Jay Cutler Celebrates and Other Points of View

They never learn.

Via Mike Vorkunov at The Star-Ledger.

  • Cornelius Washington was ESPN analyst Mel Kiper‘s best available player.  The problem is that he had held that title for hours instead of minutes by the time the Bears finally took him in the sixth round.  Via Wayne Staats at The Augusta Chronicle.
  • Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is apparently celebrating the addition of the offensive help from the draft in style:


As tweeted by Kristin Cavallari.

Could the Bears Have Really Traded Back in the First Round?

Matt Trowbridge at the Rockford Register-Star echoes the thoughts of many Bear fans with this editorial:

“I like [Bears first round pick] Kyle Long. He is an intriguing prospect, with great football genes in Hall of Fame father Howie Long and brother Chris Long, a top-three pick as a defensive end for the St. Louis Rams. He also came at the No. 1 position of need for the Bears the last five years: the offensive line.

“I just don’t like him with the No. 20 overall pick. Not when almost no one else predicted Long would go anywhere in the first round.

“If the Bears wanted Kyle Long, they should have gambled that he would still be available early in the second round, or even late in the first round.”

I’m not so sure.  “Almost no one else” may have had Long going in the first round but he was a late riser.  And “almost everyone” has a bad habit of being wrong.

Kyle’s father Howie, at least, was convinced that Kyle wouldn’t last long past the Bears pick.  Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times:

“”I kind of felt like — and I won’t share the two or three teams that were picking after Chicago — but I felt like it was a really good opportunity that Kyle would go between 20-28, 29, without tipping my hand,’ Howie Long said at Halas Hall. ‘But he would have been off the board. … I’ve heard people say they should have traded down and got him in the second round. He wouldn’t have been there.'”

If I was inclined to criticize Bears general manager Phil Emery, it might be for falling in love with one player.  That he so was afraid of losing that player that he wouldn’t even consider a trade down and instead was forced to take him at a spot that might, maybe, have been to high.  Generally speaking, that’s a no, no.  But I don’t really know if that’s what happened.

The key question is, “Was it really too high to take him”?  And the bottom line is that its hard to say what NFL scouts who spend all of their time evaluating prospects and who actually do the job for a living really think.  So I’m inclined to cut Emery some slack here.  I don’t know if Long was the right pick but if he was their guy, I’m glad they took him when they did.

Drafting By the Numbers

When I was a graduate student, the common saying amongst Information Technology personnel was “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM”.  Looking back on it many years later, I now realize that there’s a lot of truth in that.  So it was very difficult to watch Bears general manager Phil Emery draft offensive lineman Kyle Long Thursday night with the likes of Alec Ogeltree and Sharrif Floyd still on the board.  Conventional wisdom said to run to the podium and snatch one of them.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Conventional wisdom also said not to go to Canada to hire a head coach who hadn’t been in the NFL for half a decade.  Conventional wisdom said to draft David DeCastro last year over Shea McClellin.

It could be that Emery is simply a lot smarter than the rest of the NFL.  I just wish he didn’t feel the need to prove it with every decision he makes.

In any case, my reaction wasn’t uncommon.  As I went to bed Thursday night, I turned on WSCR in time to hear Hub Arkush say this about his reaction to the Long pick:

“I wanted to vomit but I didn’t want to make a mess on the studio floor.”

I didn’t feel that strongly.  But I’m not happy right now.  Perhaps the reason can be encapsulated by this description of second round pick Jon Bostic from NFL scouts as reported by Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune:

 Jon Bostic, Florida, 6-1, 245: Bostic worked out exceptionally well and opened a lot of eyes. But he didn’t play with the same level of athleticism. “He is a little bit more of an athlete than an instinctive player,” one front office man said. “He has to see it to go get it.” He does not get to the ball as well as some of the top middle linebacker prospects. Bostic can run the defense and play all downs. He makes plays inside and outside of the box. He is a strong player who plays physically. He is a solid leader.”

Worked out exceptionally well.  “He’s a little bit more of an athlete than an instinctive player.”  That pretty much sums up the Bears draft so far.

When Emery was hired, the one thing he said that made me feel that the Bears had made the right choice for general manager was that he was going to go strictly by what he saw on tape when evaluating players.  How much tape could he have possibly seen of a first round pick who started only four games?

Emery appears drafting by the numbers.  Like former Bears head coach Dave Wannstedt in the days when the Bears drafted the likes of John Thierry and Alonzo Spellman, Emery appears to be enamored with measurables that can be derived from workouts rather than what he sees in terms of play on the field.  He’s drafting “traits” not football players.

I don’t claim to be an expert.  But in all of the years I’ve been following football, I have never, ever seen this work.  Inevitably you end up like the Raiders did under Al Davis who consistently drafted “size and speed guys”.

You can’t evaluate a draft the day after a general manager makes his picks and I swear I’m not doing it now.  This could all work out and I’ll be the first in the line to join the Phil Emery fan club if it does.

But I don’t like what I see.

Points of View, April 25, 2013

Though I’ve pledged to make my posts shorter and to the point in a minor reboot of the site, I still want to highlight these short points that don’t deserve extensive comment here and there.  Don’t worry, they won’t be the novels that they used to be.

  • The Green Bay Packers are reportedly trying to become more physical by signing bigger, tougher players this offseason.  Josh Alper at profootballtalk.com comments:

“It doesn’t take sophisticated analysis to figure out that a team that gave up 323 rushing yards in their playoff loss could stand to be stouter than it was in 2012. The inconsistent running game would also benefit from a bit more physicality on the line and in the backfield, so there’s plenty of areas for the Packers to target in their effort to toughen up.”

“[I] think it’s just a matter of who takes me first, because I know the Eagles may want me, the Cleveland Browns may want me, the Buffalo Bills and the Jets.  I think those are all sequential picks, you know what I mean, within those top 13 picks or whatever. I’m just hoping one team loves me, because really, that’s all you need, one team to fall in love with you.”

All of these teams might, indeed, be interested in Emanuel.  In the second round.  I’ll be surprised, along with a lot of other people, if he goes higher than that to any of them at their present draft positions.

  • We also have this nugget from The National Football Post in the Friday Buzz section:

“One player who is making a late run up draft boards is LSU safety Eric Reid. Teams do not have a consensus on how the safeties should fall, but there are some teams who rate Reid the top safety, ahead of Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro. There is a chance Reid could be off the board by the middle of the first round.”

Reid is probably a name to pay attention to if you are a Bears fan.  Dan Pompei at the Chicago Tribune suggests that he could be central to a scenario where the Bears trade down.

The Power and the Problem of Positivity

Positivity is a wonderful thing.  In fact, the ability to simply believe that something can be done is the first step in accomplishing anything in life.  But what happens when one closes one’s eyes to reality all together, that is a bit of a different issue.

Unfortunately this is something we encounter all to often amongst NFL fans this time of  year.  New coach, new schedule, new draft, new season.  Everything thing is new.  Everything is rosy.  Few people want to face the colder realities of the NFL before the season even starts.  They’d rather ride on hope.  Hope that so and so blossoms or another guy from the draft is going to solve some of, or even all of, the team’s issues.

The tragedy for me, personally, is that I can’t do that.  I don’t mean I won’t do it.  I mean I’m totally incapable of losing myself in the kind of thinking that only sees the Bears in a positive light.  Oh, I see the positives.  I love them.  I just can’t make them so dominant over other factors that aren’t so sunny and nice.

The reason is actually very simple.  As much as I enjoy the highs of being an NFL fan I also dread the lows.  I prefer to prepare myself mentally, not for the worst, but for both the bad and the good.  This flattens the emotional road ahead.  That preparation, for me, starts in January and usually kicks into top gear right about now just before and after the draft.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I read the latest State of the Team article on the Bears by Andy Benoit at Football Outsiders.  Benoit is one of the most astute NFL observers out there, writing for, amongst many other publications, The New York Times.

If I didn’t agree with everything in this article, I would at least call his evaluation extremely fair and balanced.  But some of you are going to absolutely hate it.  In fact, I would dare say a lot of you aren’t going to finish reading it.  The following excerpt addressing the offensive line will be sufficient to demonstrate:

“[New offensive tackle Jermon] Bushrod is the latest major investment the Bears have wishfully made in an effort to turn around their awful offensive line. The ex-Saint showed admirable improvement last season but, overall, he still must be described as an above-average athlete with below-average pass-blocking acumen. He’s very good when moving forward and very iffy when moving backwards. Which means, in all likelihood, the Bears will have to give him help in a lot of third-and-long situations. Is Bushrod really worth $22.4 million guaranteed?

Inside, [center RobertoGarza can suffice, but there are concerns about the guys flanking him. Outside, [tackle J’MarcusWebb should be better on the right than he was on the left, but a change in position does not denote a change in talent. With slow, heavy feet, he will still need help in pass protection. There’s not much depth here either; [EbonBritton brings position versatility, but he was bad wherever he lined up in Jacksonville last year. That was likely the function of injuries, but those injuries have been the defining mark of his career.

The sad conclusion: despite continued changes, the Bears are liable to still have a lot of the same blocking issues and play-calling restrictions that have hindered them in recent years.

Anyone who manages to continue on to the defense is going to read a lot more positive comments.  He also says some nice things about Matt Forte that I whole heartedly agree with.

But that isn’t what I’ll hear about.  What I’ll hear is that the Bears haven’t even drafted yet and Benoit is (and by proxy I am) already trashing them.  I’ve heard it all before.  I’ll hear it years from now again during another shiny new offseason.

So those of you who don’t want to hear it in April, go ahead and get your hopes up.  But be warned.  Come September, these future issues are going to be present reality and no amount of positivity will hide them then.  And its going to make your disappointment all the greater.

Surprise! Matt Barkley Regrets Nothing

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the issues surrounding ormer USC quarterback Matt Barkley as he prepares to be drafted this week:

“The next player who regrets staying in school after his draft stock plummets probably will be the first. So it’s no surprise USC quarterback Matt Barkley wouldn’t change a thing.

‘‘No, no regrets that I came back last year,’’ Barkley said at the NFL combine. ‘‘Haven’t looked back once. Wouldn’t change my USC career for anything.’’

It’s difficult to define just how much Barkley lost by returning to USC for his senior year. After a stellar junior season, he was rated by some draft analysts among the top 10 players in the draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. rated Barkley with Robert Griffin III and said it’s unlikely he would’ve lasted past the Cleveland Browns at No. 4 (the Browns took Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden).

I watched Barkley do Jon Gruden‘s Quarterback Camp segment recently (below).  I thought it was funny that someone, probably his agent, instructed him to take notes as Gruden pontificated just so he wouldn’t have to sit there with a vacant expression and shake his head up and down like a bobble head doll.

It didn’t work.

The Issue of the 2013 Run Defense

Nathan Jahnke breaks down the team needs for the teams in the NFC North for Pro Football Focus. As he does so, he exposes these alarming facts about the Bears new linebacking corps:

“The problem is that [new strong side linebacker *JamesAnderson has not been great in run defense, and has in fact only been getting worse with a –6.7 PFF run defense rating in 2012, which was fifth-worst among 4–3 outside linebackers. Chances are [new middle linebacker D.J.Williams and [weakside linebacker LanceBriggs will play in the nickel defense, so Anderson’s main role will be stopping the run.”

“While [Williams] didn’t play much in 2012, in previous years he was consistently among the lowest rated run defenders in the league.”

We’re all aware that the Bears linebackers are an aging group. That alone justifies making the position a priority in the draft if possible. But when I start reading “weak against the run”, I get worried not about the future, but about 2013.

The cover two based scheme the Bears run is notorious for being weak against the run to begin with. Anyone who follows the Colts can tell you what it was like on occasion when Tony Dungy coached the team there. Defending the run was often their Achilles heal.

Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli did an outstanding job of avoiding this problem while they were here. A lot of that was good recognition and good, tough down hill play from the linebackers whenever they saw a run develop. Its too early to tell but if past history is representative of future earnings, but with this current group of linebackers the Bears may have see a problem in this area in 2013.

Facing Financial Reality

Teams seem more bound and determined than ever to eliminate dead money from their cap situations. In an interesting twist, consider the new contract that Darrelle Revis agreed toas a result of his trade from the Jets to the Buccaneers over the weekend. Via Mike Florio atprofootballtalk.com:

“[It’s] a one-year deal with a series of five one-year, team-held options. If the Bucs choose to keep Revis, they’ll pay him $16 million per year for the privilege of doing so. If/when the Bucs decide that Revis isn’t earning his keep, the Bucs can cut him.”

The deal is reminiscent of the contract D.J. Williams agreed to with the Bears. He is actually being paid game to game this year.

The contract also reflects the new reality in the NFL. Players are having a hard time getting the money and the security they want this offseason. Jack Betcha at The National Football Post does a good job of explaining the situation as he tees off on the agents for these players for building unrealistic expectations.

“[T]here is still an unusual amount of high quality free agents on the street and it’s not always the fault of the system, the teams, the CBA or the player that they haven’t been signed and paid to date. Occasionally the agent is to blame and here is why:

“Agents can be guilty of overpricing the player to the marketplace. Before a client hits the free agent market it’s vitally important for agents to do their research for 10 months leading up to the beginning of free agency. It’s important to establish a value for your client and his position based on what the market will bare. Talking with GMs, pro personnel directors, the NFLPA research department and team salary cap managers can accomplish this.”

“This year was an interesting year in free agency because the two prior years (non-capped year included) were complete anomalies. They didn’t provide us with the best of comps going into this year. Additionally, there was only a modest increase in the cap, which was practically flat. With the addition of ten new GM’s over the last two years (who historically don’t make huge free agency signings), and cheaper draft choices under the new CBA, it was a perfect recipe for a soft free agent market in 2013 (as I predicted here).

“For those agents who were looking to hit it big this year, they may have missed the boat and did a huge disservice to their client.”

The Bears saw this problem last year with Olin Kreutz and now this year with Brian Urlacher. Whether its the agents or the players, both got greedy. The Bears offered more than they were worth on the open market. Instead of being grateful, both tried to get more from an organization the never overpays. It hard to say exactly where the blame lies but if their agents didn’t make them aware of the realities of the situation before hand, they are largely to blame.

In any case, I keep hearing that there are growing complaints amongst the players, the agents and the NFLPA about collusion. They probably aren’t willing to go public yet because they want to see what the market is like for veteran players after the draft when teams that haven’t filled needs go shopping again.

But I’ll be very surprised if it turns out that there’s any such thing going on. Much more likely, these entities only have themselves to blame for their problems in the market.

Tough Schedule for the Bears Unlikely to Get Easier

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times thinks the Bears have drawn a tough schedule next year:

“Things can change between now and Sept. 8, but at first blush, it doesn’t appear [Bears head coach Marc] Trestman and his staff will have the wind at their backs. The Bears will face 12 teams that made the playoffs in at least one of the last two seasons, including in each of their first 10 games. That’s more than any team in the NFL.”

Yes, ordinarily its perilous to try to judge the schedule based upon past records.  Things go up and down in the NFL very fast and teams you thought were going to be good can turn into duds very quickly.  And teams with low expectations can rise above them just as fast. Consider the Vikings last year as a prime example of a team no one thought would win many games.  They were competing for a playoffs spot in the second half of the season.

But the Bears face a special situation this year.  They’re playing every team in the AFC North including the Steelers and the Ravens.  They’re up against every team in the NFC East including the Giants and the Cowboys.  The Bengals and the Redskins both finished strong last year.  Add the Saints into the mix and you’ve got a real problem.

Its not that the Bears can’t beat these teams.  In fact, they did beat the Cowboys in a poorly played game last year.  And they should be able to handle the Browns.  But beyond that, both of these divisions are extremely competitive and  the teams in them are uncommonly consistent year to year.  While most of the NFL see-saws up and down, you can count on the Steelers, Ravens and the Giants to be looking to make the playoffs nearly every year.  And you can count on the Cowboys, Eagles and Bengals to give you a pretty rough time most games.  Even in what is considered to be down years for most of those teams, they’re going to make you earn every game more than most.

That means that we aren’t likely to look back on 2013 and say, “Wow.  That turned out to be easier than I thought”.  More likely, the Bears are going to have to play above their heads – and a lot better than they did last year – if they are going to make the playoffs.

The Name to Keep an Eye on: Arthur Brown

Don Pompei reviews the middle linebackers in this year’s draft.  The player that catches my eye in this group is Arthur Brown:

Arthur Brown, Kansas State, 6-1, 241: Brown is like [sure first round pick, Alec] Ogletree in that he has the ability to play outside as well as inside. ‘He’s a fast-flow, run-and-hit guy,’ one veteran scout said. Brown is very athletic and he has good instincts. He goes all out. Brown gets off blocks well and runs the seam better than most of the linebackers in this class (he ran a 4.67 40 at his pro day). There is some concern over his size. The transfer from Miami is a little smaller than ideal. He showed up at the combine at 240, but played at 230 pounds, according to one front office man. The good news for Brown is he plays big. He packs a wallop. He has risen up the charts in recent weeks.”

Brown’s got all of the characteristics of a cover two middle linebacker.  The comment about how he played a 230 lbs and is getting bigger would, based upon what we saw last year, fit the profile former strength and conditioning coach and current Bears GM Phil Emery, might be looking for.  Emery seems to like players who he thinks can put on weight without losing quickness.  Brown sounds like one of those guys.  That may be why they had him in town for an interview (one of the very few that leaked out of Halas Hall this winter).

The Bears probably prefer Ogletree but most mock drafts have him gone before the Bears pick.  Pompei has him going at 16 to the Rams.  I think the Steelers and the Giants (at 17 and 19 in the first round, respectively) would also like to have him.

Assuming he’s not there when the Bears turn comes up at 20, they may prefer to trade back.  Indeed, Emery has made it clear that the pick is for sale.  Brown may be the first guy he has in mind if he trades into the second round.  That would mean we’d all have to wait until Friday evening to see the Bears make a pick.  But it could be a memorable one.