Monday, Feb. 21, 2011Posted: 11:15 PM
By John Mullin
The presence of a mediator in the middle between the NFL and the players association is ostensibly a cause for some optimism. Anytime neither side is walking away from a negotiation and both are showing up to talk, it is something worth noting. The 20 hours of talks over the weekend are scheduled to be followed by another seven hours Tuesday after more conversations on Monday.
If the situation isnt necessarily moving up, at least the rate of descent arguably has slowed a little. The lack of public comments from either side might be a sign that at last theyve all finally agreed on something. Were still not seeing white smoke from the conclave but were not hearing shots of invective. Ill take that as a win for now.
But players contacted by CSNChicago.com still believe that the owners want to follow through with the lockout as of Mar. 4, so any real optimism is premature at this point, mediator or no.
The players are clear that they would be happy staying with the current deal. The owners were clear that they werent when they exercised their opt-out in 2008. The players indicate that they will look at a different owner idea but would also like a look, whether through independent verifier or whatever device, at the books that owners maintain are in need of concessions. Not something the owners side has shown any willingness to grant.
The owners arent building cred when they proceed with contract extensions to head coaches (like the one coming for Lovie Smith) while furloughing employees (not the Bears, but other teams) and flirting with a collusion charge by doing little beyond exercising a few franchise tags to take care of players futures.
Nothing is ever done until its done but whispers are growing a little louder that Lovie Smiths new contract may well be in place within the next two weeks, CSNChicago.com was told Monday.
The extension, forecast here for some time dating back into last season, is expected to add two years and give Smith a modest pay bump from the approximately 4.8 million he made in 2010 and stay in the range of his estimated 5.5 million for 2011.
It will leave him short of the 6 million-plus that Bill Belichick in New England, Mike Shanahan in Washington and Pete Carroll in Seattle collect. But they have him securely in the top 10 range along with New Orleans Sean Payton and Arizonas Ken Whisenhunt and ahead of first-timer Jim Harbaughs 5 million per season.
The market has been settling with the three-year extension worth 12 million given to John Harbaugh by the Baltimore Ravens and the 15 million for three additional years accorded Mike McCarthy by the Green Bay Packers in the wake of their Super Bowl victory.
Smith has guided his teams into two of the last five NFC Championship games and the playoffs in three of the last six seasons, with three different starting quarterbacks. Not someone this organization can afford to lose.
And it is looking progressively more likely that they wont, at least not after 2011.
The fallout from Jay Cutlers knee injury probably goes on until he and the Bears play through to a Super Bowl. But Im not sure some of the Bears will ever get fully past the backstabbing that they saw Cutler take from so-called members of the fraternity, the Twitter-trashing and second-guessing that fellow and former players heaped on Cutler afterwards, particularly ones knowing nothing about his actual condition.
Sitting with Israel Idonije at the March of Dimes Comcast SportsNet awards event recently, that abuse was still a very, very sore point with at least one Cutler teammate and clearly with others. And Cutlers coach hasnt lost any of the edginess either when Cutlers toughness, leadership and whatever else are questioned.
ProFootballTalk.coms Michael David Smith covers Lovie Smiths answers to fans questions on the team website and Smith hasnt moved a millimeter from his Jay is our quarterback position.
Dont take that lightly. One of the things that players like and respect about Smith is that he has his players backs in public. Idonije mentioned that about him, and Izzy also laughed and said Cutler is different, just like wide receivers and kickers, but in the locker room he is one of the guys.
Whatever Cutlers public persona is, the one that matters most is with Smith and teammates and if theres any second-guessing there, Im not finding it.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.