Veteran signs deal; Hutchinson likely starter

Having already gone through three starting quarterbacks this season, Bears coach Lovie Smith said after his team's Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas that he still had "some options," and that likely means Chicago will turn to third-year veteran Chad Hutchinson in Week 12.

It apparently also meant, however, that the Bears would sign a more experienced quarterback who might add some playmaking skills to a woeful passing game that statistically ranks dead last in the league.

On Saturday evening, Chicago did just that.

Free agent Jeff George signed a one-year contract to return to the NFL, ESPN.com has learned. Financial details were not immediately available, but it is anticipated that the contract is for the league minimum of $760,000, prorated over the final five games of this season. The deal came after George huddled much of Saturday with Bears coaches and team officials.

"I just wanted somebody to step up and say hey Jeff George you can help us out," the quarterback told ESPN Radio. "To get an opportunity with a team that is young ... I think it can be a great fit. For me it's like a homecoming playing in Illinois."

The Bears are expected to announce the signing Monday.

A 12-year veteran, George is expected to begin his Bears tenure third on the depth chart. Given the team's tenuous situation at the position, though, he could well play before the end of the season. The team also will view his time in Chicago as an audition toward potentially signing him for 2005.

George, 36, has not played since early in the 2001 season, when he started the first two games for the Washington Redskins before being benched and subsequently released by coach Marty Schottenheimer. George has been attempting, though, to revive his career, and there has been considerable and ongoing dialogue between him and Bears officials through much of this season.

"The NFL is just a funny business," George said. "... I'm still answering questions about things I did back in '90 and '91. I'm a competitor. ... certain things happened and I made a mistake early in my career."

Several weeks ago, George voluntarily drove to Chicago to meet with Bears quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson. The two played together with the Oakland Raiders in '98 and have kept in touch.

In an interview earlier this month with ESPN.com, which became the subject of a lengthy "Tip Sheet" item, George reiterated his strong desire to play again. He noted then that he would play any role with a team and that he preferred that his career end on his terms. George has been working out regularly in Indianapolis in the hopes that some team would afford him an opportunity to play.

Ironically, the chance to resurrect his career comes at a time when George was beginning to consider alternative options in football. Last week, he told ESPN.com that he might have the opportunity to interview for a coaching job in the college ranks. That was before the Bears phoned him on Friday evening and requested that he make the Saturday visit.

The first overall pick in the 1990 draft, George has played previously for Indianapolis (1990-93), Atlanta (1994-96), Oakland (1997-98), Minnesota (1999) and Washington (2000-2001). In 131 appearances (124 starts), he was 2,298 of 3,967 for 27,602 yards, with 154 touchdown passes, 113 interceptions, and a passer rating of 80.4.

He threw for more than 2,500 yards on six occasions and his best season statistically was in 1995, when he threw for 4,143 yards playing in Atlanta's "run and shoot" design. He also led the Vikings to the playoffs in '99 after replacing Randall Cunningham as the starter.

The Bears, 4-7 following their loss at Dallas, have struggled at quarterback since starter Rex Grossman suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game. Backup Jonathan Quinn proved ineffective and, even though rookie Craig Krenzel posted a three-game winning streak at one point, his play was sporadic at best.

Since the injury to Grossman, the Bears have had only one 200-yard passing performance. Five times in the last seven games, Chicago's starter threw for less than 150 yards, and three times the starter was under 70 yards.

Krenzel, who has started the past five games, and had 13 turnovers, on Thursday suffered a high ankle sprain. The injury isn't as serious as originally believed, but team officials apparently feel it might be time, no matter Krenzel's status, to add a more experienced quarterback to the mix.

The guess is that the Bears will turn to Hutchinson, who has yet to see action this year, for their Dec. 5 home game against the Minnesota Vikings.

Hutchinson, 27, was signed early this season after the Cowboys released him. He started nine game for Dallas in 2002, but has been slow to absorb the Chicago offense.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click hereInsider.