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Jones to Jets, Briggs Next to Go?

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Mar 6, 2007 4:10PM

2007_03_sports_thomas_jones.jpgJust days after Bears management redeemed themselves by locking up Lovie Smith for the next five years, they once again have us scratching our heads. They traded Thomas Jones, the team's starting running back, to the New York Jets along with their late second-round pick for an early second-round draft pick. Are we missing something?

Jones ran for over 1,200 yards in 2006, carrying the ball 296 times and averaging 4.1 yards a carry. He became the first Bears running back since Walter Payton to run for over 1,200 yards in two consecutive seasons. He ran for over 300 yards in the playoffs. And the Bears dump him in return for jumping up in the second round?

Sure, the Bears have Cedric Benson, the 4th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Benson did come on strong towards the end of the season, but he still hasn't really proven he can be the durable back who can carry 300 times or rush for over 1000 yards.

Even if Benson is ready to assume the mantle as the Bears' featured back, the NFL has become a two-back league. In addition to the Bears effective tandem, most of the top teams in the NFL had two rushers with more than 500 yards — the Colts' Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai, the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner, the Saints' Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, and the Patriots' Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney. So if the two-back setup clearly works, why would the Bears end this setup? Jones recently asked for either a trade or a contract extension, so Bears management chose the trade route. We just don't get it.

2007_03_sports_lance_briggs.jpgJones may not be the last Bears star bolting town ... or at least hoping to. The Bears placed the "franchise" tag on Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, the first time they've used the designation to hold on to a potential free agent in the Jerry Angelo era. In return for having the ability to retain Briggs' rights, the Bears are obligated to pay him the average of the top five salaries at his position. As a restricted free agent, should he receive an offer the Bears don't match, they would receive two first-round draft picks as compensation.

But free agents began signing huge deals as soon as the free agency period began last week, and Briggs' frustration at being left out of the feeding frenzy has him pissed.

In a phone interview with on Sunday night, he said:

There's a difference between the Chicago Bears team and the Chicago Bears organization. The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don't want to be there anymore. I won't play for them, and I'll do everything in my power to keep from playing there.

Can Bears management step up and offer a long-term deal that will make Briggs happy? Or is the relationship truly beyond repair? During Sunday's interview, he claimed only two positive outcomes, "They need to either [rescind] the franchise tag, and let me move on, or trade me to another team. Because that's about the only way this thing can have any kind of a positive resolution." Neither of those options include Briggs in a Bears uniform next season.

So do the Bears abide by Briggs' wishes, as they did for Jones? Do they retain him and have to deal with a disgruntled player all next season? Or can they make him happy with a lucrative deal?

With Briggs possibly on the way out, and Jones already gone, things are not looking up for the Bears in 2007. Hope you all enjoyed the Bears' appearance in Super Bowl XLI. It's gonna be a long time before we see the Bears playing in the "Big Game" again.

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