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Bears not risking much by acquiring former top-10 picks

Receiver Roy Williams failed impress Cowboys after being acquired from Lions 2008 trade for four draft picks. | Nam Y.

Receiver Roy Williams failed to impress the Cowboys after being acquired from the Lions in a 2008 trade for four draft picks. | Nam Y. Huh~AP

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — Receiver Roy Williams doesn’t know how many clubs expressed interest in him after he was released by the Dallas Cowboys last week.

He also doesn’t care that at least one of them offered him more than the one-year, $2.5 million contract he signed with the Bears on Friday.

‘‘Don’t matter,” Williams told the Sun-Times. ‘‘My family says, ‘It’s always nice to be somewhere you’re wanted,’ and there was no greater place for me than here.’’

Only one NFL team made sense to him.

“They had a guy who trusted in me in Mike Martz and they had a guy who trusted in me in Daryl Drake,” said Williams, who played under Drake at Texas and headed to his only Pro Bowl under Martz in Detroit.

Over the last decade, the Bears have had only one top-10 draft pick — running back Cedric Benson — and that didn’t pan out. Luckily, the Bears have benefited from the sustained greatness of Brian Urlacher (ninth pick overall, 2000) and they acquired Julius Peppers (second overall, 2002) last offseason.

But over two days during an unprecedented free agency, the Bears landed three former top-10 picks with low-risk, high-reward contracts. They signed Williams (seventh overall, 2004), defensive tackle Amobi Okoye (10th overall, 2007) and defensive end Vernon Gholston (sixth overall, 2008) to one-year contracts with minimal guarantees. So, for instance, the Bears could dump Williams any day and be out only $500,000.

And those three players have made plenty in their careers.

They were guaranteed a combined $47 million on their last contracts, not including all the assorted bonuses that come as part of contracts for top-10 picks.

But for all three, this isn’t about money — it’s about opportunity.

“It was about me going somewhere that I thought was a good fit and having a chance to succeed,” Gholston said.

All three, though, disappointed their last clubs, which is why they were available. Gholston didn’t register a single sack in three seasons with the New York Jets; Okoye had 11 in four seasons with the Houston Texans; and Williams didn’t top 600 receiving yards in any of his three seasons in Dallas, after being acquired via trade with the Lions.

But Bears coach Lovie Smith doesn’t care about the past.

“We’re bringing in talented players that are looking for a change of scenery,” Smith said. “We did our research on all the players we’ve brought in. I think after you’ve been somewhere and it hasn’t worked out, guys are just looking for an opportunity. You see things a lot differently the second or third time around.

“We think that they can still be productive players in this league. I know we haven’t seen them on the field, but we’re anxious to get them out there.”

Smith said he had a clear message for all three.

“New, fresh start, we’re going to evaluate you and go from there,” he said. “No more than that.’’

Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said he likes players who “bet on themselves.”

“I respect that about them,” he said. “It tells you a little bit about how they feel about our situation and how they feel about themselves.”

Williams wanted to reunite with Martz and Drake, and he was also encouraged by the Bears’ defense and quarterback. But Gholston and Okoye both said defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, regarded as one of the best defensive-line coaches in the NFL, factored heavily into their choice.

“I’m definitely a student of the game, so I watched what he did in Tampa,” Gholston said.

Added Okoye, “I always wanted to work with coach Rod, and he wanted to work with me, too, so it was an exciting opportunity for me.”

That the Bears reached the NFC title game and won the NFC North wasn’t forgotten, either.

All three have been relegated to the sideline, unable to practice because of a new rule that wouldn’t permit them to step onto the field until Thursday. So they’ve been trying to learn the schemes in the classroom and run and play some catch between drills and after practice.

Williams said he’s experiencing
a first.

‘‘I’m excited,’’ he said, ‘‘and I’ve never been nervous in my life. I’m nervous for Thursday, and we’ll see what happens.’’

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