Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com 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.