Off-season focus should be shifting to offense

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For most of the 2008 season, the Bears’ offense carried the defense. When was the last time you could say that about a Bears team? Not only did the defense ride the offense’s coattails, but the special teams didn’t help the cause much, either.

All of this is ironic, too, considering the dramatic difference in resources allocated to the offense compared to the defense.

Nearly all of the money the Bears invested the past few years has been on the defensive side of the ball. Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Alex Brown, and Tommie Harris received contract extensions. Cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher received big contracts a few years back. The only notable extensions given on offense were a one-year deal to Kyle Orton and a lucrative contract to converted wide receiver Devin Hester.

Why did an undercompensated offense perform better than it’s overpaid defensive counterparts? Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Jerry Angelo’s focus this off-season should be to continue his trend the past two years of drafting an offensive player in the first round of the upcoming draft. The Bears, in fact, spent their first three picks on offense in last year’s draft and would be wise to do the same this year.

In 2007, the Bears got cocky. Angelo felt his team was better than they were following their 2006 Super Bowl appearance and he used most of those picks on “luxury players”. The result was a wasted second round pick on Dan Bazuin and a blown third round pick on Michael Okwo. Not to mention, Angelo pulled the trigger too soon on Garrett Wolfe in the third round that year as well.

What has typically confounded me is why Angelo tips the monetary scale in favor of the defense when he has a proven track record of finding suitable defensive players. Have all of his defensive players been successful? Absolutely not. I just named two busts from last year’s draft.

However, Alex Brown in the fourth round of 2002, Tillman in the second round and Briggs in the third round of 2003, Harris in the first round and Vasher in the fourth round of 2004, and Chris Harris in the sixth round of 2005 have all turned out to be pretty solid picks. Of course, Angelo then probably made a mistake getting rid of Harris, again, because of the aforementioned cocky and poor evaluation of the safety position.

And the jury is still out on Corey Graham and Kevin Payne, but early indications have them turning out to be decent fifth round picks from last year.

If Angelo is so successful at drafting defensive talent, then why is all the money given to that side of the ball? Why not shift the money by picking up free agents at offensive positions that Jerry Angelo has traditionally struggled to fill? And when it comes time to re-sign a defensive player, perhaps letting him go and “reloading” through the draft is the best course of action.

The short answer is that Angelo has, and will continue to, reward his own players. I understand the loyalty behind the decision to pay players that have done well for you, but what about the business aspect of it? And the football side of it, too?

From a business perspective, if the Bears draft an unknown commodity in the first round of the draft — such as Cedric Benson in 2005 — then they could wind up paying a lot of money on a bust. Whereas, if they use that money on a proven player via free agency, they’ll get a better return on their investment. However, when you’re in as bad shape as the Bears are, you have to attack the offensive holes through free agency and the draft.

As for the football side of it, the Bears have struggled to resemble an NFL offense for more than two decades. There are only three instances that I can remember where the offense looked better than most other teams in the league. In 1995, under the leadership of Erik Kramer, the Bears had the 9th overall offense and averaged 24.5 points per game. In stretches during 2006, led by Rex Grossman, the Bears’ offense was 15th overall, but was second in the league with 26.7 points per game. And briefly this year, under Orton’s watch, the Bears had a Top 3 offense.

By no coincidence, during those three stretches, the Bears got good play from the quarterback position. And until that situation is resolved, they will continue to struggle offensively.

It is my belief that not only do the Bears need to address quarterback, wide receiver, and offensive line through free agency this off-season, but they need to spend their first few picks — and the majority of their total selections — on the offensive side of the ball.

There’s an old saying that goes, “You get what you pay for.” It’s not a surprise that the underfunded quarterback position — and the offense as a whole — aren’t giving a good return on investment.

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