The Chicago Bears, owners of arguably the best defense in the entire league, re-signed starting strongside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer to an extension worth up to $13 million on June 29. The deal included a signing bonus of $5 million. The 25-year-old, who was originally selected by Green Bay in the fifth round of the ’03 draft, was deemed expendable by former GM Mike Sherman. “Of all his screwups, this might’ve been the worst,” said a regional scout for another team. “Mistakes are made in free agency and the draft all the time, but to let a talented rookie get away is inexcusable. It was obvious to everyone that he was going to be a good player. Well, almost everyone.”
Hillenmeyer was waived on September 10, 2003, after injuries at receiver forced the Packers to sign street free agents Antonio Freeman and Chris Jackson. The Bears acquired the ex-Vanderbilt star two days later. “Forget the fact that Freeman was washed up and Jackson couldn’t play – even worse was that Sherman decided to keep Marcus Wilkins over Hillenmeyer,” said the scout. For the record, Wilkins has 51 tackles in 43 career games. Hillenmeyer had 68 tackles in 13 starts a year ago.