For Chicago Bears, It's Time To Sink or Swim

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For Chicago Bears, It's Time To Sink or Swim
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After three straight seasons of mediocrity (and no playoff appearances), the Chicago Bears' hands were tied.

They HAD to make a move (or two...or three?).

So, here we are, on arguably the biggest free agency day in Chicago sports history.

The Bears signed defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor, and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna (very hard to spell his name).

With the signings, the Bears made it very clear that 7-9 is not good enough.

It also signals a last-gasp effort for coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to save their jobs.

Up until now, the Bears' off season was nothing short of a joke, and fans in Chicago were calling for the heads of Smith and Angelo.

When a franchise fails to make the post season three straight years after appearing in the Super Bowl, something has to give.

The Bears made  a splash last year with the acquisition of Jay Cutler, but this three-headed monster appears to out-shine even that monumental move.

 

It's a start, but plenty of holes still exist.

While all three players address needs, the Bears are not yet at the top of the NFC—or even the NFC North.

Peppers adds a new element to the Bears defense, assuming he wants to give 100 percent every down.

With Lovie in the fold for at least one more season, the Cover-2 scheme will remain to focal point of the Bears defense.

With the addition of Peppers, the Bears can apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks and wreak havoc on backfields.  Whatever they get out of Tommie Harris will be icing on the cake at this point.

Taylor gives the Bears a two-running back tandem, which is almost a necessity in today's NFL.

The 2006 Bears had both Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson sharing the ball, and that seemed to work.

Everywhere in the league (even in Taylor's former city of Minnesota), teams have adopted a two-running back system. 

The mileage that NFL running backs accumulate is staggering, and having two able bodies just makes the most sense.

In Manumaleuna, the Bears now can reasonably look to deal Greg Olsen, and settle on a tight end pool of Desmond Clark, Kellen Davis, and Manumaleuna (again, this spelling is killing me).

Known for his blocking, Manumaleuna will act as a third offensive tackle on many plays, and hopefully open up holes for Matt Forte or Chester Taylor.

With the ability to move Olsen, the Bears can add a coveted third or fourth round draft pick—and begin to address the team's other needs.

They still need help on the offensive line, more depth at defensive tackle, and major help in the secondary, primarily at safety.

A Taylor Mays or Eric Berry would look good in a Bears uniform, but without first or second round picks, they remain pipe-dreams.

With an urgency on the offensive line and at safety, the Bears ideally would need two third-round picks to get the help they need.

With an offensive guard/tackle and decent safety added in the draft, the Bears would significantly improve their club without breaking the bank or handing out long-term contracts.

Also, the Bears could add more bodies at defensive tackle (with Tommie Harris continuing to disappoint) and at cornerback (where Charles Tillman is not getting any younger).

Rome wasn't built in a day, and there is still plenty of time for the Bears to address these needs.


These guys are on the wrong side of 30

With all the joy and excitement that these three players bring to a football-crazed city, it's important to take a step back and really analyze these moves.

All three men are over the age of 30, which is typically the beginning of the end for many NFL players.

All three men have signed multi-year deals, which means that, if they show decline at some point, the Bears will be on the hook for their deals.

A total of roughly $53 million in guaranteed money was just shelled out, so if these moves don't work, the Bears will be eating an awful lot of money (ask Cubs fans how they feel about Alfonso Soriano's $136 million deal).

Even in an un-capped year, no team wants to be on the books for that much money if it has not provided wins.

On the other hand, it's certainly not my money, or yours, that's being spent, so let's give the Bears the benefit of the doubt.

Despite their age, these players may not show decline right away.

In eight seasons, Taylor only has one season in which he rushed over 300 times (2006), and has less than 200 carries the last two seasons combined—he may be the youngest 31-year-old running back in the NFL.

He has plenty of tread left on the tires, and his pass-catching ability (89 receptions combined the last two seasons) will fit nicely into Mike Martz' offense.

Matt Forte, a disappointment last season, will benefit from the veteran presence of Chester Taylor.

Peppers, 30, has started 16 games in five of his eight seasons, and 14 in two other seasons.

His least-productive season—in terms of starts—was his rookie year of 2002, in which he only played 12 games.

He has six seasons of double-digit sack-production, which will be his only job as a member of the Chicago Bears.

His age supports decline, but he certainly has not shown much, if any.

However, Peppers has also not shown something else: motivation.

At times in Carolina, Peppers was known to take plays off, and not be there 100% of the time.

Hopefully with a change of scenery and a few games at Soldier Field, Peppers will re-ignite his passion for the game.

Generally speaking, teams would be crazy to hand out four and six-year contracts to players in their 30s, but it appears the Bears will be safe with these moves—but I've been wrong before.


Moves designed for the Bears coaching staff, but who evaluated them?

It's quite obvious that each of these players was brought in to fill a specific role with the team, and help out their new coaching staff.

In Taylor, Mike Martz has a pass-catching running back capable of carrying the load for a run-first organization (at least it was run-first under previous regimes).

Martz will be able to use Taylor in any number of ways, and the "offensive guru" will have a new toy to play with.

In Manu (I've given up spelling his full name), Martz has a tight end committed to blocking, which is more than anyone can ever say for Greg Olsen.

With an offensive line in need of a makeover, Manu will at least give the Bears a blocking edge from the tight end department.

Peppers' role is clear. 

He has to put Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and whoever is in Minnesota on their backs.

The Bears need their front four to cause problems so their linebackers and secondary can stay in coverage.

The Cover-2 can be a beautiful thing if the personnel is right, and a player like Julius Peppers can make all the difference in the world.

One curious thing to consider is the fact that the Bears do not currently have a pro personnel man, after having fired Bobby DePaul three weeks ago.

In other words, who is the man in charge of determining that the talent of these three men is worth the financial gamble?

Teams have pro personnel directors for that very reason.

Lovie Smith's job is to coach Julius Peppers, but he didn't necessarily evaluate his performance on the football field.

If Jerry Angelo is the main man in this department, that should send chills down some Bears fans backs.

Angelo has swung and missed more times than anyone can count.

Rumors had Tim Ruskell as a possible new hire to take DePaul's job, but he has not been officially named to the staff.

It is just an odd occurrence that three high-profile players would join the fold, when no one (at least by job description) evaluated them.


A good day in Chicago

All things considered, this is a banner day for Chicago sports and the Bears.

The organization at the very least is showing that last year's performance is not acceptable, and they are willing to change that.

These acquisitions will not win a Super Bowl by themselves, but they could provide the starting blocks towards a rejuvenated Bears team in 2010.

With potential Pro Bowlers in Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Chester Taylor, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, and Julius Peppers, the Bears have significantly improved their team talent-wise.

Taking a chance on the elite (like Peppers) is something that Bears fans are not accustomed to, but it may actually work if things break their way.

The NFC North is as good as it's ever been, but the Bears figure to be players in a division title hunt.

We will wait and see.

 

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