Today we tackle the biggest misconception about the Chicago Bears; That the Bears are a cheap franchise.
There's no doubt that the Bears were a cheap franchise, but these days with the salary cap and a salary floor in place, can any NFL franchise be labeled cheap? I suppose there are ways to skimp on some of the amenities (still no Honey Bears), but with free agency such a big part of professional sports, does it really pay to have anything less than first class facilities?
I wasn't around for most of the George Halas years, when he started to create this miser image. I wasn't born when Mike Ditka famously made the statement that; "Halas throws nickels around like manhole covers.", or when Dick Butkus had to go to court to get money owed him on his contract, but history tells us George Halas was Scrooge-like in his penny pinching ways.
My earliest memories about the Bears take me to the 80's, and the very end of the Halas era, but his son in law Michael McCaskey was doing his best to maintain his families frugalness. I vaguely recall the grumbling from the players at that time about the poor conditions and the lack of coin being handed out. Starting safety Todd Bell and linebacker Al Harris both held out for more money before the 1985 season, so the Bears called their bluff and refused to pay them. Thanks to the Halas/McCaskey tightwad gene, they missed out on a historic run.
The 1985 Super Bowl XX champion Bears had the 24th (out of 28) highest payroll that year. Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, Steve McMichael, and William Perry were other training camp holdouts that eventually came to terms. Even with their signings, imagine all that talent being near the bottom of league wide payroll.
In Steve Delson's book, Da Bears!: How the 1985 Monsters of the Midway Became the Greatest Team in NFL History, former Chicago tight end Tim Wrightman recalled how his college facilities at UCLA was "ten times better" than what the Bears had. Right tackle Keith Van Horne called the Bears "notoriously frugal", and said of McCaskey "trust me, he's cheap."
When their Lake Forest practice field was frozen over, the Bears would travel by bus, in full uniform, to a local high school to practice indoors. The Chicago Bears were about as cheap as it gets, and a big reason was a lack of free agency. You played where you were drafted, or you didn't get paid.
I was enraged when the Bears allowed Wilber Marshall to leave as a free agent in 1988. He was the first free agent to leave his team in more than 10 years, and to make it worse, he went to the team that knocked the Bears from the playoffs the two years after SBXX, the Washington Redskins.
These cheapskate tactics was simply business as usual for the bottom line business practices of the Chicago Bears, but once free agency became a big part of the NFL, things started to change. The Bears had to adapt their scrimping DNA.
And they did, eventually...
In 1997 the Bears dropped about $20 million dollars to build Halas Hall. In 2005 the Bears signed Mushin Muhammad to a near $30 million dollar deal. In 2007 the Bears made Lovie Smith one of the highest paid coaches in pro sports, and they continue to pay his 2013 salary. They traded for a franchise type quarterback in 2009, then extended jay Cutler's deal later that year with $20 million guaranteed and $30 million in new money. Julius Peppers signed a huge contract worth $91.5 million with $42 million guaranteed in 2010. In early 2012 the Bears traded for one of the highest paid wide outs in the NFL when they shipped two draft picks to the Dolphins for Brandon Marshall.
Through recent history, Charles Tillman, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, and Robbie Gould all received very good deals for themselves. In July of last year, the Bears gave Matt Forte a deal worth around $32 million dollars. Forte got his money, but all some fans harp on is the 'Pay Da Man' campaign, and that the Bears are still cheap. The Bears cheapness is obviously waning, but the stereotype remains.
And it's not only the fan base still holding on to that notion.
I wouldn't think that someone who's paid to write about the Chicago Bears, would succumb to the frugal perception, when the reality is so much different. But Rick Morrissey of the Sun Times, as recently as July of 2011, still held on to the cheap narrative. In his article titled Bears' cheap ways with Olin Kreutz will be costly for Jay Cutler, he called the Bears "epically cheap", but if you look at the millions spent just above, how does he still cling to that angle?
So where exactly do the current Chicago Bears fall in the payroll department? Is there any merit to the frugality surrounding the team? Are the Bears, under current Chairman George McCaskey still a bunch of misers when it comes to payroll? Finding an NFL issued payroll chart isn't the easiest, but there is some information out there.
We found this interesting team by team interactive comparison website that lists the Bears as having the 5th highest payroll in the NFL at $124.7million. FOX Sports lists the Bears at #2 at $126.3 million, and these guys also have the Bears 5th.
I understand that the years, and years, of penny pinching by the Chicago Bears, has ingrained their cheapness in our consciousness, but it's clearly time to let that go. They really earned their reputation, but how can anyone that came about their Chicago Bears fandom in the last 15 years look at them as cheap?