BY BRAD BIGGS Staff Reporter
The Bears might not be looking for a quarterback, but after Rex Grossman's fourth-quarter struggles in the Super Bowl, there are some quarterbacks who are looking at them.
The Eagles' Jeff Garcia, who turns 37 this month, is expected to be the top quarterback on the free-agent market when shopping begins March 2. He told the Philadelphia Daily News this week that the Bears would be an intriguing situation.
''That's a team that is really well put together defensively and offensively,'' Garcia told the newspaper. ''That is a situation where you have to be honest with yourself and take a look at it. I'm not going to lie. That would be a situation that would make me think about certain things. Whether that happens or not, we'll have to see.''
Garcia rescued a fading career when he replaced the injured Donovan McNabb midway through the 2006 season and led the Eagles on a five-game winning streak to win the NFC East and a divisional-round playoff game. He threw for 1,309 yards and passed for 10 touchdowns with only two interceptions.
He's one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the league, which means he's capable of getting the job done when a play breaks down on third down. The Bears were 3-for-10 on third down in their Super Bowl loss to Indianapolis and ranked 22nd in that category during the regular season. Grossman was 26th in third-down passing efficiency.
The Bears have publicly backed Grossman since the fourth-quarter meltdown in Miami. But they will take an overview look at the quarterback spot, as they do all positions in postseason evaluations. The timetable for such meetings has been delayed by the Super Bowl run, and coaches are off until next Thursday. Then they have only a few days at Halas Hall before heading to Indianapolis for the scouting combine. Decisions need to be made quickly, and the organization needs to decide whether Grossman, who's entering the final year of his contract, can develop into a franchise passer.
''Rex is a hell of a player, and he did a lot of good things this season,'' offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. ''He had, obviously, a few games that weren't real good, and he's taken a lot of abuse over those games, but he's a very good football player, and he took us pretty far.
''The next step is definitely consistency, and not just with Rex, with our entire offense.''
Money would be a factor in any quarterback change. After playing on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum, Garcia will be seeking a big payday. And the free-agent market will be slim because the major jump in the salary cap over the last two seasons allows most clubs to re-sign their players. Grossman has one year left on his contract.
One player who could get some free-agent balls rolling is Denver's Jake Plummer, whom the Bears pursued in 2003. He looked like a lock to sign with the Broncos but thought enough of the Bears to make a trip to Lake Forest. When the Bears didn't land him, they signed Kordell Stewart. Plummer has been supplanted in Denver by Jay Cutler.
If Plummer is released, the Houston Texans are expected to bid for him. Texans coach Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator in Denver when Plummer signed there. That could lead Houston to put former No. 1 pick David Carr on the market.
Carr signed a three-year extension with the Texans last year, but owner Bob McNair refused to commit to Carr this week when speaking with reporters. Carr never has had the support of a strong offensive line and has been sacked more than any quarterback since entering the league in 2002. He was Bernard Berrian's quarterback at Fresno State.
One league source said it's unlikely the Texans would dump Carr, given that they passed on local hero Vince Young in last year's draft. That error was made under former general manager Charley Casserly, who chose defensive end Mario Williams instead of Reggie Bush or Young.
Matt Schaub is set to be a restricted free agent in Atlanta. The Bears liked him when he entered the 2004 draft, but they're not in need of a developmental guy.
Before the Bears figure out if there is a move worth making externally, they have to get a handle on what to do internally. Grossman is 19-8 as a starter, including the playoffs. He's been good enough to spark rampant optimism at times and bad enough to be booed at the Super Bowl.
Brian Griese had to think he was going to get a shot to play after coming to the Bears last March in a five-year, $14 million deal worth considerably more when factoring in playing-time escalators. And then there's Kyle Orton, the forgotten fourth-round pick who was 10-5 as a rookie starter in 2005. The public stance all season was that Grossman was the guy, even though Griese got half the reps in practice after Grossman struggled in a Dec. 3 game against Minnesota.
If the Bears don't open up the position for competition, there will be a predictable public backlash. But you don't see general manager Jerry Angelo abandon his draft picks often.
At least decisions will be made quickly. They have to be. It's the hand you're dealt when you reach the Super Bowl and finish runner-up.