The Chicago Bears painted it as a red-letter day.
There are two ways to look at it, of course. It was both a day to be positive about the future, and a day to remember the horrors of the past.
When defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor, and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna signed free agent contracts Friday worth about $121 million total, including $91.5 million for Peppers, there’s little doubt Chicago got a talent boost in areas of need.
However, it also underscored past failures of this personnel and coaching regime.
“One thing that we’re mindful of, you know, March is when you build,” general manager Jerry Angelo said. “You don’t win in March, you build in March.”
Or you spend in desperation in March, which the Bears just did. As a result, there’s no doubt they overpaid for Peppers, if not Taylor.
Certainly the Bears needed more pass rush production at defensive end. Adewale Ogunleye hit double figure sacks only once in six seasons, with 10 in 2005. Alex Brown makes occasional big plays, but has never had more than seven sacks in an eight-year career.
And then there’s Tommie Harris, whose frail body has prevented him from living up to the $40 million deal he received two years ago.
“For our defense to be successful, we have to be able to get pressure up front,” coach Lovie Smith said. “I’m talking about with the four-man rush first. And then, of course, to blitz when we want to blitz.”
First the Bears said they had the talent to get a pass rush but needed Rod Marinelli to coach them up. They managed one-and-a-half sacks more with Marinelli than they had the previous year (24-22 ½).
So now it’s the talent that’s to blame.
“Julius will help all of our players,” Smith said. “He’ll help Tommie Harris, he’ll help the rest of our inside players, he’ll help our other defensive end, and just make it better for our (pass) coverage and everything.”
The Bears might not need another defensive end if Angelo and his staff could draft them. But Michael Haynes proved better at raising lizards than he was at the bull rush, and neither Claude Harriott nor Dan Bazuin proved good for anything. Mark Anderson had one good year and remains a question.
Possibly the best defensive end Angelo drafted since Brown was Ervin Baldwin last year. He got cut and wound up playing in the Super Bowl for the Colts.
They needed a running back like Taylor because Angelo mismanaged his own running back situation.
First he had productive Thomas Jones compounded the problem by trying to cram Cedric Benson down everyone’s throats, got rid of both, then failed to provide a proper backup to Matt Forte.
Backup Kevin Jones has been operating with one leg for two years, and Garrett Wolfe is so small he would be turned back at the gate on most Disney World rides.
They ran Forte into the ground the last two years, so it was little wonder he needed arthroscopic knee surgery.
As for Manumaleuna, his was a system signing. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz needed a blocking tight end because he uses so many seven-step quarterback drops and the extra pass protection is necessary.
Again the Bears’ inability to judge their own talent surfaces. They let John Gilmore leave for Tampa before 2009 in free agency with no other legitimate blocking tight end on the roster.
So before Bears brass starts getting a sore arm from patting itself on the back, they need to realize first that the reason they were willing to pay $2 million more per year for Peppers than anyone else was going to pay is because they couldn’t draft anything comparable.
There are still holes at safety, the offensive line, and possibly wide receiver. These were holes they could have addressed with free agents this year if they’d been more adept at drafting defensive ends and handling their running back situation.