The Top of the Discard Pile

Michael C. Wright at summarizes what he thinks was the Bears major problem in 2014:

“I think what sticks out the most is how badly Bears general manager Phil Emery miscalculated in terms of the contributions this team would be able to get from some of the additions he made. Emery paid big money to sign [Jared] Allen and Lamarr Houston in free agency and they’ve combined for 6.5 sacks. Houston had never produced more than six sacks in a season, yet Emery billed him as the crown jewel of the team’s free-agent class. Then the Bears went out and signed a bunch of no-name safeties. M.D. Jennings was the most experienced safety of all the signees and he didn’t even make the team. Let’s not even get into the big money paid to [Jay] Cutler. “

“You’ve got three big receivers in Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson, but not one target capable of taking the top off coverages.”

“I’d say about 80 to 85 percent of this team’s problems in every facet are the result of bad personnel moves. So although [Marc] Trestman and the coaching staff — deservedly — take plenty of heat, Emery dealt them a horrible hand from a personnel standpoint. “

The Bears are, indeed, holding a terrible hand.   In my opinion it’s largely due to their recent tendency towards short-term free agent fixes.  The most damaging comment I heard all year was when an unnamed assistant from another team anointed the Bears the “biggest collection of front-runners in the NFL”.  After years of fighting criticism that they’re “cheap” its ironic that people like me are calling for ownership to stop throwing money at this problem and to find a long-term solution.

I’d only add that Wright should consider that Emery has been handcuffed in terms of what he could do with the receivers by what Cutler can (or will) do. They don’t have any speed receivers because Cutler refuses to throw to them, preferring “go up and get it” guys. Speed receivers require that you get the ball to them with anticipation while they’re open, not after safeties and cornerbacks close the gap and its too late.  Cutler isn’t the only problem this team has. But he’s the center of many of them.  That doesn’t excuse Emery or Trestman. Both handcuffed themselves to Cutler and deserve every bit of criticism thrown their way.

People like to say that “it all starts at the top”.  In a way that’s true for the Bears and nothing illustrates that more than Wright’s comments above.  But this offseason what’s at the top isn’t really the biggest priority.  The most important thing the Bears need to do, and the one that’s least likely, is to start closer to the bottom with the most important position on the team.  It starts at quarterback and no matter what happens with Emery and Trestman, the Bears are going nowhere with Cutler at the position.  The highest priority offseason task should be dumping and at least starting to replace him with youth and, above all, good coaching.

The odds are good that ownership won’t do it but if they are really committed to long-term excellence, eating Cutler’s contract will be the quickest way to get on the road to rebuilding the team. They’ll be worse in the short-term but ultimately it’s going to have to be done so they might as well get started.

The Worst Day the Bears Organization Had All Year

Despite their poor record, Vikings fans have confidence that their team is on the rise and that is largely due to the continued development of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Mark Craig, the Vikings writer and NFL columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune why:

“There was some belief in (quarterback) Christian Ponder at the end of his rookie season in 2011, too. So that probably has some fans spooked because of how badly Ponder’s career flopped. But for most objective observers, Bridgewater is different mainly because of how calm he remains in chaotic situations. Even when Ponder was considered on the rise, he ran from pressure and never really thought his way through it while still in the pocket.

“Bridgewater does that routinely, and I think fans recognize that there could be a bright future with him and [offensive coordinator Norv] Turner united.”

Many will say in hindsight that that signing quarterback Jay Cutler was the lowest point of 2014 for the organization.  I disagree.  The worst day for the Bears and the rest of the NFC North all year was the day that the rest of the league allowed Bridgewater to fall to the Vikings.

From the minute I saw Bridgewater play in college at Louisville I thought he was going to be a very good NFL quarterback.  A blind man could see that he was already playing like one. He moved like one, he thought like one, he threw accurately and with anticipation like one.

The fact that he wasn’t drafted higher and, in particular, that Johnny Manziel was taken ahead of him is a prime example of the stupidity of football personnel men who value outstanding arm strength and athleticism over these traits. The guess here is that football coaches in particular are the worst in this regard. Their confidence in themselve leads them to believe that the traits that Bridgewater exhibits can be coached and that all a prospect needs is physical talent and the right guy to mold it.   Cutler is a living tribute to why this approach doesn’t work. You don’t need many years as a neutral observer of the NFL to understand that physical talent is not all you need and, indeed, isn’t the most important characteristic.

Don’t get me wrong. You can’t draft a quarterback without some arm strength and Bridgewater doesn’t lack it. But to emphasize these traits over his obvious talent is areas that make a truly great pro quarterback was, and is, idiocy.  With the cap space eaten up by Cutler’s contract and the Vikings’ acquisition of Bridgewater, the Bears may be paying the price for that misconception for a long time.