I've read some defenses of Tim Ruskell here at Windy City Gridiron, and I would find them quite funny if they didn't concern the GM position of the Bears. (Some of this posting has been taken, or distilled, from some comments that I have made in other threads).
For example, there's this post, which apparently considers an association with Jerry Angelo to be a bigger negative that a terrible record as GM at Seattle (and it even tries to mitigate that terrible record by qualifying it as only ‘after SB year'):
We all know Ruskell's main two negatives against him:
1. Association with Jerry Angelo
2. Unsuccessful tenure (after SB year) as GM for the Seahawks
And the logic behind most Ruskell defenses seems to be that since the Bears already made one mistake (keeping Lovie, and possibly Ted Phillips), then promoting Ruskell isn't as big a deal:
Bottom line is, whoever the Bears hire this year his tenure is tenuous at best. Why not grab the man who is already aware of that? The man who gets Lovie and poses no threat. If the Bears have a great season then we all play "wait and see" on the Ruskell moving forward. But if the seasons a disaster, or even a disappointment, clean house and start completely fresh. It isn't an ideal situation but since we screwed the pooch from the beginning why not see this through to the end?
I'm sorry, nothing personal, but that logic sucks. Because, in the opinion of a Ruskell-backer, the Bears didn't do things perfectly already, they may as well make another potential mistake because it won't make a huge difference in the long-run? Hogwash. And these defenses of Ruskell also don't analyze Ruskell's history as GM, which is there for the taking. Why not? Because it sucks, that's why.
Tim Ruskell is being evaluated against other candidates who have never been GM in the NFL. In this evaluation, we are able to take into consideration Ruskell's performance as GM, whereas for other candidates this isn't possible. Is that fair? I don't care. Because I think that to ignore or try to ameliorate Ruskell's crappy performance as GM for the Seahawks simply because other candidates have never been a GM would be a colossal mistake. We have his entire history to analyze, and we should.
Moon Mullin and Hub Arkush view him as the most qualified of the candidates. That's an over-simplification of the matter, because he's actually the most experienced of the candidates, and not necessarily the candidate who fulfills the most requirements for the position (e.g. someone who has a strong history in the draft). And, to recall an old adage, we should never confuse activity with progress. Simply because Ruskell has been a GM in the past doesn't mean that he was any good at it, nor made the team better, let alone that he will make a different team better in the future.
In reading over the needs of the Chicago Bears this offseason, at least per many posts and responses here on WCG, there seems to be an overall consensus on these positions: WR, OT, CB, and backup QB. In his prior job as GM of the Seahawks, how was Tim Ruskell able to fill these particular positions over a period of five years (five drafts and offseasons)? Let's take a look:
Dominant, or at least #1, WR: As I've written in other comment threads, Ruskell couldn't find a #1 WR to save his life in Seattle. He traded a first-round draft pick to the Patriots for Deion Branch and then, if that wasn't bad enough, signed him to a 6-year $39 million contract extension with $23 million coming in the first three years. Ruskell said Branch was appealing because he is a ``known commodity that we know fits our system." Branch played in 51 games over 5 seasons for the Hawks, and never had more than 53 catches for 725 yards. He was traded back to the Pats for a 4th-round pick.
Ruskell's attempt to find a WR on the open market resulted in signing T.J. Houshmandzadeh to a five-year $40 million contract with $15 million guaranteed. TJ irritated everyone, even Matt Hasselbeck, and was released one year later.
Offensive (hopefully Left) Tackle: Even though Walter Jones was getting long in the tooth when Ruskell took over in 2005 (Walter's 9th season), he never had any (apparent) plan in place to replace him. In 37 draft picks over 5 drafts (2005-2009), Ruskell selected ONE OT - Ray Willis (4th, #105, 2005) - a journeyman, at best.
Backup QB: Same type of story here as OT. Matt Hasselbeck is getting old and gradually missing games, and the best that Ruskell could do for a backup plan was Seneca Wallace. Ouch. Wallace was last seen starting 3 games for the Browns this season, with a 51% completion rate, 65.4 rating and 5.3 yards per attempt. The 2005 draft is particularly notable in this respect, as Ruskell selected QB David Greene (Georgia) in the 3rd round, with the 85th pick in the draft, and then selected Leroy Hill at #98 (3rd) and Ray Willis at #105 (4th). With pick #106 in the fourth round the Chicago Bears selected Kyle Orton, who would have made a damn fine backup to Matt Hasselbeck, if I do say so myself.
Cornerback: This is probably the one area where Ruskell can't be completely maligned as he picked Kelly Jennings (1st, #31) and Josh Wilson (2nd, #55) with top picks in consecutive years for the Seahawks. They're both still playing, but neither could be considered a stud nor lock-down corner, and they're both on different teams now. Jennings was traded for a 7th-rounder, Wilson for a conditional pick.
How about the rest of Ruskell's draft history, apart from these particular positions? In those aforementioned 37 picks, Ruskell identified exactly one player who has made a Pro Bowl - Lofa Tatupu. Ruskell re-signed Lofa to a 6-year, $42 million contract extension with $18 million guaranteed. Lofa was a damn good player for a while, and had his career unfortunately affected by an injury. He was released before this past season because he would not take a pay cut, and no other team in the NFL saw fit to pick him up, so he didn't play at all, at the age of 29.
The other 36 picks from 2005 - 2009? Not even a single Pro Bowl appearance among them. That is hardly the record of a candidate who should be strong in the draft, yet it manages to make Jerry Angelo look like a genius as he identified Devin Hester, Corey Graham, Matt Forte and Johnny Knox in the same timeframe. Sure, Hester, Graham and Knox made the Pro Bowl as special teams players, but no Ruskell choice could do even that.
I am also particularly worried about the situation with Matt Forte, given Ruskell's history with free agents. As detailed above, he threw over $15 million in guaranteed money at Deion Branch, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Lofa Tatupu, yet allowed Steve Hutchinson to hit the open market with the Transition tag. Regardless of whether the outcome of the Hutchinson saga was beyond the ability of a competent GM to predict, it does have to be taken into consideration against some of the other players which Ruskell did proactively sign long-term.
And one of these signings included a star RB - Shaun Alexander. In 2006 Ruskell made Alexander (then 29 years old) the highest-paid RB in NFL history by signing him to an 8-year $62 million contract, with $15 million guaranteed and $15 million paid in the first year. Ruskell released Alexander 26 months later. According to Ruskell, "The contract was set up that you wanted to get at least three years, so we didn't get there. That part is disappointing." So - to put it bluntly - I simply don't trust Ruskell with the ‘keys' to the Forte situation.
One particular draft day of Ruskell's caught my eye in doing some quick research for this post. In 2008, Ruskell traded down in the first round with the Cowboys. Then, he traded up in the second round with the Baltimore Ravens. I didn't remember this particular Seattle draft, even though I was still living there at the time, as my mind was elsewhere (I was actually visiting my future home of Krakow, Poland that week). But the results of this draft are quite enlightening.
The Cowboys selected CB Mike Jenkins with Seattle's pick (#25). Jenkins made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and has proven to be a better CB that any that Ruskell selected in his time as GM (see above). The Seahawks selected DE Lawrence Jackson, who now plays for the Detroit Lions, with the #28 pick.
In the second round that day, the player that Ruskell was targeting when he moved up from #55 to #38, by giving a 3rd-round pick to the Ravens (#86), was TE John Carlson. Carlson had been a serviceable TE before his scary injury in Soldier Field during last season's playoffs and his season-ending shoulder surgery this past August. But in moving up those 17 spots, Ruskell chose Carlson ahead of Matt Forte (#44), DeSean Jackson (#49) as well as the player that the Ravens eventually took in Seattle's original spot - Ray Rice. Ruskell passed on two Pro Bowl RBs and a Pro Bowl WR/KR/PR during the same offseason when he released Shaun Alexander (and during his never-ending search for a #1 WR), in order to select an average TE.
Hopefully, this entire post and those before it will be rendered moot when the Bears hire Phil Emery or Jimmy Raye in the near future. I've heard the same rumors as others on WCG that Emery is in the driver's seat not only for his strong drafting and scouting experience, but because Raye has never actually been in the ‘Draft Room'.
Regardless of who the Bears choose, Tim Ruskell should not be anything more than a courtesy interview. If the new GM chooses to let him go, I won't care in the least. In fact, I would offer him nothing more than a demotion back to the scouting department, as I don't believe he has shown any ability to locate talent outside of a college campus, let alone to evaluate or rank that talent.