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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Everything's Coming Up Cutler

I hesitate to cast any kind of opinion at this point on Phil Emery. For one, there are plenty of people out there who think Lovie is currently pulling the personnel strings. If that's so, kudos to Lovie. For another, if Phil did make the Marshall trade, it's still unwise to judge him before free agency is over and he's conducted his first draft.

That said, I like where things are headed, because so far, every major decision the Bears have made this offseason has been made with Jay Cutler's welfare in mind. That may sound incredibly simple, but it's surprisingly fucking novel for the Bears, mostly because they've gone so long without a franchise QB worth catering to and because the previous GM figured Jay could just magically transform a shitty offensive line and average receiving corp into awesomeness. The fact that Jay came close this year to doing just that before his injury is no reason not to tailor the offense to his every desire.

Let's review:

-The Bears tossed Mike Martz. While I think Mike did a good job of refining Jay's mechanics, no one can deny that a different scheme with more emphasis on protection and the run would be good for Jay.

-The Bears hired Jeremy Bates. I still have my reservations about the whole Two-headed OC monster idea, but Bates was the right guy to pick as the QB coach/passing game coordinator since he and Jay have a good relationship and Bates knows exactly how to utilize Jay's strengths, something Martz always struggled with.

-Frank Omiyale is gone. This one doesn't need much explaining, I just really wanted to get in a final "Fuck you, Frank Omiyale." I'm just kidding, of course. There will be many, many more.

And finally, the Bears made a trade for Brandon Marshall. I'm not going to address the alleged incident in too much detail, other than to note that charges haven't been filed, the accuser waited a full 24 hours before going to the police, and my own personal guess is that Marshall walks away from this without any charges or a suspension.

If we can focus on the on-field stuff (and I think it's safe to do so, because, despite his previous off-field troubles and the supposed risk he carries that has some of the usual meatballs making "team cancer" comments, Marshall's played in at least 15 games every year of his career), this is a tremendous move to pick up Marshall for just two 3rd round picks. Thanks to the Greg Olsen trade, the Bears still have a full draft and this move still leaves them with plenty of cap room. Marshall has always produced, averaging almost 1200 yards a year as a starter despite catching passes from Chad Henne (who couldn't find Marshall in the end zone on a fade route if Marshall was painted orange and was wearing a jet pack), Matt Moore, and (sorry Kyle) Kyle Orton. There's every reason to believe that he can be as productive with Cutler in Chicago as he was in Denver. I applaud.*

It's also a pretty great move to sign Jason Campbell (and to re-sign Josh McCown as the third stringer) in order to back up Cutler. While avid Start Kyle Orton reader and huge Cutler fan PenFoe said that he felt the new QB depth chart was a giant "Fuck You" to Mike Martz, I'd have to argue that it's more of a fuck you to Jerry Angelo, who always considered the back up quarterback position as a nice place to save money (the real fuck you to Martz was the move for Marshall, as the 6'4'' receiver is a nice rebuke to Martz' system of small receivers and Roy Williamses). With the exception of Chris Chandler and Brian Griese, this signing of Jason Campbell is the first notable instance of the Bears signing an established veteran who could potentially start somewhere else as the #2 QB. In the case of Chandler and Griese, the situation was different as well, since Jim Miller and Rex Grossman were nowhere near entrenched and both guys took the job with the clear hope of fighting for playing time. Campbell has no such illusions, which makes this an impressive move.

The Bears also made a couple of good pickups on special teams, signing Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems. Costanzo's ability on special teams is apparently great enough to send Brad Biggs into the levels of ecstasy usually only brought on by Tim Shaw (or Corey Graham. Or Rashied Davis. Or any special teams player that Biggsy thinks the shortsighted Bears will regret letting slip through their fingers).

As for Weems, there's been some chatter from meatheads and the often mistaken Kevin Seifert of ESPN's NFC North blog assuming that this means some kind of woe for Devin Hester's future as a Bear. Those people naturally just ignore the fact that Johnny Knox or Danieal Manning handled most Bears kickoff returns between 2008-2011 anyway and that Manning is gone while Knox may not play at all in 2012. Seifert even quoted some bullshit $10 million roster bonus due to Hester, which Sean Jensen of the Sun Times noted was just an escalator for receiving production that we all know Hester didn't reach.

There are still some major issues remaining, of course, that will really prove whether Phil or Lovie or whoever is running the show here is up to the task:

1) Avoiding a Forte holdout: He's not happy about the franchise tag, and though he's eventually going to sign the tag like everyone else, it would be nice to avoid a holdout. It seems the Bears may be playing hardball by flirting with Michael Bush. I'd really just like this problem to go away.

2) How to address the aging defense: there's an easy solution for this, and his name is Mario Williams. I don't think it's going to work, because Mario's apparently made it clear his concern is being the highest paid defensive player in the NFL. The Bears couldn't, and shouldn't pay that price. So then it gets trickier. As it stands the Bears still need another edge rusher opposite Peppers, a young linebacker who can play OLB and prepare to fill the Urlacher or Briggs spot in the near future, a veteran safety, and an heir to Charles Tillman. Obviously they can't fill all of these spots in one offseason. I'd like to see at least the safety or the DE problem solved in free agency. With the acquisition of Marshall, I'm fine with the 1st round pick going towards a defensive player, and I'm sure Lovie is too.

3) The offensive line: It's hard to remember in the chaos of the Hindenburg-esque end to the season, but there was a time, before Cutler went down and after Mike Martz finally abandoned "his" offense, that things were looking good. Then Chris Williams got hurt, Cutler went down, and it all went to hell. That said, there's still plenty of young talent to work with between Chris Williams (if they re-sign him, and it seems they will, and that he'll compete at tackle as well as guard), Chris Spencer, and Lance Louis, all of whom performed pretty well this year for long stretches. The J'Marcus Webb experiment seems to have failed at left tackle, but he still has some ability and might make a good interior linemen. A healthy Gabe Carimi has to be a potential upgrade at either tackle position. Roberto Garza played well at center and got an extension. If the Bears can sign one veteran guard or tackle to upgrade the unit, that, along with the change in scheme, should result in solid enough protection for Jay in a run-based attack. If not, one of their top two picks should go towards addressing the line once again.

That's really all of the glaring needs I can think of at the moment. It's hard to remember, but this team was looking really damn good when it was 7-3. That's not to say they can't spend their time adding depth and youth on defense, where it's sorely needed, but this is a roster more in need of an infusion of youth and some quality insurance rather than a complete overhaul.

The fact is, if the braintrust currently running the Bears has truly decided that their best chance for victory lies with giving their quarterback the time and weapons he needs to succeed, then things really have taken a turn for the better.

*- I should state that, should Marshall eventually be charged and found guilty of punching a woman in the face, I do not support assaulting women and I certainly will acknowledge that he's a jackass. As of now, though, it's all mere allegation and hearsay and most of the sources I generally believe to be reliable think that this will not result in lost playing time for Marshall.

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