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Capel, Bears part ways

John Capel's brief tenure with the Chicago Bears ended Friday, casting his dreams of an NFL career into a new level of uncertainty.

The Bears, who selected the former Hernando star and Olympic sprinter in the seventh round of April's NFL draft, relinquished his rights Friday after three months marked by off-field problems.

Capel has changed agents in the past month and declined to comment through his current agent, Robert Alterman, who said he was "completely surprised" by the Bears' decision.

"John has talent that needs to be developed," said Alterman, who is based in Pembroke Pines and represents five NFL players according to the players union. "Sometimes the transition to the NFL is a hard one, but a lot of teams will be looking at him."

Capel's attorney, Michael Hornung, who works with Alterman, was more optimistic, saying the Bears' decision allows the Brooksville resident a chance to play closer to home.

"This is good news," Hornung said. "John wants to stay in the state of Florida and has shown a great desire to play for either the Buccaneers, Jaguars or Dolphins. We're in the process of scheduling meetings with those teams."

Hornung said there was "on-going tension" and a "personality conflict" between the 22-year-old and Bears officials. The organization was unwilling to offer the rookie the contract he deserved, Hornung said.

"John wasn't really happy with the Bears from the very beginning," Hornung said. "If anything, this is the news we were hoping for.

"For weeks, the team had been stalling about the contract, making excuses," he said. "If they say he was late for practice, well, what's your definition of late? That might be being in the locker room on time and getting to the field five minutes later."

Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo did not return calls seeking comment Friday. But according to Steve Weinberg _ a Dallas-based agent who, until recent weeks, had Capel among more than 50 NFL players he represents _ the rookie's deteriorating relationship with the Bears was a result of repeated problems the team had tried to address.

"They've been telling me for weeks that they were going to do this," Weinberg said. "He has a lot of personal problems that forced this to happen. I don't think he realizes what the NFL is all about."

Weinberg said the Bears had complained that Capel had problems attending practice and getting to team meetings on time. The deciding blow, Weinberg said, might have been Capel's failure to attend a mandatory three-day NFL rookie symposium in Virginia last month.

"That probably was the last straw for them," Weinberg said. "When is the last time a seventh-round draft pick was a no-show there? You just can't do that."

According to Dan Masonson of the NFL's public relations department, only "a couple" of the 246 rookies drafted missed the symposium. Last year, only Giants tailback Ron Dayne missed the symposium. He received a $10,000 fine.

Capel's agent suggested his client was unaware that attendance was mandatory.

"Apparently he got some misinformation, and he also didn't have a whole lot of money to get there," Alterman said. "Kids make mistakes."

Capel had enough money in late May that when he was pulled over in Gainesville for a traffic stop that led to a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana, he told police he had just bought the Lexus he was driving.

Capel agreed to deferred prosecution last month, meaning the charge will be dropped from his record if he makes a $100 donation and does not commit any crimes for six months.

The arrest was his second drug-related problem this year, following a positive drug test at the NFL combine workouts in February. The arrest took place when Chicago was without a general manager, but Weinberg said Capel had a chance with the Bears after Angelo was hired last month.

"Jerry had a sit-down with him, a group discussion with coaches there with him, to tell him what he needed to do to succeed at the NFL level," Weinberg said. "He has to learn to take advice from people. Until John grows up, it might be years before he can handle the NFL, and that's a shame."

Weinberg said Capel's problems prompted the Bears to withdraw any offer of a signing bonus from his initial contract. Salaries for low-round draft picks are slotted based on their position, and seventh-round selections typically receive a bonus of between $30,000 and $40,000 _ the only guaranteed part of a three-year deal worth about $900,000.

"A seventh-rounder can make it in the NFL, but you've got to have a guy you can depend on," Weinberg said. "He couldn't even make it to off-season training camp. The saddest part is that this might end his NFL career, most likely. I doubt that any other teams will want to deal with this."

It's rare for a club to part ways with a draft pick without signing a contract. In 1996, the New England Patriots relinquished the rights to defensive tackle Christian Peter after the team learned of a previous criminal record.

Capel's representatives are confident the receiver will have a chance to begin his career anew with another organization, stressing that with any player with limited college football experience, such as Capel, patience is important.

"He may have to be polished, but he has a lot of talent," Hornung said.

Capel thought enough of his NFL potential to put on hold a promising track career that saw him win the U.S. Olympic Trials and post the fastest qualifying times for the 200-meter final in last year's Games in Sydney.

His personal track coach, University of Florida assistant Mike Holloway, said Friday that he has not seen nor heard from Capel since the day he was drafted. Holloway sees a bright future in track for him, but said Capel has bigger hurdles to clear right now.

"I hope he lands on his feet, because he's a very talented young man," Holloway said. "I still think he can be a world record-holder, but he's got to get his life together. He's got to decide what he wants to do."