Bears Free Agent Moves: How Chicago Has Become the Island of Misfit Toys
Coming off a trip to the NFC Championship Game would usually serve as a sign that your fortunes are pointing in the right direction, but the Bears are closer to joining the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North cellar than competing with the up-and-coming Detroit Lions and the Super Bowl Champions wearing the "mustard and relish" in Lambeau Field.
With a sub-par offensive line, less than stellar wide receivers and an overall aging team, the Bears needed to make a splash in free agency to prove to their players and fans that there was still faith in the current roster to compete against the increasingly dominant NFC. Perhaps sign a top-notch wide receiver or enter the race for Nnamdi Asomugha to help shore up a weak secondary to improve the pass rush.
The money was there. The Bears entered this shortened free agency as one of several teams with over $20 million to spend on free agents based on the new salary cap figures. Jerry Angelo simply needed to be aggressive and find the pieces to complete his team and ignite a city that is football starved.
Instead, the Bears went bargain shopping.
Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Marion Barber, Matt Spaeth, Vernon Gholston... players who were either considered "busts" by their previous teams or had played well past their prime.
Let's take a look at the members of the Chicago Island of Misfit Players.
Roy Williams: WR (Cowboys)
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Roy Williams played for Bears Offensive Coordinator Mike Martz while in Detroit and reached the Pro Bowl in 2006. Almost six years and hundreds of dropped balls later, Williams is far from the player he was the last time that Martz coached him.
Upside: Williams is a taller target for QB Jay Cutler.
Downside: Williams has a habit of dropping very catchable balls.The Bears would have been better off signing University of North Carolina's Roy Williams. You know, the one who coaches the men's basketball program?
Sam Hurd: WR/ST (Cowboys)
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Have you ever heard of Sam Hurd? Me neither.
The good news here is that Sam Hurd is considered an excellent special teams player in the league. If he is asked to simply be a backup WR in Chicago and focus on covering punts and kickoffs, this is a decent signing for the Bears. If he is asked to play extended time at wide receiver, Jerry Angelo better prepare his resume.
Upside: Helps make up for the loss of Rashied Davis, a former Bear and top special teams player.
Downside: He is a Northern Illinois University graduate who was signed as a non-drafted free agent by Dallas. Exactly what the Bears offense needs.
Marion Barber: RB (Cowboys)
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Are we seeing a trend here? The same players that Cowboys owner/GM puts in his garbage heap, Bears GM Jerry Angelo is picking up at bargain-basement prices.
Enter Cowboy No. 3—Marion Barber.
Barber was a solid player in Dallas. His strong lower body made him a very difficult running back to arm tackle, and was very successful in short yardage and goal line situations. However, his legs have seen better days, and his body has taken a pounding.
Upside: Angelo admits that he made a mistake signing RB Chester Taylor last year by replacing him with Barber, who proves to have enough left in the tank for four to five tough runs per game.
Downside: Starting RB Matt Forte decides to hold out of the preseason due to contract squabbles, and Barber is forced to carry the ball until his legs fall off. About 20 carries should do it.
Matt Spaeth: TE (Steelers)
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Jerry Angelo has not had much success drafting offensive players in the first round. However, he lucked into a solid TE in Greg Olsen. Obviously, Jerry couldn't stand the success and traded Olsen to the Carolina Panthers for a third-round pick in 2012. Apparently, Mike Martz prefers his tight ends to be more in the mold of Mike Ditka.
Then, Chicago released Brandon Manumaleuna, their only blocking tight end.
So, the Bears reached out and signed Matt Spaeth to assist the porous offensive line in keeping Cutler vertical. Spaeth is solid, but hardly will provide Cutler with anyone to throw the ball to who was as reliable as Olsen.
Upside: Chicago media will have fun with the name Spaeth. Plus, he wears the same number as Ditka.
Downside: Less passes to the tight end means more drops for Roy Williams.
Vernon Gholston: DE (Jets)
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When the Bears traded Kyle Orton to the Denver Broncos for Jay Cutler, they included two first round picks in the deal. It appears that Jerry Angelo is making up for those picks by signing former first-rounders a few years too late.
If you look up the term "bust" in the NFL dictionary, you find Vernon Gholston, formerly of the New York Jets.
Coming out of college a Ohio State, Gholston was touted as a "sack machine" who would thrive at the next level. In three years in New York, he totaled exactly ZERO sacks. Again, I'm sure this is a statistic that excited Jerry Angelo, who was able to sign another top pick at wholesale prices.
Upside: Gholston learns something from Julius Peppers and welcomes a return from playing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Downside: Gholston becomes the latest installment of Alonzo Spellman.
Chris Spencer: OG/C (Seahawks)
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Most Chicago Bears fans saw this coming.
Longtime Chicago center Olin Kruetz was asking for too much money, and the Bears needed to find a replacement to snap the ball to Jay Cutler.
The best center still available at this stage of free agency was Chris Spencer from Seattle. Bears Head of Player Personnel Tim Ruskell had previously served as GM for the Seahawks and had drafted Chris Spencer out of college in the first round.
Exit Kreutz. Enter Spencer and considerable angst from Kreutz's loyal teammates.
Upside: The average age of the Chicago Bears offensive decreased about 10 years by not re-signing Kreutz.
Downside: The average sack total against Jay Cutler just increased by about 10 sacks by not re-signing Kreutz.