Should the Bears copy the Cubs

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The Bears are coming off a very successful campaign that saw them win the NFC North over Green Bay only to fall to the eventual Super Bowl-winning Packers in the NFC title game. While the Bears were a division winner, they were far from a juggernaut with some very clear deficiencies as a team, especially on offense. On defense, the Bears were excellent, ninth overall in terms of yards per game but fourth overall when it comes to the more important points against. The offense finished 30th overall. That the Bears finished 28th in passing is very alarming considering offensive coordinator Mike Martz is known for his pass-heavy play calling. With such poor production in the passing game, the Bears clearly needed an upgrade at wide receiver. Even more glaring than the lack of quality at wide receiver was the terrible play of the offensive line, a group that gave up 56 sacks, leading the NFL in a category no team wants to finish first in. With this very clear picture of the needs of the team and cash to spend, Angelo went into a key offseason.

The Bears had roughly $38 million to spend in free agency this offseason and very large holes in the roster to fill. In the first round of the draft, the Bears took offensive tackle Gabe Carimi to help bolster the O line. Any positive gained by adding Carimi was quickly offset by the decision to allow longtime center Olin Kreutz to leave via free agency. While it is undeniable that Kreutz’s skills had declined somewhat due to age and he was no longer the perennial Pro Bowler that he was earlier in his career, he was still an above average center and the unquestioned leader of the team. Allowing the most accomplished member of the offensive line to walk away further weakened an already substandard unit. The Bears added Chris Spencer from Seattle to play center with guard Roberto Garza as a fallback plan. The last time Garza took a snap at center in a regular season game was seven years ago in Atlanta, and his quarterback was Mike Vick. Angelo made an offer to offensive guard Willie Colon of the Steelers but apparently had no contingency plans, and failed to make an offer to any other offensive lineman when Colon chose to take less money to stay in Pittsburgh. The worst line in
the NFL is still a giant question mark at best. Though the Bears were able to win last year in spite of the struggles of the line, it is either unbelievably naive or negligent to expect them to be able to have success with such poor protection. Fifty-six sacks last year, and Angelo fails to significantly address the issue.

The need at receiver was almost as obvious with the Bears lacking any semblance of a number 1 wide receiver and possibly not even a real number 2 receiver. Ninety-one catches and 1,400 yards sounds great, but when that’s the combined production of the top two wideouts in a Mike Martz system, clearly there is a lack of talent. Knox led the team with 51 catches and 960 yards, and Hester, touted by Angelo as a number 1 receiver, added 40 catches for an anemic 475 yards. Both wideouts are undersized speed merchants not suited for the tough catches in traffic or the red zone. The Bears failed to add any help at wideout in the draft, leading to speculation they would address the issue in free agency. Several top targets were available, such as Sidney Rice, Santonio Holmes, Plaxico Burress, Malcolm Floyd and Braylon Edwards. Angelo inexplicably chose to bypass these quality receivers to add Dallas castoff Roy Williams. While the Cowboys gave up a ton for Williams, he failed to achieve much in his time there and had dropped to third on the depth chart. His play was so lackluster that ESPN analyst Michael Irving said when Williams was on the field the Cowboys were in effect playing 10 against 11. With all the available receivers available, this is the player
Angelo targets to solidify a weak receiving unit? Yes, Williams has played under Martz, with some degree of success during their tenure together in Detroit, but that is not recent. Williams has been dogged throughout his career with drops, had his work ethic in practice as well as during games questioned and yet was still handed the starting wide receiver job over Johnny Knox in camp this year. A poor showing in the first couple of preseason games shows it’s very unlikely Williams is ready to lose the mantle of “disappointing” anytime soon.

The Bears defense, though still very productive, is getting long in the tooth, with six projected starters over the age of 30 including the four biggest names on the defense, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Peanut Tillman. The window for this team to win a Super Bowl is shrinking quickly, and here are the free agents Angelo
signed with $38 million available to him: Vernon Gholston (already waived), Amobi Okoye, Sam Hurd, Matt Speath and Marion Barber. Not exactly the cream of the crop among free agents. Gholston and Okoye were high draft picks who failed to live up to the draft spots. Hurd is just a special teamer, and Speath and Barber were added to correct the mistakes Angelo made last off-season. Chester Taylor was signed last season to spell Forte as well as handle short yardage situations. After Taylor averaged 2.5 yards per carry and provided nothing, Angelo was forced to add Barber to fill that role. Another signing last off-season was Brandon Manumaleunia, a giant of a blocking tight end who was intended to function as an extra lineman but in fact was nothing more than a human turnstile for opposing pass rushers. Manumaleunia was a huge failure, forcing the Bears to sign Speath to fill that role. These low-cost moves are the kind of actions you would expect from a team that is right up against the salary cap. Angelo’s signings reek of arrogance, thinking he can fix players when they have failed elsewhere. Angelo chose reclamation projects instead of proven players to the detriment of the franchise.

In another move that belies the small window of opportunity the Bears are facing, Angelo traded former first-round draft pick Greg Olson to the Panthers for a third-round pick in next year’s draft. The talented tight end was underused in the Martz system, which prefers tight ends to block and act as extra linemen; that being said, Olson was a quality receiver and a favorite target of Cutler’s. Miscast and underutilized he may have been, but the Bears were a better team on the field with him and a third-round draft pick may not help the team for two years, hardly a move to win now.

I hate the term “all in” in the sports context, yet in this case it is apropos. Angelo did not push his chips to the center of the table, but by adding no significant playmakers on either side of the ball, he did meekly check his hand. The Bears were a final four
team last year, and with a rapidly aging defensive core, the franchise needs to do all it can to win now before the inevitable blowup and rebuild. Angelo made a series of poor decisions through either stubbornness, a flawed perception of reality or plain ignorance. Regardless of what his train of thought was, the Bears are no better than last year’s team with a strong possibility for a much worse result. Compare the Eagles’ off-season to the Bears, then tell me which GM went “all in.” The Packers did not close the Bears’ Super Bowl window last year, but Angelo may have done it for them. If the Bears are successful, it will be in spite of Angelo, not because of him, and to me, that is the reason a change in the general manager is long overdue.

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