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Bears shopping Alex Brown a bad gamble
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 3/26/2010 4:17 PM

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The admission by the Bears that they are shopping defensive end Alex Brown might make sense from a bottom-line, financial standpoint, but it's a bad gamble for a team trying to get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence.

The Bears took giant strides toward catching up to the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers in the NFC North when they lavished big money on defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna in the opening hours of unrestricted free agency. But, if they are unable to get equal value in return for Brown (at least a third-round pick, a starting offensive lineman or free safety), and they cut him to save his $5 million salary in the coming season, they're taking a step backward and making a mistake.

The scenario the Bears envision is one in which versatile journeyman Israel Idonije and one-time prodigy Mark Anderson combine to provide more than the 30-year-old Brown has given them in any of his eight seasons. That's a gamble that a team needing to make the playoffs to save the jobs of every coach and front-office executive in the building shouldn't make.

Brown has never been a double-digit sack player, and he has never made a Pro Bowl, but he's a solid pass rusher and run defender who has played in every game since Week Two in his rookie season of 2002. He has started all 16 games in six of the last seven seasons.

Like the ultimate team player that he is, Brown immediately volunteered to move from right end to left end to accommodate Peppers after he signed with the Bears.

The Bears have shown their appreciation with a "For Sale" sign.

Brown had 6 sacks in four of the past six seasons, 41/2 in 2007 and 7 in 2006. He has played in 127 straight games, the second-longest consecutive-games streak among all NFL defensive linemen. Brown doesn't miss games, and he doesn't miss practices, something none of the other wealthiest Bears can say.

That's what Anderson and Idonije aspire to, but there's no guarantee either will get there. Anderson and Idonije are valuable backups, but they are better than Brown in theory only, where we're talking individually or as a combination.

Anderson, a fifth-round pick out of Alabama in 2006, burst on the scene with 12 sacks as a rookie, playing mostly as a situational pass rusher. The next season Lovie Smith handed Brown's starting job to Anderson. It was a move that was a failure from Day One, although, as usual, Smith and the Bears refused to acknowledge their gaffe until the final two games of the season.

Brown, as a backup, had 58 tackles that season. Anderson, the starter, had 36.

Anderson has never recaptured the knack for the sack that he displayed as a rookie, totaling just 91/2 in the next three seasons.

Idonije is in his seventh season with the Bears, and they still haven't decided if he is a tackle or an end, having bounced him around like a pinball. This year the Bears insist Idonije is an end, although he has never had more than the 31/2 sacks he had in 2008.

The Bears also hope to get more out of 2009 draft picks Jarron Gilbert and Henry this season. It would be almost impossible to get less. Gilbert, a third-round pick, made cameos in four games. Melton, a fourth-round pick, spent the season on injured reserve. Until one of them proves he can play, it's too risky to dump Brown.

And it doesn't make sense to pay Peppers $91 million, including $42 million guaranteed, while denying Brown $5 million. Unlike most of his teammates (Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher and Nate Vasher spring to mind), Brown actually played better after he got a contract extension following the 2007 season.

The Bears sure know how to reward a guy.