Pace and Fox establishing new culture without Briggs, Marshall

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When Bears general manager Ryan Pace took office in his new post, he mentioned “character” as one of the primary traits he is looking for in potential players for the Bears’ roster.

Given how fractured the Bears’ locker room was the past two seasons under coach Marc Trestman, Pace faced a surgical operation to perform on the roster.

One of Pace’s first moves was to bring in a coach who was in many ways the opposite of Trestman. He needed to find a guy who had experience as an NFL head coach and who commanded the respect of the players in the locker room, two things that Trestman did not exhibit. Pace landed his guy in former Broncos and Panthers head coach, John Fox.

Together, the two new most important men in the Bears’ organization began to evaluate and dissect the roster, analyze game film from last year’s woeful season, and point out the problem areas that needed to be repaired — or removed completely like a defective body organ.

On Thursday, two big news stories hit the wire regarding two larger-than-life personalities on the Bears’ roster.

The first was that sources confirmed that Lance Briggs, the 12-year veteran who is one of the best linebackers in Bears history, would not return for a 13th season with the team.

The second was that the Bears have been shopping wide receiver Brandon Marshall for what potentially could be a mid-round draft pick in April/May’s draft.

There was a touch of symbolism that rang loudly when both these reports were announced roughly at the same time. If it’s true that Pace and Fox are looking for players of great character and leadership, it seems fitting that Briggs and Marshall would both be on their way out the door.

Briggs and Marshall both are players who — by the nature of their talent and importance to the team — should be leaders in their own right. But the two never stepped up, received the baton, and ran with it.

After Briggs’ long-time teammate Brian Urlacher left the organization, it seemed logical that Briggs would take over Urlacher’s leadership duties. But that never materialized as Briggs could not fill the role that Urlacher embodied. Not to mention, character came into question back when Briggs abandoned his crashed Lamborghini on the side of the highway, boldly proclaimed he never wanted to play for the Bears again during a contract dispute, and then took off the first Monday of the season to go fly across the country for his restaurant opening.

On offense, the first player everyone should point to as the leader should be the quarterback. But we know that Jay Cutler has never been comfortable in that role and probably never will be, so there was a void needing to be filled and Marshall tried to fill it.

But when the poop hit the fan and the Bears’ season went down the drain last season, Marshall got into confrontations with teammates in the locker room, spent time flying to New York to do his television show each week, and publicly hung out to dry his teammate — and friend — Cutler over the contract he signed in the offseason.

One guy skipped practice to fly to California for a restaurant opening. The other guy flew to New York on off days to do a TV show.

It’s no wonder that Pace said in an interview during the NFL Scouting Combine last month, “I just want to make sure that we understand the Chicago Bears and football are our No. 1 priority going forward.”

Briggs and Marshall were talented All-Pros through much of their careers. But effective leaders they were not. Now the two could very well be gone next season and Pace and Fox will have the difficulty of not only replacing their on-field talent, but also filling the leadership void those players could not fill.

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