Free Agency at the Right Spots the Route to Success… For Now

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune writes an interesting column about how the Bears got to the top of the NFC North division:

“Becoming the first team to win a division championship this season dispels two commonly accepted myths:

“1. The McCaskeys are cheap. (Not when it comes to saving their football franchise.)

“2. Free-agency often is the wrong path to take to the playoffs. (Not if the road winds from North Carolina to Chicago.)

“As we begin debating playoff scenarios, it cannot be overstated how one signature from Julius Peppers changed everything we thought we knew about the Bears. It was as if the McCaskeys adopted overspending Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. When (Julius) Peppers signed a 6-year, $91.5 million contract last March it reflected fiscal urgency to which Bears ownership previously seemed immune.”

I’m not entirely sure why the Bears ownership has decided to spend money now.  I have my theories but those will wait for another entry someday, perhaps in the off season.  But what is clear is that their willingness to spend money this year has helped them win now.  But don’t think that general manager Jerry Angelo just  spent this money willy nilly on bad investments the way that Snyder has.  They spent it at specific spots.

The three most important positions on any football team are left offensive tackle, quarterback and pass rusher (defensive end in the 4-3).  These are represented by Frank Omiyale, Jay Cutler and Peppers on the Bears.  They have invested heavily in the last two and the first came through free agency as well.

But, even recognizing the importance of the positions, to his credit Angelo didn’t just spend it on anyone.  Defensive end Julius Peppers is a quality person and a team player who reflects well upon the franchise.  Contrast with Albert Haynesworth, signed by the Redskins, and you see that the Bears did it right.

But as worth of praise as these acquisitions are, Haugh’s characterization of the method as a success isn’t completely warranted in the long view:

“Given the emphasis on the draft and salary cap complexity, conventional wisdom says you can’t buy a winner in the NFL. The Bears just did.”

Yes, but for how long?  Angelo has been justifiably castigated because not a single one of these three players at the three most important positions came to the Bears through the draft.  In fact, the Bears have generally been a failure in the draft overall and as a result they have a very old, very veteran starting lineup.

Much though we all laud the McCaskeys for their willingness to spend money to bring a winner to Chicago in the short term, they don’t have the deep pockets that Snyder does.  For the health of the franchise, Angelo needs to find success in the only proven path to long-term competitiveness.  The Bears have to start drafting players at the positions that count the most.

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