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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Me and Marty B: Bears Free Agency So Far

Oh, hello there. You may have forgotten we existed. That's okay. We kind of did, too. Sure, I probably should have done my yearly methodical player reviews to fill the space between our discussion of Lovie/Trestman and free agency, but there were other, more important things and I didn't feel like doing it. Sue me.

The last two days, however, have provided actual activity to discuss, so let's get to it.

As you all know by now, the Bears have made two major free agent signings: LT Jermon Bushrod of the Saints for five years and nearly $40 million, and TE Martellus Bennett for a rumored four years and $20 million. If you've been following those developments on Twitter than you also know two things: Bushrod is overpaid and was barely better than J'Marcus Webb this year and Marty B. is somewhat crazy.

Here's what I have to say about point one: Yes, if you are just looking at Bushrod as an upgrade at left tackle, he probably didn't out play J'Marcus Webb enough in 2012 to justify his contract. According to Pro Football Focus, the source of this controversy, Webb finished the year with an overall grade of -0.8 while Bushrod finished at +1.5. That's not a vast difference, certainly not one worth $7 million annually, so clearly the Bears made a mistake, right?

I disagree. Bushrod did have a slow start this year (after starting at -7.5 in his first three games, he was much closer to his 2011 form the rest of the year), but still finished with a positive grade. He also was one of the top ten tackles in all of football in 2011 at +14.0, while Webb is just a year removed from a -16.2 in 2011. That right there IS a vast difference.

Considering Bushrod is just 28, there's no reason to believe that a repeat of his above-average 2012 is what to expect going forward, rather than his stellar 2011. There's also little reason to believe that Webb, who had to make monumental leaps just to reach his slightly-below-aveage peak this year, is going to develop much beyond that. Their metrics also don't account for the fact that Webb frequently required the assistance of tight ends and runningbacks, while Bushrod was left alone on nearly 80% of Drew Brees' 697 dropbacks (the Bears attempted just 529 dropbacks). As the Pro Football Focus guys themselves said, "With a fan base baying for a change of plan at left tackle it would’ve been a very brave move to leave Webb in place for the 2013 season."

Even if Bushrod simply repeats his 2012 performance, however, that's still not an indication that the Bears were wrong to sign him. This team needed to add a proven tackle. They made a hard push for Phil Loadholt, the Vikings right tackle, before he chose to stay in Minnesota. That right there should tell you that they understand that Webb wasn't a disaster at LT this year. Once Loadholt was off the market,  the Bears were left with a market that contained more good LTs than RTs, and they realized that adding a quality tackle is better than not adding one.

Lost in all of this is that the Bears aren't cutting J'Marcus Webb, who suddenly has a strangely large and dedicate following despite years of often unwarranted criticism. Emery's already announced that Webb will compete at right tackle, if he wins the job (and sorry, Gabe Carimi, but there's little reason to believe he won't), there's plenty of reason for optimism. Webb's light years ahead of the raw, undisciplined rookie who posted a -32.5 grade in 9 starts at RT in 2010. This is a move that may have improved both tackle positions, and not just provided a marginal upgrade at one. It's a good move.

As for point two: Oh yeah,  Marty B. is crazy. That's a well-established pattern from the day at the combine when he answered a question regarding him playing both basketball and football in college with "football is my wife, basketball is my mistress." In his press conference today he referred to himself as the Black Unicorn and said he signed with the Bears because they're his second favorite animal after dinosaurs.

He's also a very good tight end. After emerging from Jason Witten's shadow in Dallas and signing with the Giants last year he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 TDs. He's also what Pro Football Focus described as an elite blocker, and that factored into their statement that Bennett was undoubtedly the best TE on the market, even if Jared Cook was a flashier receiver. This is a huge upgrade over Kellen Davis (fun stat: he dropped 29.6% of all catchable balls thrown his way last year. Woof), but you didn't need me to tell you that.

The next few days and weeks before the draft will truly show us what Phil Emery is made of, as he juggles the monumental tasks of creating cap space, cutting veterans (Kellen Davis, Matt Toeiana, and Matt Spaeth all got the axe today or will in the next few days), and figuring out if/how to re-sign the teams own veterans and add a few other bargains, if possible. As Emery himself said in his press conference, the Bushrod and Bennett moves are also important in that they gave the team a great deal of flexibility in the draft. I'm sure I'll have more to say by then.

Conclusion: These were good moves. Go Bears.


Dan said...

Bingo! Nice to see SOMEONE gets it. If 2013 is a repeat of 2012, and assuming Webb plays RT, then the Bears improved BOTH tackle spots by signing Bushrod. And the contract they gave him is reasonable if you look at what starting LTs make these days.

So far, so good.

Erik said...

It just goes to show you how this town is. They literally did the two most pressing things in the minds of most intelligent Bears fans: get a better blocking and pass-catching tight end, and add skill on the offensive line. Things we've been chiding them for years for not doing. And they do it, and people are already bitching that it isn't a good move and we should've got some linebackers or something.

Code Red said...

Hub fucking Arkush made a crack about "how's Mel Tucker supposed to call a defense with five DL, 1 LB, and no nickelback" at 8:00 pm last night. Five hours into free agency the Bears had signed a LT and a TE, none of their own free agents had signed anywhere else (only Hayes has so far), and there's only about six months and a draft till they take the field, and Hub is bitching about the Bears not having their starting lineup set on defense. Fucking Chicago media, I swear to God.