The debates have gone on for days. People have their opinions. Was this a good pick? Did they take this guy too early? Ultimately there is no way to answer those questions for at least the next two to three seasons. Until then all Chicago Bears fans can do is sit back and ponder what second-year GM Phil Emery has envisioned for the charter NFL franchise. Like any passionate fans they are quick to second guess decisions they deem shady, which is their right since it's their money that pays his bills. This post isn't about identifying whether Emery is a good or bad general manager. It is way too soon to make that assessment. This is more about trying to clarify the process by which he's building the roster he envisioned when Chicago hired him last year.
First and foremost it is clear Emery isn't shy about attacking roster needs during free agency and the draft. Where other teams prefer sticking to their roster and building exclusively through college prospects, Emery believes free agency can serve a purpose if properly used. His work in 2013 is a great example. Experts were almost certain the Bears would have to restructure a number of contracts and extend some expiring ones if they had any hope of landing a notable free agent. Apparently that wasn't the case. At the meager cost of cutting Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth and Matt Toeina while letting veterans like Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Lance Louis hit the market; he collected two starters on defense (D.J. Williams and James Anderson), three starters on offense (Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Slauson) and even a special teams standout (Tom Zbikowski). To do all that and still keep enough money to not only sign your rookie class but possibly more free agents down the road is an unqualified success.
Even so, the true success of Emery will stem from how his drafting plays out. Without attacking whether the players he took are right or wrong, it's easier to analyze what they mean to the team. By collecting the draft class from last season and meshing it with the group from this year, it is clear the Bears head man prefers going after speed and athleticism. Shea McClellin earned high marks for his combine workouts and showed his versatility during games in Boise. Kyle Long played both tackle and guard for Oregon, explaining why skeptics chose to target his inexperience (only four starts at Division I level) versus his ability. Emery also isn't nearly the stickler for character that Jerry Angelo was. He traded for Brandon Marshall who suffers from borderline personality disorder and then drafted Alshon Jeffery out of South Carolina despite questions about his work ethic. Therein also lay another thing that separates Emery from former GM Jerry Angelo. Emery isn't afraid to create competition.
Between 2003 and 2010, Angelo drafted just one linebacker before the fourth round in any NFL draft. That pick was Michael Okwo. He also did not take a single tackle or guard before the seventh round for a four-year stretch between '03 and '07. Is it any wonder the line fell apart so badly? Meanwhile Emery invested four of his six picks in offensive linemen and linebackers, this after he spent a good amount of money on four free agents projected as starters. That speaks to a man who values discomfort, a man who thinks an athlete can't reach his best until he's pushed from behind. The other side of that is a willingness to fill a neglected pipeline with young talent at the cost of bypassing a luxury. Part of why certain teams stay strong in certain areas is because they invest in that position constantly. Some years it may be a fifth round pick, others it may be a second but they always make it a point to maintain their investment. That is why teams like New England can so easily interchange their offensive linemen and keep the jersey of Tom Brady spotless every week.
Deciding whether Phil Emery is right or wrong is an argument for another day. However, it is fair to compare him after two drafts to his predecessor. Where Jerry Angelo favored low risk players with proven college production, Emery favors athletic prowess and high ceilings. His moves come across as bigger gambles but with the potential for bigger payoffs. He also doesn't fear making star players angry or uncomfortable. His first duty, after all, is to make the Chicago Bears a winner. Popularity is best left to the men who step up to that challenge.