: "I'm a leader on this team and my voice carries a little bit of weight in the locker room. You don't get better by taking from the whole. You need a guy like [James] Jones back. You need a guy like John Kuhn back. We need guys like that to win.''

Kuhn returns to a crowded backfield that also includes tailbacks Ryan Grant, James Starks and rookie Alex Green. But the versatility Kuhn displayed last season after moving to tailback, and the free-agent departure of fullback Korey Hall, clearly made him a valued piece of the Packers' puzzle.
Now, Denver’s tight end meeting room is getting really crowded.

The Broncos just came to terms with St. Louis tight end Daniel Fells. He signed for one year with a bonus. Fells should get the first crack at starting for the Broncos. He played for Denver tight ends coach Clancy Barone as a rookie in Atlanta.

Fells is 270 pounds and he can catch and block. He had 41 catches for the Rams last season. The Broncos added former Carolina tight end Dante Rosario earlier Sunday. Veterans Dan Gronkowski and Richard Quinn could have difficulty making the team. The Broncos like draft picks Julius Thomas (fourth round) and Virgil Green (seventh).
For those who like to dig up old blog posts for a "gotcha" moment, I'll beat you to the punch. Here's what I wrote near the end of draft weekend in April:
I have no problem if the Detroit Lions, three years removed from the worst season in NFL history, continue drafting without regard for position. In the long run, it's the best approach for re-stocking a once-barren roster.

In the short term, however, I'll say this: There better be more on the way.

Sunday afternoon, it is now undeniable that the Lions have held up their end of the bargain, even if it was via an unexpected path. In the past week, they've signed two starting linebackers and two cornerbacks who will have good opportunities to start as well. When you add linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant to cornerbacks Eric Wright and Chris Houston, you've got a reputable and responsible follow-up to a universally praised draft class.

Houston is their most recent move, having agreed to a two-year contract after Houston spent a few days testing his value on the market. Houston started 15 games last season and there is every reason to believe he'll be with the first team when the Lions open the regular season. But with Houston, Wright, Alphonso Smith and Nate Vasher, the Lions finally have a group of at least semi-established cornerbacks from which to choose a starting lineup. If Aaron Berry stays healthy this summer, you can add a fifth name to that list.

The Lions hit a couple of speed bumps when camp opened -- injuries that forced Smith and left tackle Jeff Backus to the non-football injury list. But as they resume practice Monday, it's clear they have both addressed their needs and built on their strengths this offseason. Well done.
Five notes before heading out to the Seattle Seahawks' lone practice Sunday:
  • Center Chris Spencer's contract agreement with the Chicago Bears puts him in a familiar position: new guy with huge leadership shoes to fill. Spencer has giant feet even by NFL standards -- I cannot recall the exact shoe size -- but he's not a natural leader the way Robbie Tobeck or Olin Kreutz were for their teams. Spencer stepped into Tobeck's spot at center for Seattle following the team's best seasons under Mike Holmgren. He's taking over for the Bears after the team failed to reach agreement with Kreutz. Spencer, a first-round pick for Seattle in 2005, can be a good player. He just won't fill the leadership void.
  • Kreutz remains an option for the San Francisco 49ers after the team lost David Baas to the New York Giants. Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers are the leading candidate to sign Kruetz. Adding Kreutz to the 49ers would upgrade the position while providing strong leadership for young players such as guard Mike Iupati. I like the idea under the circumstances.
  • From Jim Thomas: First-round pick Robert Quinn is practicing with the St. Louis Rams. Former Rams receiver Isaac Bruce plans to work with the team's wide receivers. These should be welcome developments for Rams fans. The Rams' current leadership has taken some heat for cutting ties with or failing to embrace some aspects of the team's history. Take note, critics: Enlisting Bruce runs counter to perception.
  • There was no place like home for Arizona native Todd Heap. The Cardinals agreed to terms with the veteran tight end even while the New York Jets were reportedly courting him heavily, with coach Rex Ryan even picking up Heap at the airport in person. Ryan and Heap were together for years in Baltimore. Arizona has scored a few victories in free agency. Finishing 5-11 last season appears to have given them a greater sense of urgency.
  • The Seahawks are going young throughout much of their roster. They could still consider adding a more experienced kicker, depending on how Brandon Coutu and Wes Byrun fare. The team plans to meet with veteran Jeff Reed, who spent part of last season with San Francisco, in the next day or so. Reed does not have a contract agreement with the team.

OK, that's it for now. The Seahawks are practicing in pads at the moment. It's off to San Francisco 49ers camp Monday morning.
If this were March, and the lockout had never happened, I honestly think I would be applauding the Chicago Bears right now. Their decision to get younger at center would have been bold, well-timed and representative of an organization refusing to allow nostalgia to rule its football decisions.

Today, however, is July 31. Two training camp practices are already in the books, and the Bears will have at least two more before newly signed Chris Spencer can formally take over for veteran Olin Kreutz. If there were ever a time for a short-term, Band-Aid decision, it’s now. Instead, the Bears have taken on one of the most difficult post-lockout tasks imaginable: Transitioning a new center into a Mike Martz scheme during this summer’s compressed training camp and preseason, all while leaving their locker room at least temporarily rudderless.

[+] EnlargeOlin Kreutz
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesOlin Kreutz's career in Chicago has come to an end.
Let’s face it: Kreutz was not nearly the player last season than he was even a few years ago. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said Sunday afternoon that Kreutz “clearly regressed in all aspects.” The Bears knew this as well as anyone, and I think that’s why they weren’t willing to break their bank to re-sign him for one more season.

I would have had no qualms with that decision in March. But as we’ve discussed, the reality of the lockout necessitated a few adjustments to the proverbial viewfinder. If at all possible, it makes sense to carry as much continuity into 2011 as possible. I’d rather have Olin Kreutz at 60 percent than a newcomer facing the kind of learning curve Spencer will now deal with -- especially in this division. Need I remind you of this division's stable of defensive tackles? Ndamukong Suh? B.J. Raji? Kevin Williams? Hello?

If the Bears thought Kreutz was absolutely incapable of playing, then I’m guessing they never would have made him an offer to begin with. I guess you could argue their one-year, $4 million offer, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, was designed as a deal he would clearly refuse. Maybe they were just waiting for Spencer to become available.

Regardless, this doesn’t seem like the wisest time to make a long-term decision at such a crucial position, especially considering Kreutz’s locker room leadership role. I can’t imagine there is a coach on the Bears' staff who would endorse the move now if given a choice.

So it’s worth pointing out that in 2005, Spencer was the first player drafted by new Seattle Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell, now the Bears’ vice president of player personnel. Spencer is not a bad player, but he has a brutally difficult job ahead of him. Ruskell might have set in motion a decent succession plan at center, but the timing of it will almost assuredly debilitate the Bears in the short term.

Sometimes you have to walk the plank and jump feet first into a raging sea. Usually, however, it’s wise to make sure you’re high enough to brace for impact. That’s where the Bears failed in this episode. Right idea. Wrong time.



Sunday, 2/7