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Expect Bears GM search to pick up steam in coming week

Seattle Seahawks' Jim Zorn left Will Lewis center HoustTexans' Dom Capers right watch former Michigan quarterback Drew Hensthrow during workout

Seattle Seahawks' Jim Zorn, left, and Will Lewis, center, and Houston Texans' Dom Capers, right, watch former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson throw during a workout for representatives from NFL teams Thursday, Feb. 12, 2004 at the Houston Texans training facility in Houston. Henson, who spent the past two years playing baseball in the New York Yankees' organization, worked out in front of representatives from 20 NFL teams. The Houston Texans, who drafted Henson in the sixth round last year, showcased him for a possible sign-and-trade deal ahead of the draft. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

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Updated: February 16, 2012 8:18AM

Two days after the Bears’ 2011 season ended, team president Ted Phillips
announced why he relieved
general manager Jerry Angelo of his duties and outlined the process of finding a new GM.

At one point, Phillips was asked whether he would ‘‘break the bank’’ for a candidate. Initially flustered, Phillips responded: ‘‘We’re going to find the right guy, and we’ll do what it takes.’’

Phil Emery of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jason Licht of the New England Patriots, Jimmy Raye of the San Diego Chargers and Marc Ross of the New York Giants are scheduled to be interviewed for the vacancy. Interim GM Tim Ruskell, the Bears’ director of player personnel in 2011, also will be interviewed, and other candidates haven’t been ruled out.

One whom the Bears should consider is Will Lewis, the vice president of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks. But before we address his history, it’s important to consider a few factors that might weigh into Phillips’ decision.

None of the aforementioned candidates would command a ‘‘break the bank’’ type of contract, but the Bears are already on the hook for a significant amount of money. Angelo is guaranteed the amount left on his contract through 2013. That figure, some think, might be $5 million.

Ruskell still in running

In 2010, Angelo hired Ruskell to be — in his ideal scenario — his handpicked replacement. It’s not known what Ruskell’s contract status is, but it seems logical to think he signed a deal that coincided with Angelo’s, which means he might have two years left on his contract.

That Ruskell is a candidate can’t be overlooked. If the Bears didn’t like him, Ruskell would have been sacked at the same time Angelo was. But indications are that Ruskell has earned respect at Halas Hall, specifically for streamlining the grading system for players and fostering more communication between coaches and scouts.

If the Bears want to remove the ‘‘interim’’ from Ruskell’s title, they would have to overcome an overwhelming public perception that they hired Jerry 2.0. But Ruskell is the only candidate who already has been a GM, and the Bears might encourage the new GM to retain him.

Of the four candidates coming in, Emery is the only one with an obvious link to Ruskell. In fact, Ruskell hired Emery — then an area scout for the Bears — in 2004 to be the college-scouting director of the Atlanta Falcons.

In all likelihood, Emery would have no qualms about retaining the man who gave him his first significant career break.

But that’s where Lewis comes in. He also has worked with Ruskell (with the Seahawks), and his roots were planted under former Green Bay Packers GM Ron Wolf.

A cornerback at Millersville (Pa.) University, Lewis played in the NFL, U.S. Football League and Canadian Football League before becoming a coach. After a couple of college coaching stints, Lewis became a defensive assistant for the Falcons under then-coach June Jones in 1995 and 1996. Wolf then hired him as a scout in 1997.

In the last 14 years, Lewis has worked alongside people such as Wolf, new Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, Packers GM Ted Thompson, Seahawks GM John Schneider and Ruskell.

Making a case for Lewis

Lewis is on the short list of GM candidates the Fritz Pollard Alliance — an organization that helps to diversify the NFL — is recommending to teams with vacancies, and he interviewed in 2010 to become the GM of the Cleveland Browns.

And while the Packers are the ‘‘it’’ team, the Seahawks quickly have overhauled their roster since Schneider took over. In 2010, they traded a fourth-round pick and a conditional selection to the Buffalo Bills for former first-round pick Marshawn Lynch. The transaction proved wise, as Lynch set career highs with 1,204 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

The Seahawks also have capitalized on high draft picks with choices such as safety Earl Thomas and have unearthed gems such as safety Kam Chancellor (fifth round, 2010), cornerback Richard Sherman (fifth round, 2011) and receiver Doug Baldwin (undrafted, 2011), who caught 51 passes for 788 yards and four touchdowns this season.

The Bears’ interview process will move deep into next week, and they likely will be the last team with an opening. The St. Louis Rams also need a GM, but they are working on a contract to hire Jeff Fisher as their coach and already have started interviewing GM candidates, including Lake Dawson of the Tennessee Titans, Les Snead of the Falcons and Steve Keim of the Arizona Cardinals.

There are still plenty of strong candidates, and it’ll be interesting to see in which direction the Bears go.

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