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Q&A: Angelo talks free agency

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Instead of taking small snippets from longer conversations and putting them into one article, we figured you’d like to know all of what Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had to say on Sunday, when he addressed the media for the first time at training camp.

During a 20-minute conversation with reporters, Angelo addressed the club’s wild wide through free agency, the decision to trade tight end Greg Olsen, and how negotiations with stalwart center Olin Kreutz imploded, in part because of the fast pace of an unprecedented time in NFL history.

Here are the goods.

Angelo’s opening remarks:Good, well, you know this is really an unprecedented time, as we all know given the dynamic that all 32 teams are going through. We had a lot of time to prepare for this, but there’s no preparation that you could do in this window of time that we were given to do all the things that we’ve done. We’ve signed 48 players thus far in a four-day span. I first want to congratulate our staff because I really feel they did a great job. I’m talking about our college staff, our pro staff, Tim Ruskell, directing our personnel department, and the work that Cliff Stein has done throughout this process. I can’t even explain or describe, he’s just been unbelievable because all the things we were able to do, we were competing with somebody. There were no layups here. Everything came with a lot of recruitment, coordination with our personnel people, and our coaches. I want to make that very clear.

Every decision that we made, we feel very good about the roster. Now, it’s about team-building, galvanizing. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the offseason to do that. Normally that’s when you do your team-building, that’s when that intangible, the camaraderie comes. The good thing for us, we do have a good nucleus. We were able to bring back Corey Graham, Anthony Adams, Nick Roach. We do believe in continuity, but we also believe in competition. That’s very, very important. I find in this business the curse to success is complacency, and we’ve seen that firsthand here in Chicago. I feel that the players we brought in here are going to create very good competition. We’re obviously gonna have a roster change. We believe it’s going to be for the good. How that all comes together, how fast that comes together, time will tell.

Obviously the real disappointing news comes with the loss of Olin Kreutz. I first want to say from my personal experience of being with Olin through most of his career, he embodies what a football player is. I have the highest respect for him. The reason that I’m in this business and why we’re all in this business is because of players like Olin Kreutz. Great legacy, certainly very, very disappointing that he chose not to accept our final offer. His decision, he thought about it, we did the best we could do given that we had a lot to do and felt that we gave him a fair offer. He chose to go in another direction. I told him that if he thought long and hard on it, and I know he did … I was hoping that he may change his mind. His representation, in particular Mark Bartlestein, did a great job. Mark and I had a lot of dialogue. Obviously we differed in some areas and how we see “fair.” Fair sometimes is a nebulous word. Very, very, sad, very disappointing, but I know this in our sport, it’s [not] about one thing. It’s not about any one player. It’s not about me. It’s about the team.

I told Olin, I told his agent, if we can’t get this done in a certain timeframe, then we need to move on because it is about the team. We can’t lose other options. We talked to a potential player yesterday in the morning. He was very interested. We waited to get back with him in the afternoon [and] two more teams are now in it, and the price has already gone up. It’s very, very difficult. So it was a line we had to walk. We had to make a decision. As tough of a decision as it is, you know, we have to move on as a football team. Again, a great player, a sad day for the Chicago Bears, for all of us. We again wish Olin but the best, he and his family. In saying that, I’ll open it up for questions:

Question: Do you worry about how this might affect the locker room since players have come out and said they wanted Kreutz back?

Answer: It just tells you how revered he was, and you can put me first in line on that. He’s done a lot for this football team, but there comes a time where there’s going to be closure. Nobody lives forever. Nobody goes on forever. That’s just the nature of the business. Whenever that is -- whether it’s next year or the year after that -- there’s going to be this moment. This is the time.

Q: Are reports accurate about the sides being only $500,000 apart?

A: It was accurate. Again, we negotiated in good faith. We wanted Olin back. They saw it differently, and I have to respect that and obviously, they have to respect our position. It’s not about one person. There are a lot of moving parts. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle and how everything fits. You have to put value on each piece and we did. We have to do our best. You’re not going to win them all. They’re not going to all go the way you want. Is it a going to be a loss? Yeah, it’s going to be a loss. It’s going to be a temporary loss, but we have to regroup. We’re bringing in Chris Spencer to come in here and compete for that starting center spot. Our coaches are going to determine that -- in particular coach [Mike] Tice -- and get those five best players on the field as soon as we can. I’m concerned about that. As I’ve always said, making sure we get the same five on the field as soon as we can, particularly with no offseason, that’s our challenge with our offensive line as much as anything.”

Q: You talked earlier about having to speed up the timetable to make a decision with Kreutz so the team wouldn’t miss out on other players. Can you explain that?

A: There were several players, in particular [Spencer], and things were moving at it was a little bit of a dormant period. Now, things have picked up. As things pick up, the price of business picks up as well. We feel good about it, and we’re anxious to get everybody on the field and practicing, particularly on Thursday. It’s a good time, though, for the young players to get to showcase themselves because most of them we have never seen until this weekend.

Q: How do you place a value on a player’s intangibles such as leadership?

A: To me, leadership starts with paying the price. That’s what leadership means. And I think we’ve got a locker room of guys who are willing to pay the price. That’s leadership. Leadership isn’t talk. Leadership is action. Olin Kreutz was a warrior. He led based on his actions. Rashied Davis was a warrior. It’s about their reactions, not their words. We’ve got a good group of leaders. I told you last year [that] the greatest compliment I could have given our team last year [was] their character. It was a good football team. I’ve been with better football teams, but the things that they went through and achieved [were] based on the character of the football team. Certainly, Olin was a part of that, but we have a good nucleus. We have a challenge ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of new players. We have 48 new Bears. A good handful of them are going to make our 53-man roster. So, hey, it’s a fun time. It’s a challenge. It’s a chase. This is what you wake up for. We’re excited about the future of the Bears this year. [When] we see everybody take the field on Thursday, obviously our biggest fear is injury, particularly for the young players because we don’t have any experience like we would have gotten in the offseason. A little soft tissue injury, he’s out two weeks. Well, that window closes on him. That’s probably going to happen, but all 31 teams are in that boat.”

Q: What did you like about Spencer?

A: Not many centers are out there. He’s still in the prime of his career. He’s 29. Two years, probably he had about a good 30-some starts. So good experience. No. 1 draft pick. He’s got some good things. Did a lot of tape on him. I like his strength. Very good run-blocker. We like the traits that he brings. You’re going to like him. He’s the antithesis of Olin. He’s not as outgoing, but a good person, a good work ethic. But hey, he’s competing for a starting job. I’m not saying that there’s any … there’s no entitlement here. We all know that. Very few players have that luxury. Chris is going to have to come in here and compete and earn his way.

Q: Doesn’t $500,000 seem like a small amount to lose a player like Kreutz?

A: It goes beyond that. There’s more to it than just the dollar sign. Again, it’s a big puzzle. And you just can’t focus on one piece. It doesn’t work that way. It has to come together. And we have a lot of things happening at a very fast pace. We didn’t have two months to draw things out, to be patient. We have to move now. I don’t have a crystal ball now. I have to deal with reality, and I have to think about what? No. 1, the team. It’s about the team. This is what we’re built on: team. And ultimately that’s mine and coach [Lovie] Smith’s responsibility.

Q: Are you worried about a divide between the front office and the coaching staff?

A: No. I resent the fact that something was written that said there is a divide and regardless of what anybody says, that’s not true. That’s a lie. And it’s fabricated, and I resented it when I read that. That, to me, was dirty pool. We talk about everything. Do we agree on everything? Absolutely not. You don’t agree on everything with your wife. How am I going to agree with 18 coaches and 15 scouts? It doesn’t work that way. But at the end of the day we’ve got to make a decision, and we all agree on one thing: Once we make a decision we’re all for it. We’re going to make it work. That’s what teams do.

So, we talked through it. Very difficult. Things were said. We weighed them. We did the best. We had an offer. We bumped our offer. We did the very best we could. So now we’re going to let the chips fall where they may and we’re going to move forward.

Q: What’s the timetable for signing Matt Forte to a new deal?

A: Things are starting to settle down. Once Cliff gets the numbers back in order again. I told Matt personally, certainly talked to his agent and said our intent. He called me in the summer, and I wouldn’t give him anything definitive. I have my thoughts, but I’m very measured when I talk about players’ contracts, particularly extensions. And we have a pretty good track record of doing it. And I told him I can’t give you any timetable. That’s not possible, so I’m not going to tell you that. He didn’t like hearing it. But that’s the way things go sometimes. When we talked this summer, these past weeks, I told him now our intent is to do that. That’s a strong word. When I say intent, then we’re motivated to do something. The timetable is yet to be determined. Just be patient. Take care of your job as you already have and continue to do and we’re going to do our part. But again, it’s a negotiation. You’ve got to find that common ground. That part of it will be a challenge. You’re not talking about a UFA (unrestricted free agent), where there’s an open market, you bid. These extensions are much tougher, because agents normally look at the UFA market to set their counts. But he’s not a UFA. And that’s the challenge. We’ve got a pretty good track record. Cliff’s the best. I trust he. [Adisa] Bakari, Matt’s agent, we’ve dealt with him. He’s a very good agent. So I feel optimistic. But again, we’ll just let that play itself out.

Q: What’s Marion Barber’s role? Can you keep all three running backs?

A: It’s plausible. But again, it’s competition. We’ve got a good football player at what I consider a good value. That’s what it’s about. The thing I like about some of the players we have, in particular Roy Williams and Vernon Gholston -- they could have had more money at other places. I like players who like to bet on themselves. When you pay a player a lot of money to get him, you’re betting on him. But these players are betting on themselves. I respect that about them. It tells you a little bit about how they feel about our situation and how they feel about themselves.

Marion the same way, [he is a ] Big Ten player, and we’ve got a good contingent of Big Ten players. We like Midwest football players. [Tight end] Matt Spaeth another one, wanted to get back this way. Again it’s about competition. Best players play. We don’t base our evaluations on resumes. Resumes are how we evaluate them to get here. But once they’re here it’s up to them and the coaches make those decisions.

Q: Are there any concerns about continuity along the offensive line?

A: Come on? We’re not putting our heads in the sand. It’s going to be. But, there’s going to be growing pains. We’re going to see things we didn’t see. There is some continuity from the experience that some of the players had, and hopefully we’ll see them take a step. But it’s hard to predict. That’s why we play the game. We’ll see.

Q: There were trade rumors on Greg Olsen last year. Was this the time to move on from him?

A: You know, he came at me hard last year. I understood it. I told him I’d think about it. Greg’s a great kid, works his tail off. I said, ‘I don’t see that being in our best interests’ [when Olsen asked for a trade]. I said, ‘Again, it’s about the team.’ And I said that’s going to hurt our football team. I said, ‘You’re going to have to suck it up, do your job. You’ve got a contract. We paid you well for your services. He’s a professional, he took the high road. I respect that. Saying that, this year was different. We’re not really looking for Kellen Winslow, we’re looking for Mike Ditka. And so, the tight ends we have now, really fit more of the profile we want for our offense. It’s no more than that. And we got some good compensation. They got a heck of a tight end. [Panthers general manager] Marty Hurney is a good friend of mine. And Marty’s is just happier than heck to get him. Greg’s in a good spot. Hey, we hope he’s a Pro Bowler, and he just has a great career. We really wish him the best.

Q: To be clear, this was more about Olsen’s style and fit in the offense, right?

A: We just didn’t feel we were going to be able to make that kind of investment. I said, ‘Greg, the intent was not to extend you.’ He didn’t like to hear that, no more than I liked to say it. But hey, it is what it is. I hate that term, but I’ve been using it a lot.

Q: Will you add more offensive linemen?

A: Hey, it’s tough. These offensive linemen are tough to find. We’ve got a good nucleus of young guys with traits we look for, but they’ve got to come together. We can’t just run up and down the starting line, get a guy with a few games under his belt, and think that’s the answer. They’ve got to come together. We like our young players. We need to develop some of them. How are you going to develop them if you don’t play them? And if you don’t play them, then how do they know you believe in them? It’s a catch 22. We brought in an experienced center, who is in the prime of his career. That’s the best we could do. Everybody has an opinion: ‘They need this, they need that.’ Well, tell me who you want. Who should we look at? Give me names. Don’t tell me about our problems. Give me solutions. I’m in the solution business, not identifying the problems. You guys do a great job of identifying our problems. How about a few solutions.

(A reporter says, “Olin Kreutz”).

Q: Before making a decision how much do you consider how the rest of the team will react?

A: Hey, I do. But they didn’t hire me to be loved. They hired me to make decisions based on what’s in the best interests of the team. That’s what it’s about, people. Come on? This isn’t a wake. We’re sad, but nobody died. We wish him the best. He had a great career. Long after I’m forgotten, he’s going to be long remembered, as well he should be.