On the NFL
5:04 PM EST, December 29, 2012
The game against the Lions on Sunday could have been the last one for a Bear who has been around forever and has his name listed prominently in the team record books.
But the Bears decided they wanted him back.
Whether or not the Bears will take the same approach with middle linebacker Brian Urlacher that they took with Patrick Mannelly remains to be seen.
On Monday, the team announced a one-year extension for the long snapper worth $940,000, with a $100,000 signing bonus. If Mannelly goes on injured reserve, he will receive a $500,000 split.
When Mannelly approached the Bears, it made perfect sense for them because NFL teams had until Friday to count a portion of the new deal against the 2012 salary cap.
It also made sense because Mannelly, at 37, remains one of the league's better long snappers. He estimates he has been off on three punts and on one field goal this year, which is about typical in a season in which he will have approximately 150 snaps.
It wasn't a given that Mannelly would be back next year. Besides his advanced football age, he was coming off an anterior cruciate tear that ended his 2011 season. Even Mannelly acknowledges he had started preparing himself for what might come next.
And that might be at Halas Hall, too.
Mannelly, who has played in a record 230 games as a Bear (39 more than the next closest player) and in a record 15 seasons as a Bear, is valued for more than what he can do with a football between his legs.
In the offseason the team asked Mannelly to help them interview candidates for the head trainer job.
"It gave me a complete look at football, from being downstairs in the locker room to being allowed to go upstairs and see a completely different component of the team," he said.
One day, Mannelly might be interviewing draft prospects for the Bears. He is interested in a career in personnel and has been thinking about it for quite awhile.
For his first three seasons in the league, Mannelly sat in on offensive line meetings. But since then, he has not been with a position group. That has given him opportunity to watch tape as a scout might.
"I have had time to observe our own players," Mannelly said. "What made Olin Kreutz great? Why was Blake Brockermeyer's punch great? Watching defensive players. It was a way I could use my time productively."
Kreutz and Mannelly both were chosen in the 1998 draft. In the team's first year without Kreutz in 2011, Mannelly noticed a leadership void. He has attempted to fill that this season.
"Olin was good at bringing out each person in the locker room and helping them understand what they needed to do to better help us win," Mannelly said. "His leadership was underground."
So when the Bears promoted Joe Anderson from the practice squad, it was Mannelly who met at his locker. His message: "As long as you know your assignments, we can live with mistakes. Know your assignments."
The Bears like having Mannelly around. And he might be around for some time.
Numbers games: Big-play Peanut
When Rod Marinelli came to the Bears four years ago, he put up a "Big Play Board" in the defensive meeting room.
The Bears define big plays on defense as an interception, forced fumble, fumble recovery or touchdown and have a points system to chart it.
The first year the board was up, Charles Tillman led the team with 11 points. The second year, Tillman led with 10. Last year, he had a team-high 13. This season, Tillman has a record 21, with a chance to add to it Sunday.
Tillman has led the team in big plays every year for nine seasons, according to coach Lovie Smith.
"He's off the charts," Marinelli said. "I've said that now for three years really. There's nobody in the history of the league who can pull the ball out like he does. Nobody."
Front office chess: So long, Dane
For 16 weeks, Dane Sanzenbacher managed to be in a position other than the 53rd man on the Bears' roster. On the 17th week, he was 53rd.
As a result, the Bears had to waive him Tuesday to make room for safety Troy Nolan. The Bengals then claimed him.
The Bears had five healthy wide receivers ahead of Sanzenbacher on the offensive depth chart. And they were carrying a sixth, Joe Anderson, who was ahead of Sanzenbacher as a special teams player.
Sanzenbacher was active in five games and played 65 snaps, but he caught only one pass. There were times when the Bears really needed a wide receiver to step up. Sanzenbacher, whether it was his fault or not, never did.
Sanzenbacher fit Mike Martz's offense a lot better than he fit Mike Tice's. To thrive, Sanzenbacher needs a short, quick passing game. He needs an accurate passer who makes quick decisions.
He didn't have what he needed in Chicago, and the Bears didn't lose much in waiving him.
Sanzenbacher never is going to be Wes Welker as he is not nearly as quick or explosive.
But he can be more than he was as a Bear — if he finds the right offense.