The two year, six million dollar deal that the Bears made with Kellen Davis seems like the footnote of this year's opening to free agency. Still, the always-candid Lovie Smith said earlier today that Davis is "still on the upswing," faint praise compared to Phil Emery declaring him a "dynamite athlete." Footnote or not, the team clearly expects him to shine in the offense of former tight end Mike Tice. Time will tell if this faith is well-placed, but I'll leave it to you to debate his on-field merits. What I love about the Kellen Davis signing is what is says about how Phil Emery is going to run what has rapidly become his team. More below the fold.
First things first: the Bears have bigger needs than tight end. Sure, few would have complained if Emery dumped Davis to go with one of the many other TE options that were on the free agent market. If Emery did make a move at tight end, however, nobody would have declared the Bears' offensive problems solved. By locking down Kellen Davis, Emery can put a check - or at least a check minus - next to the "tight end" position on his big board. I would much rather the Bears go with a known quantity at tight end rather than employ the Jerry Angelo method: trade out one middling player for another and call it an upgrade. The Bears say all the right things about Davis' upside. If this upside never materializes, however, the Bears know he is at least a serviceable player.
The contract itself says much more than the Lovie-speak. By giving him a two-year deal with $3.5 of the $6 million coming this year, the Bears have put Davis right where he should be. If he can validate the Bears' faith in him on the field, Emery can lock him up for good either next off-season or the season after. But if his catching and blocking abilities don't take that next step, the Bears can cut him next year without taking a big cap hit. More than any other move Emery has made so far, this one gives me faith that he does have a handle on the business side of football. The contract gives Davis plenty of incentive to take his game to the next level - if he shows up over the next two seasons, he can look forward to a big payday - but also keeps Emery's options open if Davis disappoints.
My favorite part about the re-signing of Davis, however, has nothing to do with the tight end position at all. The Davis deal shows that Emery has a clear picture of what the Bears really need to focus on in 2012. Emery understands that the team simply doesn't have the option to add to their list of needs by letting too many free agents walk. With the first-round pick (hopefully) reserved to fill a real position of need and one of the third round picks now gone, Emery made sure he doesn't have to spend a mid-round pick on another tight end with "potential." After all, we've already got one.
Every move Emery has made so far confirms that the McCaskeys made a good choice with their hire. While the Brandon Marshall trade is a big deal, any GM can throw a couple of draft picks or a pile of cash at a big-name player to bring him into the fold. A good GM is the one who handles the other deals by maximizing their upside and thinking in terms of priorities. Like Davis, Emery is still a bit of a question mark - I'm not ready to crown him yet. For now, though, I'd say Emery is on the upswing.