Bears sign Carolina CB to offer sheet

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) – The Chicago Bears signed restricted free-agent defensive back Ricky Manning Jr. to an offer sheet Friday, with his agent saying the deal is worth up to $21 million over five years.

The deal includes about $7.5 million in guaranteed money in the first year of the contract, agent Jim Ivler said.

Manning spent his first three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, who eliminated the Bears from the playoffs last season. The Panthers have until April 28 to match the offer or receive a third-round draft pick from the Bears.

“Ricky is obviously thrilled and he would be happy to be a Bear or a Panther,” Ivler said.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney wouldn’t indicate whether the team plans to match it.

“We’ll take some time and look and evaluate it,” Hurney said. “We have a week to make a decision.”

Carolina previously signed free agent Reggie Howard as a potential replacement for Manning at nickel back.

Manning has played the last three seasons with the Panthers, but lost his starting job prior to the 2005 season to free-agent pickup Ken Lucas. Manning has nine career interceptions in the regular season and four more in the 2003 playoffs.

“He’s a physical player and has some ball skills,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

Manning would give the Bears depth in the secondary where they lost Jerry Azumah, who retired.

“That’s definitely one of the things we would like to get taken care of, any time any time you lose a player like Jerry,” Smith said.

Behind starting cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nate Vasher, the Bears have unproven Chris Thompson, Alfonso Marshall and Daven Holly.

The Bears had been considering taking a cornerback in the first round of the draft with the 26th pick.

“It obviously would change our direction if we did, in fact, do that,” general manager Jerry Angelo said about successfully getting Manning onto the roster.

Angelo also said the team will continue contract talks next week with the agent for Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs. The Bears want to lock Briggs up to a long-term deal and prevent him from becoming an unrestricted free agent in March of 2007.

AP-ES-04-21-06 2028EDT

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