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Lowballing Bears’ Dave Toub is a risky decision

Updated: May 26, 2011 12:27AM

There has been just one consistent unit in the Bears’ universe during the Jerry Angelo era and throughout Lovie Smith’s reign as coach. The defense has battled its ups and downs. The offense has mostly sputtered. But special teams has been as constant as Polaris, the North Star.

Suddenly, however, a combination of factors have the Bears on the verge of veering dangerously off course. From a new kickoff rule expected to rob the team of a distinct advantage, to the possible free-agent departure of nearly every core special-teams player, to word that coordinator Dave Toub turned down a contract extension, there simply is no good news coming from the brightest star in the Bears’ constellation.

Toub has done nothing but succeed with the Bears. He’s widely regarded as one of the best special-teams coordinators in the NFL, as evidenced by yearly production, including an average rating of No. 4 overall in the last five years, according to a rating scale created by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News.

Yet in a league that saw a shattering of the pay scale in the offseason with the 49ers’ hiring of Brad Seely as the first million-dollar special-teams coordinator, why wasn’t Toub ­offered more than what was called “a minimal raise’’ by one league source?

Other teams see the value

Seely was given a title of ­“assistant head coach.’’ The Ravens’ Jerry Rosburg holds the same designation. Are the Harbaugh brothers the only head coaches to see the value of special teams? Hardly. The Eagles’ ­Bobby April, the Jets’ Mike Westhoff, the Cowboys’ Joe DeCamillis and Rosburg all make in the neighborhood of $800,000 a year.

Why would the Bears be content to lowball Toub instead of putting him among the top 10 paid coaches at his position? They can put on the poor-mouth and plead poverty all they want, but fiscal restraint is only going to cost them in the long run. Toub and the Falcons’ Keith Armstrong, a former Bears special-teams coordinator, are believed to be the only regarded special-teams coaches on the open market next year.

In a league in which plenty of teams opted not to fire head coaches after last season to ­ensure some continuity in lieu of the lockout, there should be ­plenty of job openings next ­offseason. Toub surely will get paid on the open market.

A rebuilding job

Toub deserves a raise for having to deal with the job in front of him. The Bears are looking at a total rebuilding project on special teams. Kick returner Danieal ­Manning, punter Brad Maynard and just about everybody who made a special-teams tackle in 2010 has a foot out the door. Once the labor dispute is resolved, the collection of unrestricted free agents will include coverage ace Corey Graham (25 tackles), Brian Iwuh (18), Garrett Wolfe (18), Rashied Davis (16), Rod Wilson (11) and Josh Bullocks (10). In other words, the team’s top six special-teams tacklers.

To put it another way, the punt unit that started the majority of games last year has two ­players remaining from the 11 who lined up — long snapper ­Patrick ­Mannelly and safety Major Wright. Moreover, some of the younger players who ­contributed on a couple different areas of ­special teams, guys such as Wright and Henry Melton, who made six tackles each, project into the starting lineup, which will severely limit their ­availability.

The rebuilding process will be complicated by the NFL’s decision to introduce a new rule that moves the ball from the 30- to the 35-yard line on kickoffs. Nobody is quite sure just how many touchbacks the new rule will create. But it is bound to be a negative for a team such as the Bears that can employ explosive return men such as Manning, if he is back, and Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, provided they are not overloaded at receiver.

What would the Bears have looked like over the last decade without the decided advantage of excellent field position? Here’s hoping we never find out.

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