Patrick Mannelly has been the long snapper for all but 11 Bears games since 1998, and he's hoping to make this his 17th NFL season if his surgical hip and his soon-to-be 39-year-old body cooperate.
The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Mannelly is three months out from hip surgery and getting set to head west to San Diego to continue his rehab, which is expected to take 4 to 6 months. Currently an unrestricted free agent, the longest tenured player in Bears franchise history is waiting to see how his body responds to rehab before he decides to play another year.
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While he sounds encouraged, he's also realistic about his chances.
"As athletes, you think you can always play forever. Athletes, you never want to quit," Mannelly said. "My heart and my head's there, but you have to be smart and listen to your body. Luckily I've played a long time."
After 16 seasons, Mannelly could coast comfortably into retirement and spend more time with his family on the golf course and traveling, but that's not the way he wants to go out after playing in a club-record 245 games.
"I would feel bad if I didn't give it everything I had," Mannelly said. "I truly want to find out. I want to put myself in a position where I get sore again and feel hurt every day and see how much I really enjoy it and see how I bounce back the next morning."
Mannelly received the Bears' version of the Ed Block Courage Award at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines on Tuesday. The award, which is voted on by teammates, is given each year to one player on each NFL team for acting as a role model and exhibiting sportsmanship and courage.
Although the Bears signed Canadian Football League long-snapper Chad Rempel a day earlier, the assumption is the job belongs to Mannelly if he's capable of performing his duties.
"Phil (Emery) and I have a good relationship," Mannelly said of the team's general manager. "We've been talking and we'll see as the future goes along where I stand."
There is no timetable, and a decision isn't likely until next month at the earliest, but Mannelly has a good idea of where he needs to be physically and when.
"We really haven't set anything in stone," he said. "I have some dates in my mind that I've set where I want to reach certain plateaus and goals to get ready for the season so we'll see."
Mannelly doesn't foresee a scenario in which he returns to good health but not to the Bears.
"It would be tough to put on another helmet for another team," he said.
If his body isn't willing by the time the Bears' mandatory minicamp rolls around in early June, however, it could be time for Mannelly to head in a different direction.
If that happens, he said: "I'll step back and get away and figure out what I'm going to do with the rest of my life."
• The Bears agreed to terms with tight end Matthew Mulligan on a one-year contract. Mulligan has appeared in 65 games with 24 starts over five seasons with the New York Jets (2009-11), St. Louis Rams (2012) and New England Patriots (2013), grabbing 16 receptions for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The Bears also claimed wide receiver Josh Bellamy after he was waived by Washington. Bellamy has appeared in eight games over two seasons with Kansas City (2012) and Washington (2013).
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