My first thought for was to write a post titled "Why the Bears shouldn't pursue Mario Williams." After all, the Bears already have one of the league's most expensive defenses, and it's not getting any younger. Besides, why would the team want to put even more money into the D when there are so many holes on offense? For all the reasons there are against pursuing any defensive free agents this off-season, there's one really good reason to do the opposite. Find out what it is and why I've come to agree with Lester below the fold.
If Phil Emery has any sense at all, he'll have learned one very important lesson from the Angelo firing: if you want to stay employed with the Bears, Beat the Packers. I am fully convinced I would be writing about how badly Angelo will botch this year's draft if our two-year record against the Packers was even one game better than 1-4. And, with the state our offense is in, there is no amount of free-agent help that will give us the weapons to outscore Aaron Rodgers. If the Bears have any short-term hope of regaining dominance in the NFC North, it's going to have to start on defense. A long-term plan has to include improving the offense in a big way, but that's what "building through the draft" means. No more short-term answers. No more band-aids. No more has-been free agents. If Emery does what he said he would do, he'll be looking for long-term answers in the draft, not in free agency.
The Bears have the core of their offense in place in Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Emery needs to do what Jerry Angelo didn't: build around this core with high-round draft picks. While the Bears won't be able to fill their biggest long-term need - a franchise left tackle - this draft, they could fill their other biggest need - a #1 wide receiver - using the "Patriots Method": draft three players in a position of need and hope at least two stick. A free agent WR or two would be nice, but not as nice as having a home-grown receivers in the primes of their careers when it comes time for Jay Cutler to retire. Long-term thinking gets long-term results.
Still, I wouldn't be upset if the Bears dropped big bucks on a Colston or Vincent Jackson. I would consider the cash spent a good way to maximize the value of the picks and cash the team has already put down on Jay Cutler. My biggest fear, however, is that a big-name wide receiver becomes an excuse for the Bears to once again not deal with their offensive needs come draft day. If Jerry Angelo demonstrated one thing as a general manager, it's that quick fixes don't fix much. Let's hope Emery learned the lesson.
But what about the money? The Bears already have a huge amount of money invested in Julius Peppers, and with good reason: he's worth every penny of it. With the new rookie wage scale, however, we can get a great bang for our buck on offense. Consider the case of Matt Forte. He is finally going to get the money his level of play demands, but for four years, he was one of the best values in football. And when picks turn into Pro Bowlers, they are often a better cap-space proposition than a free agent. Vincent Jackson is only the most recent example of a player who offers his current team a "home town discount" in free agency. Looking at the bigger picture, when the Bears' standard four-year rookie contracts will expire, the cap space currently occupied by Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers can be invested in the franchise players of the future. Considering that we could draft half a dozen wide receivers and still take less of a cap hit than we would by paying for a top free agent, I would go with the youth movement every time.
Long story short, I have to agree with Lester. If we're going to make a splash in free agency, let's do it on defense. Accept the fact that we can't put together the firepower to beat the Packers in a shootout, and focus on finding ways to stop Aaron Rodgers. It might seem dollar-foolish, but as the Giants proved in the Super Bowl, a beastly defensive line can take down even the best. Yes, the Bears would be spending a huge amount of their cap space on the defensive line, but Emery has to play the hand Angelo dealt him. The best way for the Bears to regain the division title is by maximizing our strengths, because our weaknesses are too great to overcome through a single free-agent signing. The number one rule at any job is to keep the boss happy, and Mario Williams has the potential to keep Virginia smiling all the way into the off-season.