Monday, August 1, 2011

Where Do I Begin (Part Two): Free Agency

There aren't many words that could easily define this free agency period. At first the Bears were accused of inactivity. After signing 48 players in less than a week, the accusations changed from inactivity to stupid activity. Then, Jerry enraged everyone by trading or releasing franchise cornerstones Greg Olsen and Olin Kreutz. Wait, I'm not enraged at all. Those were totally the right moves to make. So let's move on to the run down:

Good Moves:
-Signing Roy Williams
Believe me, I didn't expect to consider this a good move. I hate Roy Williams. As a Bears fan, how could you not? The smarmy cockface is still most memorable in my mind for stating after a 34-7 loss to the Bears in 2006 that it was "stupid" how close the Lions were to scoring 40 points. Gah. However, Williams could certainly thrive in an offense where he's comfortable with the scheme (something evident by the 2148 yards he gained in his 28 games in the Mike Martz offense in 2006-2007), has a solid quarterback (something he never had in Detroit), and is, more than likely, going to be the featured target (unlike Dallas). Now, Williams truly was awful in 2008-2009. Nagging leg injuries appeared to have robbed him of much of his speed, and a series of brutal drops eventually led Tony Romo to largely ignore him. This year, Williams had a pretty great year for a guy who was usually Romo/Kitna's fourth option behind Miles Austin, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. I'm one of the few people who think that Cutler would do fine throwing to Knox, Bennett, and Hester if he had the protection to allow him to find them downfield with regularity, but I think Roy Williams would add a dimension with his height (6-4) and speed (14.6 YPC in his career) that would make him very good in this offense. If he fails, well, the Bears gave up very little to get him and they'll surprise with the rest of their wideouts, but, much as I loathe his stupid face, I think he seems to be in a very good position to shock a lot of people.

-Re-signing Nick Roach.
I'd probably have wagered on Pisa, but Nick has never really disappointed in the OLB position and has never actually had the chance to play a full season with Urlacher and Briggs there to support him. He struggled at times shouldering much of the load in 2009, but I think the talent is there and he's much more experienced. He could be a key piece on a linebacking corps that will soon have to begin to prepare for life post-Urlacher.

-Re-signing Corey Graham and Brian Iwuh and replacing Rashied Davis with Sam Hurd
Dave Toub's special teams unit wasn't ignored, as Corey Graham and Brian Iwuh were two key pieces that returned on very favorable deals. Rashied Davis was excellent at covering kicks, which appears to be Sam Hurd's speciality, and Hurd probably wouldn't rank among the worst receivers in the NFL in dropped passes if he was forced into a bigger role on offense, something Rashied managed to do in 2008.

-Taking chances on Vernon Gholston and Amobi Okoye
The fact that the Bears have signed these two has been thrown around more as a "LOL, look at Angelo takin on other people's garbage" joke the last few days, but these were both low-risk, high-reward moves that would look brilliant if either one paid off. The Bears aren't even remotely depending on either of these guys. One or both could get cut before camp is out, or either one could cash in on their talent and potential and offer young, cheap options at two key positions on the defensive line. If the Bears were going to sign these two and then cut Izzy or Corey Wooton or if they didn't re-sign Anthony Adam, I'd say it was foolhardy to expect them to contribute as starters. But they aren't. They're back ups with huge upside. Fine by me.

-Bringing back Anthony Adams
Anthony Adam's is nothing particularly special. He's a rich man's Ian Scott. He is, however, an underrated cog in the team's run defense, which was absolutely stellar last year if anyone was paying attention. He's probably going to give way even more this year to pass-rushers like Melton and Toeiana and possibly Okoye, but in non-passing downs, Anythony is key and the Bears were smart to bring him back.

-Getting the entire draft class into camp on time
Even if the new CBA hadn't made the job of signing rookies even easier, I think Cliff Stein would have managed to get the Bears draft class into camp earlier than most. He's just that good. It's absolutely invaluable to get Paea and Carimi as many reps as possible before the season, since both will be starting sooner rather than later, and both are vital to the team's success this year. Also helps to get Chris Conte in at safety, since the departure of Danieal Manning (it sucks, but he wasn't worth 20 mildo for one good year and that's all there is to it) means that the Lurking Demon Who Feasts Upon the Healthy Limbs of Bears' Safeties will most likely mean he'll get some starter's reps at some point this season.

-Getting Marion Barber
This is excellent for two reasons: 1. Barber, especially in a limited role as Forte's backup, can be a total menace in short yardage, something this team's needed for years. 2. Chester Taylor's probably gone, so I no longer have to throw things at the TV when he comes chugging along with his 2.4 yard per carry average.

Meh Moves:
-Replacing Olin Kreutz with Chris Spencer
This would be a good move if I was higher on Chris Spencer. As it is, I think he's a guy with talent and size and a first-round pedigree who could turn into an upgrade on the line if he's healthy and Tice is able to get the most out of him.

As for Kreutz, well, most media members and a large chunk of the fanbase are pissed off, so it was probably the right move. There's no love lost here for Olin Kreutz. I'm on record as stating multiple times that he was never as good as advertized in the past and he's been barely above-to-well below average since 2007. Something tells me Chris Spencer can probably move the pile six inches at the Detroit goal-line, or that he wouldn't manage to get destroyed for a sack by a completely disinterested Albert Haynesworth, who also blew up Olin on Cutler's attempted sneak/fumble. B.J. Raji drew a lot of fire in 2009 when he said that Olin simply wasn't strong enough to block him, but he was right. Olin was always an undersized, athletic center who got by on leverage and movement, and since he's no longer as fast and athletic as he was when he was young, he's average at best against the rest of the league and practically worthless against big bodies like Raji or Haynesworth or the two-headed monster that Detroit is going to throw at the NFL this season.

I guess the best indicator that Kreutz was washed up would be the fact that everyone opining his loss is complaining about "morale" and "intangibles" and "leadership" rather than his "blocking" and "the team's ability to maybe possibly get a yard or so when running through his gap." I'm not going to completely disregard the idea of leadership on a football team, but I also know that people have a tendency to value performance over anything else. If Chris Spencer can handle the job, and the team wins ballgames, you're going to hear the bitching about Olin's leadership disappear. Also, if Olin was such a goddamn "team" guy and such a splendid leader, why did he: A.) Once bust a teammate's jaw (actually the second time he'd broken a teammate's face, but the first was in college) B.) Demand a $4.5 million salary and walk away when the team said they couldn't pay him that, when apparently his other option was to retire? Face it, people. Olin's been over the hill for years and when he refused to admit it and get paid accordingly, the team called him on it and chose to split. Better to let Olin go a year early (and I don't think they are) then see him completely collapse.

-Trading Greg Olsen for a 3rd round pick and replacing him with Matt Spaeth (and dumping Manumaleuna).
I realize this is three moves at once but they're all related and I'm getting tired of writing. I thought Olsen was gone last year, and I was opposed at the time because I was unwilling to see the team part with a guy who still had some value if the Martz experiment was going to blow up in their face.

I've seen enough now where, crazy though it may be, I believe the best thing for this team is to run the Martz offense right if they're going to run it at all. The hybrid attack of the second half of last season helped them do enough to not-blow games, but the team is going to need to do more. People are panicking because they assume this means an automatic return to the chaos of last year's first half, but I think things will be different. The blocking will be better, as the team did improve in that department in the second half and Carimi and Spencer should be upgrades over Omiyale and Kreutz's old ass, while Webb will have far more experience and there's hopefully still the looming figure of a yet-to-be-signed veteran guard to throw into the mix. Forte will get more touches, as Martz finally realized last year what a weapon he can be, and there are now more targets at wide receiver. I've read good reviews on Spaeth's ability as a blocker, and he certainly has to be an upgrade over the miserable efforts of Olsen and Manu in that department.

If you think they're going to miss Olsen's 400 yards receiving, well, I'm pretty sure Roy Williams will manage that. I had hopes that Olsen would eventually be a complete tight end, and it would be unfair to him to say he didn't improve somewhat in the blocking department, but at this point he's still not much more than a slower wide receiver. He can exploit a shoddy batch of safeties like he did in the Seahawks playoff game, but it's worth noticing that he disappeared right away against Green Bay in the next game because he isn't the devastating matchup problem he was advertised to be when he's playing against safeties that can keep up with him.

Even more puzzling is that some people think the 3rd round pick that the Bears got for him wasn't enough. That's absurd, considering Ochocinco just drew a 2012 5th and a 2013 6th and people (including myself) were shitting a brick that Kevin Kolb brought a 2nd round pick and a cornerback in a trade. Angelo got good value for Olsen. I have no beef with this. Oh, and Greg, next time don't fumble all of the goddamn time.

Those are the major points. I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't covered but this last week has been pure madness. I'm still hoping the Bears will get a veteran guard or tackle in sometime in the next week or so, as there are still good bodies out there and teams are now trying to lower the cost of the second-tier free agents now that the stars are off the board, and if they do so I'll be more than satisfied with this offseason. If they don't, well, that'll lead to some trepidation, but for the most part there's been a lot of hand-wringing over what I think has been one of the Bears' smarter offseasons.

Where Do I Begin?

You know, I've never really considered myself to be a shill for Jerry Angelo or any of the brains behind the Chicago Bears organization. In the dark, dark depths of the the end of the 2009 season I succumbed to meatheadedry and admitted I wouldn't be terribly upset if the entire regime was dismissed. The fact that I backed off that stance following their offseason maneuvers last year and predicted a return to the playoffs for the Bears made me a damned idiot fool in the eyes of a lot of people. Now, I'm not saying I'm some kind of brilliant wizard for correctly predicting the 11-5 record the Bears would enjoy, or the 6-10 downfall of the Vikings, even if I did predict both, but I am going on record as believing that the Chicago Bears have a good football team, one that Jerry Angelo has assembled.

I've got major beefs with Jerry, that's for sure. His refusal to address the offensive line in the early rounds of drafts until the botched pick of Chris Williams in 2008 has been my biggest beef, naturally. I understand that he was handicapped the last two years after trading away a number of picks for Jay Cutler (smart!) and Gaines Adams (not smart! And not just because he died, sadly) and that the free agent market was thin on quality o-line starters in the last two offseasons, but last year's motley crew was hard to stomach and the blame for that falls on him.

His first round picks have been widely slammed, although I think it's worth adding some context to the whole "only two remain with the team, Carimi and Williams" statement. That's true, but it's worth remembering that he didn't even Make first round picks in 2010, 2009, and 2006. So of 11 possible first round picks, that's 3 that never even existed. He traded down in 2006 out of the 27th pick and got Devin Hester and Danieal Manning. Works for me. The 09&10 picks got us Jay Cutler. Fine by me. So of the 7 first round picks that Jerry actually made, 2 remain (Williams&Carimi) and 6 are gone (Marc Colombo, Rex Grossman, Michael Haynes, Tommie Harris, Cedric Benson, Greg Olsen).

Of that group, Marc Colombo was a solid left tackle for the Cowboys for several years, exactly what he was drafted to be. The Bears had to move on from Colombo not because he was a bust in Chicago, but because he suffered two major knee injuries that wiped out nearly three whole seasons and they were forced to move on because they couldn't rely on him to man the blindside and got John Tait. Fair move, but hardly makes Colombo a bad pick, since he had no injury history in college and the knee injury he suffered was an artificial-turf induced freak of an accident. Tommie Harris was absolutely the best pick they could have made in 2004 and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot who has forgotten exactly what Tommie was before his injury in 2007. A great under tackle makes the entire Cover 2 defense work, and Tommie absolutely was a great under tackle before he lost the burst that made him so tough to defend. Bad luck sucks, but to count Tommie as any kind of first round bust is lunacy. Greg Olsen, for all his faults, was at least a talented, somewhat productive player who earned a pretty good pick in return. I thought he was a stupid pick to begin with, but for the 31st overall pick he wasn't a particularly damning miss.

So that leaves Jerry with three damning busts in Rex Grossman (who still started a Superbowl at quarterback, however you want to view that), Cedric Benson, and Michael Haynes. Having three flops sucks, but he's hardly the absolutely incompetent drafter that statistic would indicate.

What's my point with all of this? I'm not saying I trust Jerry Angelo. I'm saying that his perception as a stingy, incompetent boob seems to be a bit of a media/fan creation. I'd say it's absurd to act like he never makes big moves (Cutler? Peppers?) or that he's generally inactive in free agency. In 2004-2005 he completely rebuilt a shitty offensive line that allowed 66 sacks in 2004 with Fred Miller, John Tait, and Ruben Brown. He brought in Thomas Jones, Desmond Clark, Adewale Ogunleye and several other excellent veterans who carried the team to a superbowl on a team that had Jerry Angelo draft picks starting at almost every other key position (Bernard Berrian, Tommie Harris, Alex Brown, Ian Scott, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Nathan Vasher, Chris Harris). The fact of the matter is, Jerry's track record is that he's an above-average GM. He may not be elite, and I understand the desire for an elite organization. This team needs to win consistently and take its place among the Patriots, Colts, Steelers, Ravens, Packers etc. They have some pieces in place, primarily in the form of Jay Cutler, that make me think those days are coming. I myself haven't been pissed off that much by this free agency period, and I'm going to address those moves specifically in my next post, since this one has gotten extremely long. My point, however, is that simply raging that Jerry Angelo is an idiot gets no one anywhere and would have blown up in most people's faces where they able to be held accountable as fans for their statements after a season like last year. As of right now, the Bears are reigning NFC North champions. They deserve the benefit of a doubt until, unlike last year, they prove on the field that they aren't a good football team, rather than in the minds of an incredibly fickle and irate fanbase.