- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

Last month, the Chicago Bears decided to be different by holding their full-squad minicamp before college players could be drafted or signed as free agents.

On Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Bears decided to be different again: They pulled off a mega offseason deal.

Observers for most of the past decade, the Bears swooped in to acquire Denver quarterback Jay Cutler for a steep price: two first-round picks (2009 and 2010), a third-round pick this year and starting quarterback Kyle Orton.

It took a second to double-check, but yes, Jerry Angelo is still the Bears’ general manager and Lovie Smith is still the coach.

The Bears see the NFC North as a division up for grabs. Minnesota has issues at quarterback, Green Bay is moving from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 and Detroit is Detroit.

Chicago was 9-7 last year and has missed the playoffs twice since reaching Super Bowl XLI. The offense has often been at the root of the Bears’ troubles - instability at quarterback stretches back to the early 1990s, when Jim Harbaugh was the team’s top passer for four consecutive years. In the past seven years, the Bears had six different quarterbacks lead the team in passing.

Under Angelo, the Bears rarely have made splashes in free agency. There were only five unrestricted free agents on the 2008 training camp roster, and things didn’t change much this year. The Bears’ only additions were safety Josh Bullocks and offensive tackle Frank Omiyale.

But instead of trying to rest their hopes on Orton and second-year running back Matt Forte, the Bears have jumped to the top of the division with the addition of Cutler, who will have a bigger impact in Chicago than he would have had for the Redskins.

Make the Bears the NFC North favorites.

AROUND THE NFC

• New Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris is holding a three-day, five-practice voluntary camp this week. The big news on defense is the move from the Tampa 2 scheme. Safety Jermaine Phillips is being worked at weakside linebacker, the spot previously manned by Derrick Brooks.

• After contemplating retirement for several weeks, receiver Isaac Bruce re-signed with the San Francisco 49ers. Bruce, who will be entering his 16th year, is second among receivers with 14,944 yards, but he won’t catch Jerry Rice (22,895). Bruce is fifth with 1,003 career receptions.

• Chicago continues its attempts to address its offensive line. Right tackle John Tait retired, and left tackle John St. Clair signed with Cleveland. Veteran Kevin Shaffer signed last week, presumably to start at right tackle; ESPN.com reported Thursday that the Bears had agreed to terms with 12-year veteran Orlando Pace. The former No. 1 overall pick had been released by St. Louis in a salary cap move.

AROUND THE AFC

c It’s probably safe to assume Cleveland will be without receiver Donte Stallworth this year. Stallworth was charged with DUI manslaughter Wednesday; he hit and killed a pedestrian last month when his blood alcohol was 0.126, well above Florida’s legal limit of 0.08. The maximum penalty is 15 years in prison.

• Houston coach Gary Kubiak said he’s not concerned that cornerback Dunta Robinson and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans will be skipping the start of offseason conditioning. Robinson has yet to sign the franchise tender and wants a new deal; Ryans turned down an extension offer. “They’ve told me I can count on them,” Kubiak said.

• Although he couldn’t throw to the absent Chad Johnson, Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer proclaimed his throwing elbow 100 percent. Palmer missed 12 games last year because of a partially torn ligament and tendon, but he opted not to have Tommy John surgery, which would have required a lengthy rehabilitation.

• Pittsburgh has yet to sign a free agent from another team, but that’s not surprising. Since 2006, the Steelers have signed only seven free agents and have lost 22 players to other teams.

INSIDE THE DRAFT

• Every team but Houston and Denver attended Southern Cal’s pro day Wednesday. Linebacker Clay Matthews ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash, and fellow linebacker Brian Cushing posted a 4.68. Both players would fit at strongside linebacker for the Redskins if they keep their first-round pick.

• The tough luck for UCLA quarterback Ben Olson continues. Olson broke his right foot for the third time in less than a year and was not able to participate in the Bruins’ pro day. Rated the nation’s top high school quarterback in 2002, Olson attended BYU for one year and served a two-year Mormon mission before going to UCLA. He missed all of 2008 with two foot injuries.

• Look for the Giants to be active early in the draft. New York holds five of the first 100 picks.

• Tennessee drafts at No. 30 in the first round and continues to bring in receivers for workouts. Florida’s Percy Harvin and North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks have made trips to Nashville, and the Titans worked out Maryland’s Darrius Heyward-Bey on Wednesday. The Titans haven’t drafted a receiver in the first round since they took Kevin Dyson in 1998.

FRIDAY FIVE FIRST-ROUND FINDS

NFL teams say it takes three years to judge a draft class, so here’s a look back at the 2006 first round:

No. 1: DE Mario Williams, Houston - The Texans were ripped for not taking Vince Young or Reggie Bush. Williams hasn’t missed a game and has 30.5 sacks and 122 tackles.

No. 11: QB Jay Cutler, Denver - Mike Shanahan traded up to take him; he’s only 17-20 as a starter, but he’ll take great numbers (54 touchdowns) to the Bears.

No. 12: NT Haloti Ngata, Baltimore - Has developed into a beast in the middle for the Ravens’ elite defense. He’s due for a huge payday in the next couple of years.

No. 25: WR Santonio Holmes, Pittsburgh - Has caught 49, 52 and 55 passes in three years for a combined 15 touchdowns. He hauled in the winning TD in this year’s Super Bowl.

No. 29: C Nick Mangold, N.Y. Jets - Like Williams, he has been a starter from Day One and hasn’t missed a game. He made the Pro Bowl last season and has committed only eight penalties.


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