Although not a foregone conclusion, there is a distinct possibility the Bears will not make the playoffs this year, nor show significant improvement from the past three playoff-less seasons. The latter seems a prerequisite for head coach Lovie Smith to be welcomed back for the final year of his contract next season.
Smith deserves at least a share of the blame for the nosedive the team has taken since its Super Bowl run of 2006, but he’s not the only one, nor is his piece of the pie the biggest. There’s somebody else who should also be cleaning out his office if the team fails to make the postseason for the fourth straight year, and that somebody should not only be handed the pink slip before Smith receives his, but also have his name uttered first to the media by public relations.
Not only has general manager Jerry Angelo placed the Bears in this unstable position due to poor talent evaluation, but he’s also left the Bears in worse shape than they were before he took over in 2001. And although Smith deserves blame for not adapting his defensive philosophy to coincide with the changing trend of the NFL just as many other Cover 2 defenses have — the Colts and Buccaneers come to mind — Angelo is the one responsible for not giving Smith much talent with which to work.
Both men are in this business marriage together for better or worse and both should go down with the ship if it comes to that. Although Angelo’s contract lasts through the 2013 season, allowing him to choose a new head coach with little time left on his contract seems like wasted time and money to me. When Angelo fired Dick Jauron after the 2003 season and hired Smith, he hitched his wagon to the new head coach, and now it’s on its way off the road.
For the longest time, trying to figure out which man was more responsible for the current mess in which the Bears find themselves was as difficult as the chicken or the egg argument. Was Angelo responsible for supplying poor talent to Smith? Or was Smith responsible for not getting enough out of those players? To be fair, it was probably a little bit of both. But after the latest round of roster cutdowns, the trend is too glaring not to notice.
The Bears cut both of their third round picks from the 2009 draft in defensive lineman Jarron Gilbert and wide receiver Juaquin Iglesias on Saturday, as well as their 2007 fourth-round pick, offensive lineman Josh Beekman. Even more troubling is that the Bears released a player — safety Al Afalava — who started 13 games for them last season. What this tells us is that the Bears feel they’ve improved at the safety position enough to make Afalava expendable after just one season, but from what we’ve seen in the preseason, that position is anything but stable. And this, in itself, tells you just how bad the position was last year with Afalava as the starter for most of the season.
Of the 53 men who survived Saturday’s cutdown and currently preside on the active roster, less than half (25) were drafted by Angelo since his first draft in 2002.
That number drops to 21 when you consider the Bears have four rookies on the team (they cut quarterback Dan LeFevour), who were not likely to be released.
Care to take a guess how many first-, second-, third-, or fourth-round picks (the rounds that make up the backbone of a franchise) the Bears have on their team who were drafted by Angelo?
16. Three first-round picks (Tommie Harris, Greg Olsen, Chris Williams), four second-round picks (Charles Tillman, Danieal Manning, Devin Hester, Matt Forte), five third-round picks (Lance Briggs, Garrett Wolfe, Earl Bennett, Marcus Harrison, Major Wright) and four fourth-round picks (Craig Steltz, D.J. Moore, Henry Melton, and Corey Wootton). You can count on one hand the amount of Pro Bowlers from that bunch.
Of Angelo’s 77 draft picks, only 25 are on the team. That’s 32%. I have neither the time nor the stomach to compare that percentage to other teams in the league, but I’d be willing to wager dollars to donuts that Angelo’s success rate is near the bottom of the league during that time span. And considering that only a handful of Angelo’s draft picks who are still on the team could possibly play on any other team in the league, that success rate is even lower.
It’s not just that the Bears have few Angelo draft picks remaining on their team or that they don’t stick around for very long, but it’s the magnitude of the failure that leaves Bears fans’ blood boiling.
In 2009, the Bears selected Gilbert and Iglesias in the third round, neither of whom could see the field and lasted no more than one year with the team.
Angelo selected Williams with the team’s first pick in 2008 and Williams had a back injury that kept him out of most of his rookie season. This year, he’s looking poor at left tackle and almost got quarterback Jay Cutler killed during the preseason.
The 2007 draft is one of the most aggravating drafts for Bears fans because it showed arrogance and a complete lack of talent evaluation. The Bears’ front office, after seeing their team make the Super Bowl a few months prior, took unheralded Dan Bazuin in the second round and Garrett Wolfe and Michael Okwo in the third round. Wolfe still remains on the team, but all three were incredibly desperate reaches and were taken way too soon. Bazuin and Okwo can’t find a job in the league and Wolfe barely has a roster spot.
In 2006, Angelo reached for both Manning and Hester in the second round. While Hester helped lead the Bears to a Super Bowl with his kick return prowess, neither player was worth a second-round pick.
And in 2005, the Bears drafted Cedric Benson fourth overall and he turned out to be a bust. They drafted wide receiver Mark Bradley in the second round and his career never launched. In fact, if the Bears hadn’t reacquired Chris Harris from the Panthers — and thus admitting making a poor judgment on his talent by trading him to Carolina in the first place — the Bears wouldn’t have a single player remaining on their roster from that draft class.
While other teams throughout the league have had rookies contribute to their team right off the bat, the Bears have been redshirting players or otherwise have not been able to see them crack the lineup. The organization made some personnel changes by firing director of pro personnel Bobby DePaul and college scouting director Greg Gabriel this offseason, but nobody is fooled by whose fault this free fall into oblivion really is.
When the Bears take the field Sept. 12 against Detroit, it should be Angelo, and not so much Smith, who is shifting uncomfortably in his seat.