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Browns swoop in, sign St. Clair to 3-year deal
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/18/2009 12:01 AM

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Unrestricted free-agent offensive lineman John St. Clair, who started 16 games at left tackle for the Bears last season, signed a three-year, $9 million deal with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday about the same time the Bears were coming off the practice field at Halas Hall.

The Bears, whose mediocre offensive line has already been weakened by the retirement of right tackle John Tait last week, wanted St. Clair back. They currently have just three tackles on their roster with a combined total of one start in the NFL.

That start belongs to Frank Omiyale, who was signed early in free agency, but he was working with the second team at left guard Tuesday. Last year's first-round pick Chris Williams, is penciled in at left tackle, so that left Cody Balogh at right tackle. Balogh was undrafted last year and spent the season on the Bears' practice squad.

After Tuesday's minicamp practice, the first of the three-day session, Bears coach Lovie Smith addressed the right tackle position before news reached Halas Hall of St. Clair's signing.

"We would like to sign John, like we've said all long," Smith said. "We hope we can get that done. But we have some options in case John isn't a part of our plans this year."

One option is moving Omiyale to tackle, where he is more comfortable. Another is taking another tackle early in the draft and signing one of the leftover free agents still on the market.

"It's still the off-season," Smith said. "We keep all options open at all times. We like our group of offensive linemen that we have now. But adding another guy would just make us stronger."

Prove it: General manager Jerry Angelo has hinted that former Pro Bowl cornerback Nate Vasher has to be more productive than he has been in the past two injury-riddled seasons to regain his starting job from Corey Graham.

Vasher understands the challenge.

"Rightfully so," he said. "I think it's more or less, 'What have you done lately?' You have to go out and prove yourself every year and be able to contribute to the team. I'm going to have an opportunity to come out and fly around before the draft so the coaches can evaluate and see exactly what direction we're going to head."

Vasher missed eight games last season with hand injuries, and 12 in '07 with a torn groin muscle. But he says he can regain the form he flashed in his first two seasons (2004-05), when he had 13 interceptions and played all 32 games.

"I feel great now," he said.