November 21, 2012
The institutional failure of the Bears offense is even worse than most seem to realize.
Not only has it failed to improve in the Jay Cutler era, the team has overpaid for that failure. An offseason investment of tens of millions of dollars has done nothing to improve a chronic problem. With back-room accountants hurriedly working the family abacus to deal with the fiscal cliff known as Cutler's next contract, you can't help but wonder if anybody sees what is happening here.
Bags of money were squandered, but over the last two weeks the Bears have managed 13 total points in a pair of benchmark games. That reveals who they really are. And it has been a cruel revelation to behold. The Bears are the franchise that has fielded half a team for decades and last thrilled the nation when running the T-formation.
It's worse than that, really. Cutler was a Pro Bowl quarterback overseeing the No. 3 offense in the NFL when a deal was made with the Broncos to bring him to Chicago, and presumably the newfangled concept of the forward pass along with him, in 2009.
That season the Bears had the 21st-ranked passing offense in the NFL. Nearly four years and three offensive coordinators later, the Bears rank 31st in passing — next to last — through 10 games.
They have regressed despite investing a ton of money in skill-position players. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall was acquired for a pair of third-round picks. He makes a little less than Cutler with a cap number around $9.3 million this year and for each of the next two. Matt Forte, generally an unused weapon in the passing game this year, was rewarded with a four-year, $31.5 million deal.
Before getting to Forte, the Bears signed running back Michael Bush to a four-year, $14 million deal with half the money guaranteed. Woeful tight end Kellen Davis was given a two-year, $6 million deal in March. Jason Campbell got one year for $3.5 million.
The Bears never had paid that kind of money on offense in a single offseason, and it has gotten them nowhere. The Bears rank 30th in offense, ahead of just the Cardinals and Jaguars.
Who is to blame?
The obvious problem has been the offensive line, but that has been a problem for years. Did new general manager Phil Emery get bad information from coaches — or maybe a scouting department he has called the best in football — regarding guys like right tackle Gabe Carimi? Regardless, he operated with either an ostrich approach or hope-and-prayer carelessness when he failed to improve the offensive line.
No, giving $700,000 to guard Chilo Rachal doesn't count as a major upgrade. It just underscores how badly the team erred in judging guys like waived former first-round pick Chris Williams and center/guard Chris Spencer, whose $2.5 million base salary is the highest on the unit.
The jury is out on Emery's first draft, but the failure to select a single lineman makes everybody regard the position as a top priority now. Problem is, the defense is getting older. Have the Bears already squandered a golden era of its defense by failing to build sustained success on the offensive line?
There is nothing wrong with going on the cheap at certain positions. The Patriots have done it on the offensive line and still managed to win. But you can't have tackles getting bull-rushed by linebackers, even guys as good as Aldon Smith.
The ultimate blame on offense winds up at the feet of Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is a defensive specialist. But he is responsible for all units, not just the defense. If the offense perpetually lacks vitality and creativity, it's his job to make the moves to create.
The best seasons the Bears have enjoyed under Smith both ended at the hands of franchise quarterbacks. Peyton Manning beat the Bears in a Super Bowl and Aaron Rodgers got them in an NFC championship game. If Smith can't get it done with Cutler, will he be the quarterback who finally gets him?
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5 to 9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.
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