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Bears either ante up or risk losing Mike Martz  

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz right coach Lovie Smith second half an NFL

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) talks with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, right, and coach Lovie Smith in the second half of an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: July 31, 2011 12:16AM



The NFL’s economic downturn might be of its own making, but that hasn’t stopped the Bears from offering recession-fueled deals to key members of the coaching staff. Talk about a hare-brained strategy fraught with calamity. Do the Bears ever really think these things out?

A source told the Sun-Times that offensive coordinator Mike Martz, like special-teams coordinator Dave Toub before him, recently turned down a one-year extension offer because it didn’t include a raise. With the draft coming up Thursday and the Bears selecting in the first round, the team ought to be reminded it leveraged its future to get quarterback Jay Cutler. Anything that makes Cutler work is a good thing, be it adding a fresh new offensive lineman or two or locking up the play-caller who helped Cutler achieve his first winning season and first playoff victory.

What happens if Martz, who turns 60 in May, decides he doesn’t need the $1 million he is scheduled to make in 2011. What if he says getting paid like Todd Collins isn’t worth the effort. What if he walks away?

What if he plays out 2011 and then leaves via free agency as Toub could do, too? Why mess with success?

The only staff member who received a significant raise in the offseason was offensive line coach Mike Tice, who only got his deal after being denied permission to interview for an offensive coordinator position.

Even head coach Lovie Smith remains status quo, receiving minimal added compensation on a two-year extension announced a couple months ago. Smith, of course, signed a four-year contract extension the last time he was headed to the final year of his deal after the team’s appearance in Super Bowl XLI.

Smith was the lowest-paid coach in the league at that point and still remains highly compensated, making more than $5 million a year. Notwithstanding, nobody has ­explained why Smith’s third deal was for half as many years as the last one, or why the coach had his son, Matthew, a second-year law student at Loyola, write the contract. It’s an odd situation.

Martz’s unhappiness with his contract offer is thought-provoking. For the first time in his career, the statistics of his offense did not improve during his first year in control of a team. In fact, the Bears went the wrong way, dropping from 23rd under Ron Turner to 30th in the 32-team NFL under Martz.

But in fairness, Martz didn’t have the weapons needed to run his scheme, starting with major problems on the offensive line that were arguably never resolved. The offensive line certainly lacked continuity until the bye week. Not coincidentally Tice and Martz had a heart-to-heart at that stage and came to an understanding that they couldn’t block up the wide-open, pass-happy system that is the coordinator’s calling card. So the maverick coordinator reeled in his flamboyant tendencies and ran the most balanced offense in the league in terms of run and pass plays, keying a five-game winning streak as part of a 7-2 close to the season.

Apparently subjugation of ego is appreciated during the season, but not rewarded after it. It sends a curious signal to Martz, the mad scientist who was an NFL castoff when the Bears brought him in. His impulse is to spread out at a continually increasing rate the more he’s blitzed. The strategy contributed to a league-high 56 sacks allowed that included 52 on Cutler, who was dropped a league record nine times in the first half against the New York Giants before being knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Cutler also suffered a knee injury in the NFC championship game, making improvement in the offensive line the team’s top offseason priority. The job that Tice did with the group he had is one of the reasons he is a hot coaching property who deserved the raise he received. What about Martz? The Bears reportedly paid him in the $1 million a year range when they gave him a two-year contract last year. They were not bidding for his services and the chance to get back in the league and prove he’s not a rogue coordinator probably meant more to him than the compensation.

Now, he’s proven himself ­malleable and adaptable as well as intermittently brilliant despite ­mediocre talent. Now the Bears need him more than he needs them.

Martz has a contract that pays him what a first-time play-caller would make. Here’s hoping the Bears follow Martz’s lead and ­reconcile an outdated strategy before it’s too late.



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