But the Bears made other moves the last few months—ones that will make them a better team in 2009 and beyond.
The top-10 moves of the Bears off-season:
1. Trading for Jay Cutler
Not only was this the best move of the off-season. It may one day turn out to be the best in the team history. That is, of course, if Cutler goes own as the best quarterback in franchise history.The thing is, for most franchises that would be saying a lot.
For Cutler and the Bears, who haven't had a franchise quarterback since Sid Luckman in the 1940s, it's reasonable goal. No Bears quarterback has ever thrown for 4,000 yards in a season—Cutler threw for 4,526 yards last season.
2. Hiring Rod Marinelli
A coach's worth is debatable in any sports. But even after going 0-for-16 as head coach of the Lions last season, Marinelli brings instant credibility to the role of assistant head coach-defensive line coach with the Bears.
Football experts, players, and coaches all praise Marinelli's D-line coaching abilities. He has a track record to prove it—having won a Super Bowl coaching Tampa Bay's front four.
The Bears D-line has underachieved for a few seasons now and if Marinelli can turn that around, his value will be immeasurable.
Head coach Lovie Smith had a thing for giving opportunities to assistants from the college ranks. But hiring a guy like Martinelli shows that Smith has learned his lesson. The Bears' D-line has talent—Marinelli should be the guy to bring it out.
3. Signing Orlando Pace
Pace's best days might be behind him, but the likely hall-of-famer still has some production left in his 6'7", 325-lb frame.
GM Jerry Angelo desperately needed to replace left tackle John St. Clair, who signed with the Browns. By acquiring Pace, Angelo did just that.
Not to mention that by signing Pace just moments after trading for Cutler, Angelo ratcheted up excitement for the Bears to levels not seen since the 1980s.
If Pace can stay healthy (and it is a pretty big IF), he will be an upgrade over St. Clair. Pace also brings credibility and leadership to the Bears O-line, and his presence alone should inspire some of the younger members of the line.
4. Making Lovie Smith the defensive coordinator
Many experts have speculated that Smith has been the de facto defensive coordinator for years now. (At least since Ron Rivera's dismissal.) And that's hard to argue since the defense plays the Tampa Two, which is Lovie's preferred D.
But now that it's official, Lovie will have total control and he won't have any more excuses.
The players respect Lovie, which is a plus. And the fact that the defensive-minded coach will be working closer with the players from that side of the ball will be a positive as well.
But most importantly, the move allowed Bob Babich to move back to linebackers coach—a position Babich is more comfortable as well as highly-regarded at. It's fair to say Babich was in over his head as D-coordinator the last two seasons.
5. Signing Pisa Tinoisamoa
Bringing in Tinoisamoa further showed the Bears dedication to winning it all in 2009. The Rams' leading tackler in three of the last five seasons, the linebacker was cut by St. Louis after the '08 season.
The Bears were wise to pick him up. He should stabilize the strong-side linebacker position, which lacked stability in 2008.
Hunter Hillenmeyer was benched last season. Taking over was Nick Roach, who performed decent enough. But Roach has limitations, something Tinoisamoa does not have. This was another fine pick-up by Angelo.
6. Choosing not to re-sign Mike Brown
As much as Bears fans don't want to admit it, it was time for Brown to go. Brown averaged a little over five games a season since 2005. Here's how it went the last five seasons:
The season began and Brown would show how valuable he was both as a safety and a leader. Brown would get hurt. The Bears would re-sign him. Repeat.
When healthy, Brown's abilities are unquestionable.
But expecting him to be heatlhy is like expecting Rush Limbaugh to exercise. The Bears needed to move on—much like the Cubs did with Mark Prior a few years back.
It's time to see what Corey Graham and Craig Steltz can do at the free safety position. If one of them wants it badly enough, the job is his.
7. Signing Kevin Shaffer
The Bears needed a right tackle after the abrupt retirement of John Tait. They got a serviceable-to-good one in veteran Shaffer after the Browns cut him in March.
Now what looked like to be a shaky unit at best looks to be a team strength. When healthy, Pace is an upgrade over St. Clair. Shaffer is a safer bet that Tait, who had injury problems and got old quick in 2008.
And Frank Omilaye at least provides depth at guard. He may even replace third-year left guard Josh Beekman going into 2009.
8. Re-signing Kevin Jones
Running back Kevin Jones was basically invisible for most of 2008—running 34 times for 109 yards and leaving Matt Forte to carry the load. But after running 316 times as a rookie, Forte needs a breather in 2009.
That's where Jones comes in. A former 1000-yard-runner, Jones struggled with injuries last season. He chose to re-sign with Chicago even though he was not given much of a chance to play in '08.
Jones is going to want to prove himself this season. And a two-back system is basically a necessity in the current NFL if a team wants to win.
9. Drafting Juaquin Iglesias
Bears fans wanted to see a splashy acquisition at wide receiver—everyone from Anquan Boldin to Torry Holt was mentioned. But the Bears struck out—or decided not to play—in free agency and the trade market. So they did the next best thing:
They took the best wide receiver available with their second pick in the draft.
If you told fans this draft scenario a few months ago, they would have been happy. But a little thing called "The Cutler Trade" happened, and the Bears' second pick turned out to be in the third round.
No matter. In Iglesias, the Bears got a possible starter with first-round potential from a top college program. They stuck to the strategy of going wide receiver early in their draft, and may have struck gold with Iglesias.
10. Signing Frank Omilaye
Acquiring Omilaye gives the Bears the option of replacing Beekman. Whether or not they do this is likely up to who performs better in the preseason.
Beekman played so-so in his sophomore campaign of 2008. Omilaye has played in only 11 games in his NFL career.
Neither stands out as the definite starter right now, but Omilaye may have the edge based on his potential alone. Either way, signing Omilaye gives the Bears much-needed depth at the guard position and the offensive line as a whole.
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