Why Isn’t Greg Olsen Still a Bear?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune writes a nice, balanced retrospective on the trade of tight end Greg Olsen to the Panthers. The trade doesn’t look too good in 2016 as Olsen has been a Pro Bowler and is playing today in the NFC Championship game.

“The trade goes on [Jerry] Angelo‘s record as he was the GM, but Olsen doesn’t fault him for how things went down with plenty of distance between the emotions fueling him at the time.

“‘I just think I was pigeonholed,’ Olsen said. ‘They gave one person in the organization ([then offensive coordinator Mike] Martz) a lot of power and control over the direction and unfortunately it wasn’t the head coach.'”

That’s not at all correct and I can’t believe that even after all of these years Olsen doesn’t realize it.

It’s true that it was Martz’s system that put Angelo in a bind. There are two kinds of coaches in the league: those who adapt their system to the players that they have and those who demand players to fit their system. Former offensive coordinator Adam Gase was in the former category. Martz was in the latter. Martz couldn’t understand why you’d want a tight end that couldn’t block and would have rather had a big wide receiver on the field, something that’s not totally unreasonable.

But saying that Olsen got traded because Martz had the power and not former head coach Lovie Smith is way off base. Indeed, though it was never stated explicitly, it was believed at the time that Angelo had wanted Smith to hire another coordinator and it was Smith who insisted that the team bring in yet another coach with whom he has worked in the past rather than (arguably) the best qualified candidate. Smith and Angelo both knew who Martz was and how he would want to run the offense.  There was no place in it for a tight end of Olsen’s talents and with that hire, for better or worse, Smith essentially decided Olsen’s fate with the team.

Ultimately, the head coach hires the coaches and ultimately the buck stops with him. That was particularly true of Smith who demanded and got total control over his coaching staff. Could you argue that Angelo ultimately hired Smith?  You sure could.  But regardless the fact is that in this case Angelo was simply dealing with the consequences of Smith’s decisions.  And that’s why Greg Olsen isn’t a Bear.

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Thoughts on the Five Year Anniversary of the “Open Season on Jay Cutler” Game

Jeff Dickerson at ESPN “celebrates” the fifth anniversary of the Bears playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers. Bears fans will remember the game as much for the Jay Cutler knee injury as for the loss.

Dickerson points out yet again that Cutler was, indeed, legitimately injured. Personally I have never questioned Cutler’s physical toughness. His mental toughness, on the other hand, I think was a legitimate issue as Dickerson also accurately points out what a miserable first half Cutler had as the Bears got dominated and Cutler certainly looked to me like he gave up well before the injury.

But none of that is really why I remember this game. Dickerson comments:

“Because Chicago initially announced Cutler as ‘questionable’ to return, NFL players started to question the severity of the quarterback’s knee injury on Twitter (a rare occurrence at the time).

“‘All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee. … I played the whole season on one,’ former Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted.

“Ex-Arizona Cardinals defender Darnell Dockett added: ‘If I’m on Chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room! #FACT'”

Never have I ever seen a player publicly savaged by his peers under those circumstances the way that Cutler was on that day. The guess here is that I never will again. The NFL is a fraternity and almost every player who has ever been injured knows how unfair it can be to question such things. Could you hear some trash talking in the days preceding a game? Sure. But never this.

The most lasting impression that I have of that game is how hated Cutler must have been amongst his peers to evoke these kinds of public comments. You wonder how much of that still lingers even five years later.

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Kiper Regrades the Bears 2015 Draft

Bears 2015 DraftMel Kiper at ESPN regrades the 2015 draft. Not surprisingly, the Bears came out pretty well.

“Post-draft grade: B-plus

“Give the Bears’ front office a lot of credit, because it was a bad break to lose Kevin White for an entire season. They still managed to get some important building blocks out of this class, and they did it while winning more games than the year before. Progress was made, and the draft helped. Eddie Goldman was a good value in Round 2, and Jeremy Langford could take over for Matt Forte if the Bears and Forte part ways. A true steal was Adrian Amos in Round 5. I know I’m supposed to have a soft spot for him since we went to the same high school, but I certainly didn’t pump up his value for that reason and was actually surprised at how well he played. I’d keep the grade the same for now, and it goes up or down based on what White delivers.

“New grade: B-plus”

Though I’m not sure Amos holds onto that starting safety spot as the Bears upgrade their talent and the Bears didn’t draft a quarterback of the future, if White turns out to be a good receiver and Hronis Grasu turns into a good starter, this draft gets a solid ‘A’. Every pick from top to bottom either contributed in 2015 or showed the potential to contribute in the near future. You can’t expect any better than that.

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Coaches Need to Inspire Trust of Only One Particular Kind

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com interviews former Bears offensive coordinator and new Dolphins head coach Adam Gase on how to get the best out of his quarterbacks:

“‘I think it starts with the group of guys that you’re working with,’ Gase said when asked about his ability to work so well with quarterbacks. ‘I feel like lucky enough to be around some great staffs. The head coaches that I’ve worked for in the past were guys that were very personable and quarterbacks gravitated to as far as creating an environment where they feel like the head coach had their back. And I really think that helps when you’re going through adversity, [with] John Fox being a great example. You always felt like he was always right behind the quarterback. He always made sure that the quarterback knew that no matter what happened he was side by side with them and then when you’re the coordinator or the quarterbacks coach, when you’re head coach has that aspect you know that really helps the confidence. It helps you sustain that fight that you have to have because it’s not always going be good. And as the season progresses you just see guys get more confident.'”

I find it hard to believe that former Bears head coach Marc Trestman didn’t have quarterback Jay Cutler‘s back. He certainly talked about it enough.

Good coaching really comes down to one thing – your ability to help the player succeed. You can be his friend and you can have his back. But there’s really only one kind of trust that you need to get from him – trust that you know what you are doing and can put him in the best position to perform. Looking back on it, its evident that Trestman (and virtually every other offensive coordinator and head coach dating back to Ron Turner) didn’t do that. It’s evident that Fox does. It will be interesting to see if Gase can engender the same kind of trust.

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Bears Will Face Stiff Competition for a Guard in Free Agency

Dave Birkett at the Detroit Free Press thinks the Lions could be big spenders in free agency:

“With a projected cap north of $150 million, and the likelihood they free up more room with cuts or retirements, the Lions have the potential to be significant players in free agency if new general manager Bob Quinn chooses.”

“The Lions have holes on both lines, at linebacker and at receiver this off-season, and their need for a pass catcher could amplify if Calvin Johnson retires, as he’s hinted he might do.

“If Johnson retires, the Lions, who currently have more available cap space than 11 other teams, will gain an additional $11 million in spending room.”

The Lions, like the Bears, might have plenty of cap space but they are one of many, many teams that have needs on the offensive line including playoff teams Minnesota, Seattle and Arizona to name a few. All of these teams will face stiff competition for any offensive lineman who is worth his salt and who hits free agency. That’s going to drive the price up into the stratosphere.

The Bears, at least, are going to have to look for their right guard in the draft. Any team hoping to fill their holes in that area through free agency and is willing to put out the money needed to do it is likely building the foundation of their offense on sand.

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Draft May Lack Linebackers but Other Defensive Positions Look Strong

Eric D. Williams at ESPN comments upon Mel Kiper‘s first mock draft:

“Kiper said he felt cornerback, offensive guard and defensive line — both defensive end and defensive tackles — are deep position groups in this year’s draft.

“Twenty of the 31 players in Kiper’s initial mock draft were defensive players, and 11 of those 20 defensive players were defensive linemen.

“‘Defensive line probably and corner are the strong positions in this draft by a mile,’ Kiper said.”

That’s good news for a Bears team in desperate need of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Though, like Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune, I’d prefer a pass rusher and the high end of the draft looks bare of worthy inside linebackers, the Bears have needs at every level of the defense. Especially the defensive line.

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Vic Fangio and The “Head Coach Type”

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions. this one was about why Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn’t get an interview for a head coaching position:

“Fangio is 57 but we have seen older coaches get their first crack at a head job recently with Bruce Arians enjoying tremendous success in Arizona. Fangio isn’t a very political guy and I say that not as a positive or a negative but simply as an observation that you get. Every head coach that was hired this offseason was from an offensive background.”

The comparison to Arians might be a good one here in more ways than age. Arians, like Fangio, “isn’t a very political guy”. From the quotes that I have read, he’s a straight shooting guy who will walk in to a room and firmly tell you what he thinks.

That sounds like a good thing in theory and that’s what everyone says that they want to hear. But the reality is something different. Some of the smartest people I know are like this and I’ve found over time that it’s a mistake not to listen to them. But I’ve also noticed that they rarely get asked to work with people in teams on administrative tasks. The truth is that straight shooters often tell it like it is with little tact and sometimes they are so firm that it comes across as an attack. That’s not good and they often impress as uncompromising to administrative types in any business, not just football. You need a guy who can get his point across while still leaving the people around the table certain that he’ll play nicely if things don’t go his way.

If I were to guess as to why Arians didn’t get the job in Chicago when he interviewed in 2013, I’d say that he scared some people off with his forthright attitude, particularly then general manager Phil Emery, who had been dealing with a very stubborn and opinionated Lovie Smith. That was the Bears loss. But it is also understandable.

I’m making some assumptions here but if Fangio is to get his chance at a head coaching job, he’s probably going to have to make sure that everyone he meets knows that he’s a team player no matter what the circumstances. Expressing an opinion is a tone that is calm and reasoned with less emotional baggage usually helps. In fact, it’s usually essential. Otherwise, Bears fans will be happy to have him in Chicago for as long as he wants to be here.

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At Some Point the Bears Need to Enter Draft “Crap Shoot” for a Quarterback

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Do you see the Bears picking a quarterback in the first three rounds? — @albert80

“I think the bigger question is would the Bears pull the trigger on a quarterback in the first round. That’s where the talent lies. If there is a quarterback they really like, they’d have to make that move because it’s rare that a team is in position to draft a quarterback it truly covets. However, there are a host of needs on the roster, especially on defense. Unless they love the quarterback, I think they go in a different direction in Round 1. If you’re talking about drafting a quarterback outside of the first round, it becomes a much bigger crap shoot than the already big crap shoot it is drafting quarterbacks in Round 1.”

I would love to see the Bears take a quarterback that they loved in round 1. But from what I’ve seen so far, I haven’t seen one that I love so I can’t exactly expect that they will have, either. At some point I’ll get back to breaking them down but so far the only top quarterback I haven’t seen is North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and no one has impressed me as a “must have” prospect for the future of the franchise.

That means that if the Bears are going to find a quarterback who has the talent to eventually start with some development, they are almost certainly going to have to go with the “much bigger crap shoot” in the second or third rounds. Yes, it’s a risk but its a risk that you have to start taking now so that if it doesn’t work out, you can take another bite at the apple sooner rather than later.

The entire draft is a crap shoot. But you can’t win if you don’t play.

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Bears Chances of Finding an Inside Linebacker at the 11th Spot in the Draft May Not Be Good

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times comments on the upcoming NFL draft:

“ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper has the Bears taking Alabama inside linebacker Reggie Ragland with the No. 11 pick in the first round of his first mock draft.

“‘[He’s a] guy who can really, [really] handle the run and be a great leader,’ Kiper said. ‘He’s a run-stuffer. He’s got good range. Coverage ability is OK. It’s not great — you saw that exposed in the National Championship Game. Tremendous, tremendous intangibles. All the physical qualifications you want. Overall, he would fill a void there [and] can step right in.'”

I caught an interview with former Bears personnel man Greg Gabriel on WSCR Wednesday and he was considerably less optimistic about the Bears chances of taking an inside linebacker in the first round.  Gabriel is currently preparing the annual draft guide publication for Hub Arkush.

Gabriel doesn’t see Ragland as a first rounder saying “He’ll run 4.7 [seconds in the 40 yard dash] at the combine.” He also believes that Myles Jack out of UCLA, who Kiper has going at the 10 spot to the New York Giants, as more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive back guy who excels in coverage. Gabriel doesn’t believe that Jack would fit the profile the Bears are looking for.

If Gabriel is right, it might not be great year to find a playmaker at the inside linebacker spot and the Bears will likely be looking in another direction with their first round pick.

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Special Problem

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times makes a good point about the Bears special teams:

“The Bears have obvious priorities in signing their own free agents this offseason: wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, cornerback Tracy Porter, running back Matt Forte, linebacker Shea McClellin and tight end Zach Miller— probably in that order. But they can’t ignore special teams. And their top four special-teams tacklers from last season are free agents: Sherrick McManis (17), Joshua Bellamy (10), Chris Prosinski (9) and Sam Acho (8). Their two main kick returners — [Marc] Mariani and Deonte Thompson (29.2 yards per kickoff return) also are free agents.”

I don’t expect that any of these guys would be too tough to resign. And given that Prosinski, Acho and Mariani all contributed in good ways on the field at various times during the season is a good indicaiton that the Bears will want them back. Even Bellamy, who has a bad habit of dropping  passes, showed his value at times when called upon as the wide receiver position was devastated with injuries at certain times. But I’m not too sure about McManis, who struggled to cover slot receivers at the nickel back position when given a chance to play.

Special teamers ideally have to be decent backups as well. I’m not too sure the Bears will decide that they can afford to carry McManis if they feel that he can’t be relied upon when needed.

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