Bears safety Danieal Manning rejected an extension offer during the season worth $6 million over three years, with $2 million guaranteed, according to NFL sources, but last week the team extended him an original-compensation tender.
Manning finds himself in an interesting situation.
Without a salary cap and CBA, Manning is technically a restricted free agent, which means that if another team signed him to an offer sheet and Chicago failed to match it, the team signing the safety would owe the Bears a second-round pick.
The problem, though, is Manning will likely be able to command more on the free-agent market -- which won't open up until there's a new collective bargaining agreement in place -- if he turns out to be an unrestricted free agent. The prevailing thought from NFL officials at the combine was that a new CBA would likely change the qualifications for unrestricted status from the current six accrued seasons to just four accrued seasons, which is why players such as Manning -- who has five accrued seasons -- aren't sure of their free-agent statuses.
Keeping with the NFL's "business as usual" approach in the days leading up to the expiration of the current CBA, the Bears, according to multiple NFL sources, have tendered several players, in addition to Manning, in the last few weeks. The list of free agents with fewer than six accrued seasons the Bears are believed to be focusing on include: quarterback Caleb Hanie, linebacker Nick Roach, and cornerback Corey Graham.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo did not return calls seeking comment, but said on Friday the club would start making roster moves this week.
"We talked about everything, talked through the issues, and then whatever decisions we will make with our present roster, we will make next week," Angelo said. "If there's anything with players or a player, we will cement that all next week."
Manning, who was a second-round selection of the Bears in 2006, is a member of the largest restricted free-agent class in league history. Having turned down the extension offer -- which was nearly identical to the deal signed by defensive tackle Matt Toeaina in December -- during the season, Manning is now in line to receive $1.29 million in 2011 if he signs the team's tender, which is highly unlikely.
The current league year expires at 11 p.m. CST on March 3, and the owners are expected to lock out the players if the sides can't come to an agreement on a new CBA by that deadline.
Interestingly, once a new CBA is in place, the tenders around the league may ultimately mean nothing, several agents at the NFL combine said. There's so much ambiguity about players' free-agent statuses because of the current labor strife, that owners are "basically covering their bases," one NFL source said.
"It's just good business on their part for them to do that."
To qualify for unrestricted free agency, a player has to accrue six NFL seasons, which wasn't the case in the past with a CBA in place. When the league operated under a CBA, players needed just four accrued seasons to become unrestricted free agents. But those rules changed in 2010, the last season of the old agreement, and the qualifications for unrestricted free agency went to six seasons.
Linebacker Brian Iwuh also finds himself in the same position. The Bears are believed to be working to sign Iwuh to a multiyear extension. A five-year veteran, Iwuh finished the 2010 season with 16 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles and tied for second on the team with 18 special-teams stops.
Michael C. Wright and Jeff Dickerson cover the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.