Most NFL coaches shy away from saying anything about a player under contract with another team. On Wednesday, Bears coach Lovie Smith didn’t.
In a conference call with Boston reporters regarding Chicago’s upcoming game against the Patriots, Smith spoke glowingly about New England guard Logan Mankins, a restricted free agent who held out into the regular season, and who will become an unrestricted free agent whenever the 2011 league year begins.
“Logan’s one of the best lineman in the game,” Smith said, per Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald. “They continued to win without him, but adding another special player, a special lineman to the mix, has to help your team quite a bit. Just look at the video on him. He’s as tough as there is. He comes to work every day. He and I have the same agent, so I know a little bit about him. Everything is all good, so you want a guy like that on your team.”
If Smith had stopped there, he may have stayed away from the line that separates innocuous commentary from tampering. But he didn’t stop there.
Asked jokingly whether Smith could have called their mutual agent, Frank Bauer, and told him to make sure Mankins didn’t show up and play for the Patriots in 2010, Smith first laughed. Then, he answered the question.
“Well, I tell you the other 31 teams would gladly have taken him if he hadn’t chosen to go back,” Smith said, “but knowing the type of guy he is — I’m talking about being loyal to the organization — there’s only one place he was going.”
In other words, the Bears are one of the 31 other teams that gladly would have taken him. In other words, come 2011, when Mankins hits the open market, the Bears gladly would take him.
Given that Smith has a pipeline to Mankins’ agent given that Mankins’ agent is Smith’s agent, it would be easy to get the word to Mankins that the Bears want to sign him without saying anything publicly that could be construed as tampering. And that makes Smith’s decision to speak publicly about his feelings for Mankins, and Smith’s obvious interest in him, even more surprising.