Angelo has given no reason for optimism

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Contrary to the impression the headline leaves, I consider myself an optimistic, glass is half-full kind of guy. But every now and then, I like to turn up the heat and play a different role.

Allow me to indulge myself as I assess the prospects of the Bears becoming major players in the free agent market, which begins three weeks from today.

It’s important to preface this post by making it known that Jerry Angelo does not sign the checks for the players. I don’t want my comments taken out of context and to have them mistaken as misplaced aggression. The checks are signed by the McCaskey family, an outfit that has no other means of support but its football franchise, hence, it cannot risk carelessly throwing money around — say, like a Jerry Jones or a Daniel Snyder — and hurting the financial stability of its kin.

With that said, it is Angelo’s responsibility — and an unfortunately difficult one at that — to be a savvy investor and know where to spread the money around. One of the primary reasons why Angelo believes in “rewarding his own players” is because by signing them to contract extensions before they hit the open market, he can get a hometown discount. In stock market terms, that’s buying low when there’s not as much risk involved and yet still have the propensity to get a good return on investment.

One thing you will almost never see the Bears do is set the market on a player in free agency. For one thing, free agents rarely live up to the contract they sign because teams are inclined to offer more money than what that player is worth because they’re buying him out of an intense need at the position. Whereas the Bears have an awful lot of glaring needs on both sides of the ball, you won’t see them set the bar and make a strong play for the top-tier talent that will be available when free agency kicks off at the end of the month.

Yes, the Bears have been players in the past, most notably for John Tait and Muhsin Muhammad. But Tait was an exception because the Bears badly needed an offensive tackle and he was just entering his prime. Muhammad, on the other hand, was a mistake. He was already on the wrong side of 30, and his price tag was boosted because he had led the league with 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns the year before the Bears signed him. Those are numbers he certainly would not have had if it weren’t for Steve Smith suffering an injury and missing 15 games in 2004.

Angelo essentially acknowledged his mistake by cutting Muhammad before this past season and also making it known this off-season that he believes “it all starts with the quarterback”, and getting a No. 1 receiver is not high on his priority list.

I frequently make the rounds on the web, reading what fans have to say about what they think the Bears need to do to fix their problems. Naturally, the first two names to be mentioned at the receiver position are T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the Pro Bowler from Cincinnati who will be the top wideout on the market, and Anquan Boldin, the disgruntled Pro Bowl receiver for the NFC champion Arizona Cardinals, a player that wants to be traded.

Houshmandzadeh, while a talented player, was always the No. 2 receiver behind Chad Johnson in Cincinnati and he’ll certainly command the salary of a No. 1. Plus, he’ll turn 32 in September and is likely on the downside of his career.

Boldin, on the other hand, may not be going anywhere. Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals’ other stud wide receiver, has said he’ll restructure his contract, if necessary, to keep Boldin happy. And even if the Cardinals do trade Boldin, whatever team does acquire him will sign him to an extension worth a boatload of money.

As for the quarterback position, I keep hearing fans call for the Bears to acquire New England’s Matt Cassel, Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb, and Arizona’s Kurt Warner. None of those players are going anywhere. Cassel was tagged by the Patriots, meaning it would cost two first round draft picks to get him. McNabb is likely to get a contract extension, or at least fulfill the remainder of his current one. And Warner, the quarterback with the best chance of leaving, albeit a small one, will likely re-sign with the Cardinals or retire from football.

Other names being thrown around include Tennessee’s mammoth defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, Baltimore outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. All of these players are attractive because they’re the cream of the crop at their positions. Don’t expect to see a single one wearing navy and burnt orange next year. Names you might need to get used to include Chris Simms, Mike Furrey, and John St. Clair.

It’s not that Angelo can’t recognize talent — although he sometimes overvalues his own players. It’s that he’s got a limited budget to work with and is trying to get the most bang for his buck. Just remember the stock market analogy.

So, while other teams in the league will be busting down the doors looking for hot new items on the Black Friday of the NFL in three weeks, expect Angelo to be browsing through the bargain bin.

At least he won’t be shopping at the dollar store — we hope.

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