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June 20, 2008

Signings show Bears feel free agency begins at home

By: By Larry Mayer | Last Updated: 6/20/2008 11:16 PM

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Re-signing defensive tackle Tommie Harris to a long-term contract extension Thursday was business as usual for the proactive Bears, who strongly believe in rewarding their own players. 

The three-time Pro Bowler is the seventh Bears veteran to ink a new contract this offseason before reaching the open market. Harris follows Alex Brown, Desmond Clark, Rashied Davis, Robbie Gould, Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton.

Tommie Harris signed a four-year extension that runs through the 2012 season.
“It’s very important that your players see that you recognize not only their good play but their hard work,” said general manager Jerry Angelo. “It’s also important that they know they don’t have to wait until the end of their contract to be rewarded.

“I feel that if you’re going to embellish a contract with a player, it better serves you to do it where that player has earned his stripes here than somewhere else.

“The other thing is that I believe you can’t buy a locker room. You have to create one, and this is one of the best ways to do that, letting players know that you do recognize their efforts on the field and off the field. And I don’t think there’s a better compliment that you can pay to a player from an organizational standpoint than to want to extend his contract.”

Some national media outlets who’ve criticized the Bears for not being active enough in free agency this offseason fail to mention the players Chicago has retained with extensions. It’s a group that includes three Pro Bowlers in Harris, Gould and Lance Briggs.

“I understand the mentality,” Angelo said. “When we think of free agency, we think that means going on the outside and bringing players in. No. Free agency starts at home. That’s where free agency begins with us. We try to do that first.”

Successfully re-signing their own players has contributed to the Bears losing only one starter in free agency they attempted to keep—wide receiver Bernard Berrian.

“I feel we’ve done a very good job of planning,” Angelo said. “There are a lot of parts to free agency in terms of team-building and making sure you facilitate not just the core players but the core positions based on what your coaches feel they need.”

This isn’t the first year the Bears have rewarded their own players. They inked Olin Kreutz, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Adrian Peterson, Jason McKie and Terrence Metcalf in 2006 and Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher last summer before any of them reached the open market.

“The most difficult thing to do in this business is to do contract extensions,” Angelo said. “They are very, very difficult to do. You don’t see many. I think our track record speaks pretty well as far as getting those accomplished in the offseason, not just this year but in year’s past.”

The reason contract extensions are so hard to complete, Angelo explained, is because players that are approached about new deals often erroneously consider themselves unrestricted free agents.

“We try to make it very clear that you do have a year or years left on your contract, so there’s got to be a benefit to the club because the club inherits the risk of injury, poor performance, or maybe the marketplace for you isn’t what you thought. So that now all becomes incumbent upon the club to take on those risks.

“As far as the benefit for the club, some of it is monetary, some of it is in structure, and the timing of when you’re able to do deals. But the player now gets what every player wants. He now secures his financial future for life. That is done. To me, that’s the goal for every player.”

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