For me, NFL free agency is the real beginning of the new season. When you grow up rooting for teams that just are not reliably good year in and year out, free agency is a particularly exciting part of the professional football year.
With that take on free agency it may be surprising to discover that, as a lifelong fan of the Chicago Bears, I am seriously disappointed in general manager Jerry Angelo’s signing of defensive end Julius Peppers.
First, the size of the contract is far too large. Peppers is 31-years-old, and Chicago signed him to six year contract valued at $91.5M. It is difficult to imagine the Peppers Chicago signed at 31 will be the same Peppers at 36 or 37-years-old (assuming he’s still playing). Not only are the Bears paying high prices for declining skills a problem with signing Peppers, he has shown a tendency toward being a mercenary. The Charlotte Observer reported Peppers indicated he would have stayed in Charlotte if the Panthers could have come up with an additional six million dollars. Six million dollars!! Chump change to him, but it proves a larger point.
Aside from the clear reach of the contract, its enormous size – even an uncapped year like this one – puts severe limitations on adding other necessary talent to the Bears. The fact is, the Bears did not need a defensive end.
The team invested a great deal of time and money and disruption into acquiring quarterback Jay Cutler. Historically, the offense has relied a great deal on a run-first strategy – in large part because of the wind in the stadium and the inability to consistently pass effectively – and invested accordingly with the offensive rookie of the year two seasons ago, running back Matt Forte. What the Bears currently do not have right now is anyone capable of effectively blocking for the team’s primary offensive strategy. Angelo’s huge contract to Peppers makes investment in a much-needed offensive lineman or two virtually impossible. What’s more, if head coach Lovie Smith really DID want to add a defensive player, the emphasis should have been placed on a defensive back, as the team’s pass defense was terrible last season. With the health of the defensive line improving toward the end of last season (read: Tommie Harris), and the linebacker corps taking a similar turn toward health for the 2010 season, emphasis must be placed on pass defense where an extremely inexperienced group is often exploited. Rather than placing resources behind real need, Angelo has perpetuated the problems on the team and is setting up what promises to be Lovie Smith’s last season as a Chicago Bears head coach.
Plus, an already old Chicago Bears team just keeps getting older. Angelo, either through trades and other moves that create additional financial limitations, made it impossible to get younger or draft a group of players high in the draft because of the salary requirements for that caliber of talent. The Bears need to trade away some of the older talent and accentuate the younger talent. Instead, through coaching staff changes and bad free agent moves, the best players are being marginalized. Tight end Greg Olsen is likely on his way out of town or straight to the bench because he is not the type of tight end who can succeed in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s system. In short, the Bears’ best player on offensive is now not important anymore.
As much as Martz’s hiring has distracted the offense from improving in 2010, Rod Marinelli’s promotion to defensive coordinator, and his professional emphasis on coaching defensive lineman, means the free safety and cornerback positions were not addressed despite the fact that established and successful defensive backs were available.
While adding Chester Taylor at running back is pointless without any blockers, the move to add Julius Peppers is pointless and distracting and sure to make the Bears worse for 2010 and well beyond. I hope that Jerry Angelo and the coaching staff is already getting their respective resumes together. It is going to be a long 2010 season in Chicago.