As I looked over what the Bears did on the first day of the new league year in free agency Wednesday, I was thinking about a strong and compelling article for The Bleacher Report by Dan Pompei on the dangers of free agency. Pompei concentrated upon the failure of the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Dream Team” to produce the results expected of them in 2011.
General manager Howie Roseman went all out that offseason, signing loads of talent to a roster that ultimately failed in part because of lack of cohesion.
“We didn’t jell together well,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “There were different personality types. We didn’t come together as a unit. It’s tough to say if we lacked leadership. When you get a lot of new players, it’s hard to establish who the leader is. You had a lot of high-profile names. People were coming into a system new, so you really don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. You are trying to feel out the organization, the other players, how they do things, the expectations.”
This is what happens when you dive into free agency and grab every shiny bobble that catches your eye instead of thinking about how the player fits your scheme and your locker room. In the end, your players are hired guns and many of the foundational aspects of all great football teams such as chemistry, character, and continuity are disrupted.
Perhaps most importantly, and to Jenkins point, the Dream Team was a group of star players tossed together and expected to win immediately with no time to feel each other out and get to know one another.
When I heard that the Bears were going after inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, I was mildly concerned that this is what they were doing. Trevathan was easily the best inside linebacker available in free agency and a bit of a head liner.
I needn’t have worried. The Bears never overpay. At least not much.
Inside linebacker isn’t a glamour position and in the end, the Bears gave Trevanthan a four year deal worth $24.5 million, including $12 million guaranteed. That’s not chicken feed but it places him at only 10th amongst inside linebackers. That’s probably not too far above where he belongs and four years from now, he’ll be underpaid not overpaid.
What’s more important is that the Bears seemingly put a lot of thought into who, not just what, they were signing. Trevathon will be 26 years old in two weeks and will be able to integrate together with the rest of a defense which has 27-year-old outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, 24-year-old cornerback Kyle Fuller, 22-year-old safety Adrian Amos and 22-year old nose tackle Eddie Goldman.
New Bears right tackle Bobby Massie is 26 and will team with Hronis Gasu (24), Charles Leno (24), Kyle Long (27).
Newly re-signed runningback Jacquizz Rogers is 26 and will continue to merge seamlessly with jeremy Langford (24) and Ka’Deem Carey (23) not to mention newly resigned Nick Becton (26) and a host of other young special teams players.
Even the re-signed Tracy Porter isn’t as old as you might think at 29 and has had a year to work as part of the team already.
The way to success in the NFL is to put together a group of men that performs as a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That can’t happen unless those men come together and buy into the team concept in an environment where they can get to know each other and work off of each other’s strengths.
There’s no substitute for time in the process of allowing that to take place. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in one training camp. That’s one reason why the Dream Team ultimately failed to materialize. It’s one reason why you can’t buy a championship.
Building relationships takes time that no amount of talent can shortcut around. By spending their money not only on talent, but on youth, the Bears are setting themselves up to allow team members to play together for an extended period in a consistent environment. Players will have time to develop not just as individuals but with each other as a team.
The Bears haven’t gone out in free agency and simply grabbed the biggest, veteran names with the gaudiest reputations. They’ve gone about it in an effort to not only get better, but to get younger, as well. In doing so, they are developing a young core of players who will fit in together as they grow into a coherent team. And when the time is right, we may find that they have been able to use free agency to succeed where others have failed.