The angry mob that has stormed the bastille with flaming sticks and pitchforks have finally been heard. General manager Jerry Angelo has been held accountable for allowing the talent on the Bears fall considerably behind those of their divisional counterparts.
Okay, so the decision by Bears president Ted Phillips to fire Angelo probably had little to nothing to do with the fans’ gripes, but I won’t rain on their parade today.
For far too long, Angelo has missed on more draft picks than he has hit on, and a number of other blunders — from botched trades to mishandled paperwork — have led to his departure from the Bears. From players such as Michael Haynes to Mark Bradley, Dan Bazuin to Michael Okwo, and Jarron Gilbert to Juaquin Iglesias, Angelo has missed far too often on prospects selected in the first three rounds of drafts. The fact that nobody from the 2005 draft class remains with the club and only one player from 2007 — fifth-round pick Corey Graham — is with the team today was a cause for alarm.
I was pleased that Phillips, who made the decision himself to cut ties with Angelo according to Bears chairman George McCaskey, recognized the flaw in the Bears deficiency of talent and decided to act upon it. Probably concerned about his own job security in the waning years of his contract, Phillips felt it prudent to make a move now.
“Ultimately, we look at our division and we say, ‘We need to close that talent gap.’” Phillips said at Tuesday’s press conference. “And that’s what we need to do and I think the way to do that right now is a fresh start and a new look at our team.”
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions have surpassed the Bears is that they were so bad for so long that they received several high draft picks year after year. The difference between the Lions and Bears, though, is that the Lions front office turned their high picks into Calvin Johnson (2nd overall, 2007), Matthew Stafford (1st overall, 2009), Brandon Pettigrew (20th overall, 2009), Louis Delmas (33rd overall, 2009), and Ndamukong Suh (2nd overall, 2010), among other talented players. Angelo’s best draft pick within the last four drafts was Matt Forte in the second round all the way back in 2008.
The Packers, on the other hand, have maintained a competitive team for a long time without receiving high draft pick compensation, and yet they’ve still hit on their draft picks and have made savvy transactions as well. With how young and talented Green Bay’s roster is, it’s evident that they could be contenders for a long time and it was clearly time to make a move and bring in someone who can close the talent gap that Phillips had talked about.
Also on his way out the door on Tuesday was offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who chose to resign due to philosophical differences. There was a good chance he would have been fired, anyway (or not retained, considering his contract was expiring).
Bears fans could see the writing on the wall for Martz for a couple months now and it seemed a foregone conclusion that Martz would not return next season after the Bears dropped into a funk after losing Jay Cutler. We can’t be too quick to berate Martz for he did help guide them to one of the highest-scoring and most productive offenses during their five-game win streak with Cutler in the lineup. But he was only a moment’s instinct away from calling a play unsuitable with the parts he had at his disposal which would get his quarterback killed behind a shaky offensive line. Lovie Smith did not enjoy seeing his franchise quarterback take a beating like he did the past two seasons.
There have been reports already that the Bears have been looking outside the organization for a replacement for Angelo, which brings a sigh of relief because if the Bears turn to Tim Ruskell, Angelo’s hand-picked player personnel director, he could wind up doing a worse job than Angelo given his poor track record in Seattle.
There are a host of promising young personnel executives throughout the league that could receive interviews with the Bears, and if the organization chooses to go in that direction, it would behoove them to look for a young guy who does work or has worked under a successful general manager. But the two men who intrigue me the most are Bill Polian and Reggie McKenzie.
Polian is the long-time architect of the Indianapolis Colts and was a major factor in guiding the Colts to a string of nine-straight 10-plus-win seasons before this year’s collapse due to Peyton Manning’s season-killing injury. The two questions that come to mind are can he work under Phillips, and would he be willing to come to Chicago if the team did not want him to bring his son, Chris?
McKenzie, meanwhile, is the director of football operations for the Green Bay Packers. As we all know too well, the Packers have built a strong and extremely deep team under general manager Ted Thompson, and McKenzie surely had to have learned a lot from him. Reports are that he’s comfortable in his current position, though, and may not be looking to move.
The fallout from the dismissal of Angelo and Martz could mean short-term instability but it will lead to a long-term upward projection. With Martz leaving, Cutler will have to learn yet another new offense. And if Smith is on the hot seat under the new general manager, it’s possible Cutler would then have to learn another offense within the next year or so. Unfortunately, all this instability for the past three years has possibly hurt Cutler’s career development, but he’s still relatively young by quarterback standards. He could have a three or four-year window left to his prime, but should play beyond that if he stays healthy.
Can the Bears find a new general manager within that window to build around Cutler and infuse the roster with new, young talent? That’s the million-dollar question. But I will say I feel better about a yet-to-be-named general manager doing that than I have about Angelo doing so in the past half-decade.
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