Aug. 3, 1999
PLATTEVILLE, Wis. (AP) - Cade McNown put on a red practice jersey and took his first snaps as a Chicago Bear today.
The Bears' first-round draft pick arrived in training camp late Monday after ending a 10-day holdout and signing a contract that could be worth up to $22 million over five years, including a $6.1 million signing bonus. He spent his first practice working with a group of receivers to begin learning the offense.
"Whether we started camp a month ago or we started it today, I need all the preparation I can possibly get," he said after signing his new contract. "It doesn't matter whether it's one week or two weeks away so the more the better. With that, I just want to tell you how excited I am to finally get up to camp and get started."
With a new offense to learn and the first preseason game Saturday, McNown has a lot to make up. While he won't start and might not even play in the first exhibition, the real season begins Sept. 12 against Kansas City.
And the Bears have made it clear they want the former UCLA standout as their starting quarterback - the sooner, the better.
"I don't know. That's a decision for the coaches to make, but my job is to be as ready as possible to allow them to make a good decision," McNown said when asked if he'd be ready to start the season opener.
"There are no expectations," he added. "From all indications, they just want me to be able to step in and play, whatever that means."
Chicago's confidence in McNown - veteran Erik Kramer was cut two days before training camp began - might have cost the team some leverage in contract negotiations. But there never was a doubt the deal would get done, agent Tom Condon said.
The final deal could be worth up to $22 million over five years, Condon said. On paper, it's a seven-year contract for $15 million including the $6.1 signing bonus. But the last two years of the deal can be voided, and McNown can earn an additional $7 million in incentives.
For the last two years to void, McNown just needs to take 35 percent of the snaps as a rookie or 45 percent of the snaps in his second or third year.
"I think in the first three years it's realistic to believe that he's going to play 35 percent or 45 percent," Condon said. "If he doesn't, then there are a lot bigger problems than whether or not we've got extra years."
Unlike many other deals with voidable years, there is no "buyback," which allows the team to buy back the remaining years of the contract. Instead, Condon said McNown's contract contains "escalator clauses" that could increase his salary in the later years of the deal if he meets certain performance-based incentives.
"I told my agent, Tom Condon, when he was satisfied, I'd be satisfied and so we've reached an agreement," McNown said. "I'm very happy."
The Bears released quarterback Doug Nussmeier, who had been brought in for help during McNown's holdout. But three other quarterbacks remain on the roster - Shane Matthews, Jim Miller, Moses Moreno. They have had 17 more practices than McNown to learn the team's new offense and develop a rhythm with their teammates.
McNown knows he's got a lot of work to do, which is why he left for camp right after he signed his contract.
"I'm fired up to get to Platteville and get started on trying to make an impact this year," he said. "Once I get up there, I'm just going to have to jump in wherever they are and just spend some time in the film room and with the coaches just kind of getting to where I need to be."