It’s time to put on my fantasy football ownership hat and take the reins of a Chicago Bears organization that has been publicly embarrassed over the last two years. I’m not a football savant by any means, and although I prided myself on my excellent mathematical skills from grade school through college, I’m no salary cap expert either.
This is strictly for entertainment and analytical purposes and offers one man’s perspective on what the Bears need to do to right the ship.
Checklist in no particular order
Reassign Ted Phillips’ duties and hire President of Football Operations
I have no problem with the job that Bears President Ted Phillips has done, in terms of his role in business operations. Well, maybe aside from whatever role he might have had in the renovation of Soldier Field, a 2003 project that left the Bears with one of the smallest capacity stadiums. I also wish Soldier Field would make the switch to field turf, which Phillips is opposed to. But aside from business operations, I do not want this man making any more decisions with anything that transpires on a football field. I want to reassign his duties so that he can focus on making the Bears a profitable organization.
Fire Phil Emery and Marc Trestman
The Bears moved quickly on Black Monday and word was released that Emery and Trestman were relieved of their duties as general manager and head coach, respectively. I want to thank Emery for speaking to us instead of down at us throughout his short tenure with the organization. One of the skills I felt he best owned was being able to see problems and work to address them quickly. His predecessor, Jerry Angelo, had an issue identifying problems that were so apparent to the rest of Bears Nation. But Emery recognized a need for a No. 1 receiver and he acted quickly and traded for Brandon Marshall, not to mention traded up in the draft to select Alshon Jeffery. He recognized the need for a playmaking tight end to fill the void left by Greg Olsen several years ago and he signed Martellus Bennett. He saw a hole at left tackle so he jumped out and signed Jermon Bushrod on the first day of free agency. He saw a need at adding pass rushers and drafted one with his first ever draft pick. Unfortunately, where Emery failed was at getting the right players in the right spots. Marshall, Jeffery, Bennett, Bushrod, and Kyle Long aside, Emery has failed to find the right combination of safeties, picked the wrong defense end — Shea McClellin — when trying to address the pass rush, left the linebacker position in complete shambles, and failed to fill the roster with enough depth to supply the special teams with actual competitors. Emery’s two biggest failures, though, were his downfall: the hiring of Marc Trestman as head coach and the enormous contract for quarterback Jay Cutler.
Hire an apprentice general manager in waiting
Finding a general manager is difficult for most teams in the NFL. There is not a huge success rate, which explains why there is such instability for most teams in the NFL. But there are a handful of franchises in the league that are anywhere from moderately to extremely successful and are competitive from year to year because they have a front office that works and is able to keep the cupboards full, so to speak. I want a guy from one of those front offices. No, the Bears will not be able to lure away one of those presidents or general managers because those guys are probably pretty happy in their respective jobs and those teams wouldn’t grant them permission to leave for another team, anyway. But there are plenty of apprentices or “general managers in waiting” in the league, and the Bears just have to find who those guys are. Someone who works as the right hand man for a successful general manager. Someone who has intimate knowledge for how the mind works of any of the successful general managers in the league. Someone who has been inside war rooms on draft day and has seen firsthand what it takes to put together a winning roster.
Hire an authoritative head coach with knowledge of both offensive and defensive principles
I’ve respected former Bears head coach Marc Trestman from Day 1. He strikes me as a good man with healthy ideals. But one of the characteristics that became his downfall was his inability to handle large personalities and to be a leader of a locker room full of them. He succeeded as a head coach in Canada, but most players who suit up in that league have already been humbled. They are guys who love to play the game and do it because they don’t want to give it up. It certainly isn’t about the money up there. But in the NFL, players have larger egos and plenty more authority and I think Trestman was in over his head. I want to hire a coach who rules with an iron fist. Not a psychotic, but a controlled authoritarian who commands the locker room’s respect. Likewise, there has been a lot of talk about how the NFL is trending offense and that that automatically means they should hire an offensive-minded head coach. Understandably, prospective candidates who have not been former head coaches will have some kind of specialty on one side of the ball or the other. But I’d like to find a guy who has knowledge and passion for both sides of the ball, because some of the best coaches in the NFL are actively involved in both meeting rooms — as they should be.
Cut the Lovie Smith fat from the roster
The Bears fired Lovie Smith two offseasons ago after he finished 10-6. Under normal circumstances, this would look insane, but it was time for Lovie to go. He had not made the playoffs enough, including during his final campaign. Lovie had a lot of supporters in the locker room, though. Players who loved his support in front of the media and how he handled the team’s business. Some of those players — most notably Lance Briggs — were clearly agitated by Lovie’s firing and those bitter feelings noticeably carried over into the Trestman regime, leaving what appeared to be less-than-ideal working relationship with new players and the new coaching staff. Briggs appears to be on his way out the door as his contract is up. Charles Tillman, likewise, looks as though he has played his final snap for the Bears. I think it’s time to sever any remaining ties to the Lovie regime — because it’s also time to systematically cut the fat from the Phil Emery-Marc Trestman regime.
Explore trade of Jay Cutler, but prepare to use him as caretaker
I’ve always been a supporter of Jay Cutler. I think he has more talent than most other quarterbacks in the NFL can only dream of. But I also know that the cerebral part of the game never fully developed for him and his turnovers were a hindrance to both his own personal growth and that of the team. At this point, with six years left on his contract and a lot of guaranteed money, it doesn’t look like there exists a good chance that any other team will take on his big contract and give up comparable value for him in terms of draft picks. It’s worth exploring, of course, but the Bears need to be prepared to keep him on board for the next two years while his contract is still guaranteed.
Acquire a potential long-term quarterback this season or next
While Cutler is managing the offense with his expensive contract, the Bears need to find his replacement. This, of course, is much more difficult than it sounds. Half the teams in the league don’t have an NFL starting quarterback. Several others are looking for an upgrade. Five have elite talent. The Bears could try drafting one, but the top of the draft class this year is a little weak. To take one in the middle rounds would require a great leap of faith and confidence in the next head coach or offensive coordinator to develop him. The Bears could also sign a young veteran free agent, but good quarterbacks rarely ever hit the free agent market. Their own teams would sign them to extensions if they believed in them. Again, this would require a belief that you could develop them into studs. A third option is a trade for one. This is a difficult option due to salaries and roster constraints. A guy like Redskins backup Kirk Cousins — who said he would ask for a trade if Robert Griffin III is named starter in Washington next season — might be available, but he showed signs of struggle this year … as most quarterbacks do because there just isn’t enough good ones available.
Sign a veteran right tackle
The Bears have a wealth of offensive talent, mostly at the skill positions. Where they appeared to struggle this season was along the offensive line. Play calling factored into the offensive struggles for sure — as did Cutler’s decision making — but the blocking had problems, too. Some of this can be attributed to injuries and personnel changes all season, but then again the Bears need to upgrade as well. Jordan Mills was steady at right tackle as a rookie but he struggled this season. I would seek a road-grading, tough and nasty S.O.B. to anchor the right side of the line next to Kyle Long to help pave the way for Matt Forte and the run game next season.
Beef up offensive line with rookies and low-cost veterans
In addition to getting an upgrade at starting right tackle, the Bears need to look for the future. Center Roberto Garza signed an extension before the season finale, but he is 35 years old. Jermon Bushrod is 30. Left guard Matt Slauson, at 28, still has some good years left in him but he could use some competition. The entire line needs it, actually. The best teams in the NFL have solidified offensive lines that play with attitude and cohesion.
Throw a wad of money at Ndamukong Suh
Yes, he’s a dirty player. Yes, he did something stupid this weekend by intentionally stepping on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ leg, earning him a one-game suspension for the playoff opener. But the man is the anchor for one of the best defenses in the NFL. My philosophy was, is, and always will be that defense is built from the inside out, and from the front to the back. Which means, defensive tackle is the most important position on that side of the ball. The Bears have a decision to make on Stephen Paea, who is coming off the best season of his career but is entering free agency. I feel the Bears need to get younger at the position, so I would do everything in my power to sign both Suh and Paea. To do this, the Bears would need to cut cost and free up a roster position, and that means cutting ties with Jeremiah Ratliff. I really like Ratliff and I think he played well for the Bears when healthy. But he’s 33 years old and has a history of injuries. I think with a solid tandem of Suh and Paea anchoring the middle of the defense, that unit will instantly become credible again. Maybe not good yet, but credible and competitive.
Beef up defensive line with rookies and low-cost veterans
Much like the offensive line, the Bears need depth on defense. Rookies Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton barely made a dent and will have to prove they’re capable pros. Willie Young was a beautiful addition but he has a long road back after tearing his Achilles. Jared Allen is getting older and doesn’t have the step he once did. No one knows what to expect from one-sack-and-blow-out-his-knee Lamarr Houston. I’d cut him immediately if financially acceptable. But the Bears need to beef up the line with young players ready to relentlessly attack the quarterback. Guys like David Bass — a try-hard guy who probably won’t ever be a great player but shows energy and finds ways to make plays around the ball. Do the Bears need better players than him? Of course. But remember, salary cap constraints will come into play. Young and hungry beats old and slow any day.
Snag a veteran middle linebacker if possible; create competition at position regardless
The Bears had the right idea when they brought in D.J. Williams to replace the legendary Brian Urlacher two years ago. It just didn’t work out because Williams couldn’t stay on the field. The Bears need a stable presence leading and calling the shots for their defense, and someone who can help transition the younger outside linebackers from novices to professionals. If no such veteran middle linebacker exists on the market, the Bears will need to look to draft one who has leadership qualities and definitely create competition across the entire linebacking corps with Christian Jones and Jon Bostic.
Find a big, strong, tough cornerback to join Kyle Fuller
I thought Fuller had a very good rookie season. He started the year on fire, throwing his name in the hat for rookie of the year contention. He then battled some injuries and hit the rookie wall after that. But he remained feisty and competitive throughout the year and with the right defensive coaches on board next season, he could develop into a solid starting cornerback. As previously mentioned, Charles Tillman is likely on his way out the door. That leaves Tim Jennings on the other side. Jennings, a Lovie Smith holdover, might have a little value left in him but I would recommend finding a replacement for him. And I would mold him after Seattle’s tough secondary by finding a strong, tough guy who can be physical at the line with bigger receivers.
Through free agency or draft, get a cerebral safety and value consistency over upside
The madness at the safety position has to stop. The Bears have not been steady there since Mike Brown left the team last decade. The position has seen almost as many busts walk through it as the quarterback position did throughout the 1990s and 2000s. What Brown did so well as a member of the team was use his knowledge and instincts to put himself in the right position to make plays. He wasn’t the fastest guy on the field, but because he was a student of the game, he knew where to line up, how to diagnose a play, and where he needed to be. He was also a leader — something the Bears were devoid of this year. The Bears have a serviceable player in Ryan Mundy to line up at safety as well. But they need the next coming of Brown, who is not as rare a player as you might expect.
Fill roster with fast, hungry and angry Neanderthals
Former Bears linebacker Doug Buffone is known for once saying that players had to have the “Neanderthal gene.” Which is to say, he wanted guys who were rough and tough and just wanted to go out and smash some heads around for three hours every week. That’s a football player. What the Bears have shown the past two seasons on defense and special teams is anything but Neanderthal-like. That comes from bad drafting and failure to supply the roster with competition. Any move the Bears make on defense — with the exception of signing a veteran starter — should not be made unless the answer to the following question is a resounding yes: Can this guy be an impact special teamer? There should never again be a question of whether the Bears have players on their roster who aren’t good enough to play on any other team in the league. Because special teams is the single most fundamental requirement for having a job in the NFL, and I’m sure I speak for all of Bears Nation when I say I’m tired of seeing embarrassment all over the field from them.