With the news breaking that Cutler is available and Jeffery won't be tagged, the Bears/Pace/Fox vitriol has reached a fever-pitch. Before I get into this post too far, let me ask all of you a semi-rhetorical question: are most or all of us either Cubs or Sox fans? How about Hawks fans? Did we not have to endure/currently enduring the same type of tear-down and re-build that the Bears are going through?
Additionally, can we stop calling today Year 3 of the Fox/Pace re-build? First off, until the 2017 53-man roster is finalized, we are still technically in Year-2. If you want to use semantics, then use the new league year of March 9 but the current roster is still the 2016 roster. We have no idea of what Year 3 is actually going to look like.
Secondly, let's stop including John Fox in this equation. I have always been and will continue to be of the belief that Fox will not be here when this team is ready. Think Renteria/Maddon with the Cubs or Savaard/Queenville with the Hawks. Fox is a teacher but he is not a great head coach. That will come when this team has the talent to compete. So for the sake of this post, Pace is the only one who matters.
Let's take a step back and look at where we were 2 years ago, at this time. We were coming off of a 5-11 Season, 1-5 in the Division. The Bears had the 23rd ranked Offense in points scored and 31st ranked Defense in points allowed. Let us not forget that we were ALL ready for Emery, Trestman, Kromer and Tucker to be gone. Most of us wanted Cutler gone too. Matt Forte averaged just 3.9 YPC and barely broke the 1,000-yard barrier. The team was in shambles. This is without even considering the defense, which was historically bad.
We went on and hired a young, bright front office man in Ryan Pace. Hometown kid, all that. Fox follows with a pretty divided response. Then Gase and Fangio, the fan base rejoices! So, what do these wonderful coaches and shiny new GM inherit?
An old, expensive team that frankly, wasn’t very good. There was an old, bad and expense Jared Allen, Lance Briggs, Jay Ratliff, Charles Tillman, DJ Williams, etc. A disgruntled and expensive Brandon Marshall. A massive (at the time) contract extension for Jay Cutler. The team was trotting out the Al Louis-Jean’s, Shea McLellin’s, Sherrick McManis’ and Christian Jone’s of the world.
I know that people like to talk about all the assets that the Bears had but realistically, what was there? Marshall? We know what his value was to the league. Bennett? We also saw what his value was. Cutler? Not with that contract. Forte? Not about to turn 30 with the amount of touches in his career (let’s not forget the $7.9M Cap hit). That’s pretty much it. Long and Jeffery were basically the only young building blocks that the team had on the roster. I think that people really need to go back and look at the 2014 roster to truly appreciate the work that needed to be done.
Fast-forward to the 2015 off-season and you see a switch in defensive scheme. This was clearly an overhaul of virtually the entire defensive side of the ball. I think it reasonable to expect this to take no less than 3 years of good drafting and prudent free agent spending. Do the Bears have 2/3’s of a good defense? I think the answer is absolutely.
This same off-season saw the Bears begin the tear-down of an old and flawed offense. The rebuilding process, as it should, has started up-front with the Offensive Line. Let’s flash-forward to 2017 and you can see that the Bears have a solid, if not good Offensive Line. The Offense is being built just like the defense, from the ball outward.
I understand the argument that you do not get better by discarding your most talented players. I understand this concept however, it is flawed. The flaw being that there is a hard salary cap involved. There needs to be a mix of high and low-priced talent on a team. Young players and veterans.
But the issue with Jeffery, and I believe this to be the proper approach is this: would you rather have a huge upgrade, likely 2, in the secondary for $15M/ year or Jeffery? The caveat of course being that there will either be a Rookie or a bridge QB (let’s assume Hoyer) for next season. Given that 2017 looks to be the year that the team starts to come together and 2018 looks to be the season to really compete, what exactly do we need Jeffery on this team at that price tag for? If you tag him, it is a complete waste of money. If you sign long-term, you are wasting a guaranteed money year. There is also the risk that in this year, he has a career-altering injury.
Let me address the folks who think that Ryan Pace somehow doesn’t get fair value for players. First off, stop with the Tag-N-Trade stuff. This isn’t the NBA. It has happened once and is not going to happen in this case. Jeffery has $0 value on the trade market this off-season.
For those who think that somehow Cutler has trade value and telling everyone that he is available will drive down his price, just stop. Please. Pace tried to trade Cutler in 2015 to acquire Mariota. This is fact and is not disputable. I think that also speaks to the fact that Pace understands how to identify QB talent. That was the best QB in the draft and he tried to get him. Unfortunately, we tried to trade with an equally desperate for QB team. So, the notion that this is news is false. The whole league already knew he was available. If a 5th or 6th rounder is available, you take it.
I already addressed Marshall and Bennett above. Bostic and Allen also netted some draft picks. I think that showed some deft maneuvering on behalf of Pace. He got something for literally nothing. I am sure he tried to trade McClellin and most likely will try to trade Fuller as well.
In last year’s Draft, I also thought that Pace did an excellent job of trading back and picking up additional picks once it was reported that his target had been picked and still got a (likely) better player in Whitehair.
So, I ask then, how exactly is Pace getting fleeced by the other GM’s in the league as so many people seem to believe?
It really boils down to this, it takes time to flip a 53-man roster. There are only so many draft picks and there is only so much money to spend on free agents. Unlike baseball, you can’t really trade your high-priced veterans for up-and-coming prospects. They really don’t exist. The only true way of acquiring young, controllable, cheap talent is via the draft. 2 drafts (15 spins of the wheel) is just not enough time.
The foundation of this team is stronger that it was 2 years ago, I truly believe that. The Bears were the Sox and Bulls prior to this re-build: they had star-power but the depth was seriously lacking. That star-power was also aging/declining and in some cases, disgruntled. Let’s at least give it until Rookie Minicamp to see what the roster looks like before we start making declarations about the HC and GM needing to be fired if we don’t win at least 9 games this season.
This regime deserves a bit of our trust, this re-build deserves a bit of our patience and this organization deserves a bit of our loyalty.