And the Bears Select... Nobody of Any Real Consequence
How the Chicago Bears admitted they won't contend anytime soon.
by Timothy McGinnis
April 30, 2003
While it is easy to suggest that the Bears are stupid (as the Sports Radio callers would suggest), I think that they knew exactly what they were doing. And that is what bothers me most.
There won’t be any saying for sure that taking the conservative, safe path was either the right or wrong move for at least two to three years. That’s when we can truly say whether their draft choices were wise or foolish. However, I can say right now that the Bears have all but admitted through their actions that they are not a very good football team.
Last year, the Bears would have their fans believe that they were a few injuries and bad breaks away from being just as good as the 13-3 playoff team of 2001. If only Jim Miller or even Chris Chandler had stayed healthy and productive at all, the offense would have clicked much better than it did. If only Ted Washington had been able to continue clogging the middle of the defensive line, allowing the linebackers and secondary to wreak havoc as they had grown accustomed in 2001. If only David Terrell hadn’t injured himself, if only the offensive line hadn’t had so many nagging, lingering injuries, if only Anthony Thomas had continued to develop as the game-breaking running back everyone thought he would be… the excuses were plentiful.
By virtue of their horrible luck and misfortune, the Bears had the opportunity to fix their problems. They could use the #4 pick in the draft to take quarterback, Byron Leftwich from Marshall University. If not for two broken legs suffered during his college career, many scouts would have rated Leftwich higher than eventual #1 overall pick, Carson Palmer. He is big and strong, and when able to use both his legs, has the kind of elusiveness that drives defensive players crazy. He will never be a scrambler, but he is not that easy to sack either. He has a cannon for an arm, and Chad Pennington, his former teammate at Marshall and current NY Jets quarterback, says he has a coach’s understanding of both offensive theories and how defenses will try to attack him.
Sounds good, right? Add in leadership skills, a winning attitude, good communication skills, and downright pleasant demeanor and you have the kind of quarterback that the offensive line will carry to the line of scrimmage from the huddle so that he can take the snap and run the play.
Leftwich played through a hairline fracture of his left leg that he suffered in a game with conference rival, Akron. In the last 4 games of the season after the injury, his teammates carried him to the line of scrimmage from the huddle and he took every snap from the shotgun position because he couldn’t drop back on his bad leg. In those 4 games, he was 4-0 with 1,273 yards passing with a 68.8% completion percentage (108 of 157). He threw 11 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. There are quarterbacks that would pay money for those stats with two healthy legs.
But the Bears didn’t want him. They signed Kordell Stewart from the Pittsburgh Steelers instead.
So it was obvious that the Bears wouldn’t take the guy I wanted them to take in the draft. That would not be the first time that has happened. But at least when I disagreed with them in the past, they had a strategy that made sense for where they were at the time. In 1999 they traded down and missed an opportunity to draft Daunte Culpepper. They got Cade McNown instead and also gained numerous draft picks in the middle rounds that turned into Roosevelt Colvin, Warrick Holdman, Marty Booker, and Jerry Azumah. Sure Cade was a bust, but the overall value of that deal was sound, and it made sense for the team.
The Bears were not any single player away from being contenders, and Mark Hatley knew it. He knew the team was not good and needed a good quantity of decent players to build a solid base. Believe it or not, trading down was actually quite a gutsy decision. Despite the fact that the first round selection of McNown was a bust, the rest of the draft provided many of the building blocks that contributed to the Bears successful 2001 season. Sure, Hatley still got run out of town before the 2001 season, but he has ultimately been vindicated and he is happily trying to give Brett Favre one or two more Super Bowl rings while in Green Bay.
But the Bears are supposed to be contenders now, right? If they had a good, strong-armed, accurate, leader of a quarterback, the Bears would be back to the top of their division, right? So why not Leftwich? The Bears will say that his injury history was too prohibitive to justify spending the kind of money it would have taken to sign him as the #4 pick. I don’t buy it. Teams without a great quarterback should not turn their noses up at the possibility of drafting a great quarterback when circumstances present them the opportunity on a golden platter. Either the Bears are chicken or something else stinks in Halas Hall.
But they still had a chance to redeem themselves. They could have used that #4 pick to really build their defense back up to the 2001 level. There was Dewayne Robertson, the 316 lb. defensive tackle from the University of Kentucky. He has been compared to Warren Sapp, the difference making DT of the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. He was double-teamed on almost two thirds of the snaps he played last year and he still managed career highs in tackles (48) and sacks (5). He stuffed the run by clogging the middle of the line exactly the way the old men Ted Washington and Keith Traylor used to do for the Bears when they were healthy.
So there the Bears were, poised to fix the most glaring problem in their defense with their pick in the draft and they... trade the pick to the Jets.
The Jets offered them the 13th and 22nd pick in the first round for their #4 selection. So the Bears took it.
Now, in most years, the chance to get a real impact player is pretty much gone after the first five or six picks. Maybe seven or eight in good years. But every now and again, a fabulously talented player will slip in the draft due to mitigating circumstances. Warren Sapp and Randy Moss both slipped considerably after off-the-field trouble seemed to find them a little too often.
This year, the most clear-cut, game-breaking running back available in this draft class suffered a major knee injury during the Fiesta Bowl. Willis McGahee had gone from being a sure Top 3 pick in the draft to a likely 3rd or 4th round selection with one horrible twisting and tearing of his knee ligaments.
But modern science and medical technology has his repaired knee almost as good as new. Sure, he is still no longer a Top 3 pick because of the continued uncertainty of any running back recovering from knee surgery, but his draft spot had been creeping slowly up the charts with every passing day.
By the time the actual draft came, it was almost assured that Willis McGahee would be a very solid selection for any team picking in the bottom third of the first round.
Again, the Bears were poised in a position to take a real potential difference-maker with, of all picks, the #22 pick. What geniuses they could end up being. They got a solid, if not spectacular defensive end with the #13 pick to help shore up their defense line and they could still end up with a game-breaking offensive weapon that could be the eventual third member of a potentially explosive triumvirate along with Kordell Stewart and David Terrell.
But the Bears took Rex Grossman. A quarterback that is disturbingly similar to Cade McNown in arm-strength, size, and cockiness. McGahee was picked by the Buffalo Bills with the #23 pick.
In one fell swoop, the Bears admitted that they again believe that they are not one impact player away from being serious contenders. They admitted that the Quarterback of the Future, Kordell Stewart, is not really Mr. Right for this offense, but more Mr. Right Now. They admitted that they needed to address multiple needs through multiple picks rather than trying to land a serious talent that could put either the offense or the defense into the next level of greatness.
They acted like a team that is rebuilding instead of a team that is on the verge on contending.
So when the Bears wanted to sell the fans Personal Seat Licenses and dupe them into driving hours on end to Champaign to watch them, the fans were sold on the impending greatness of this team.
But the true beliefs of the Bears brain trust were exposed on Saturday and Sunday. So don't believe the hype or the advertisements designed to fill the new Soldier Field with fans spending lots of money.
The only thing they will be contending for this season will be the #1 pick in next years' draft. Its hard to root for that though, since it means they would have to lose at least 12 games this year.
Also, they'd probably just trade it away.
About the Author:
Tim is not an expert in football and would be more comfortable writing about baseball. He would also like to disclose that while he was correct in predicting that Randy Moss, Donovan McNabb, and Brian Urlacher would be great football players, he also would have picked Ryan Leaf over Peyton Manning had it been up to him.
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