8:10 PM CST, December 18, 2012
Phil Emery has spent so much of his NFL career in the shadows you can't help but wonder just what to expect from him now that his time in the spotlight draws near.
The Bears general manager, sold as a relentless man, finally will begin to unveil his plan for the future in the coming weeks. That plan, one that President Ted Phillips claimed "added depth of understanding of what it would take at every level,'' likely will begin with a decision on coach Lovie Smith.
The Bears have two games left effectively to save their coach's job. Can Smith be fired with a 10-6 record? Can he be extended without a playoff appearance or playoff victory after a 7-1 start? Smith has next season left on his deal and he loves coaching the Bears. Does he love it enough to play out a contract as a lame-duck coach?
John Fox did that with the Panthers in 2010 and suffered through a 2-14 season. Jeff Fisher declined to do that in 2011 after initially agreeing to stay on when Vince Young finally was launched three weeks earlier. Fisher lost a valued assistant in defensive line coach Jim Washburn and realized he wasn't on the same page with owner Bud Adams.
Where will Emery look for a replacement if Smith isn't back? Do you round up the usual suspects, look at hot assistants who would come at a cheaper price and help defray the cost of paying off Smith? Will he draw on his experiences with the Falcons and Chiefs, rely on his knowledge of the college game or follow the breadcrumbs out of New England, where he never has worked, but has worked for men connected to the Patriots way.
The decision on Smith is far from the only crucial one that Emery has to make. The Bears have a lot of expiring contracts, not to mention the need to get Jay Cutler locked up so he isn't a free agent after next season. Cornerback Charles Tillman has a big salary cap number that may need to be spread over another year.
Then there are a lot of tough calls on whether to pay aging guys like Brian Urlacher, Israel Idonije and Pat Mannelly, how much to pay Henry Melton, Lance Louis and Nick Roach and if you need to bother with Kelvin Hayden, Geno Hayes, DJ Moore and poor Johnny Knox. Do you even bother talking with guys like Jason Campbell and Chris Spencer?
Emery doesn't seem like a guy driven by self-importance or pomposity, but you have to wonder if he will learn from the mistakes he made in his first year as a general manager. It will take a few years to evaluate fully his 2012 draft, but that won't prevent people from analyzing the sin of omission on the offensive line. It has been the team's bogeyman position for years and ignoring it was a terrible blunder.
What was Emery supposed to do? Maybe first-round pick Riley Reiff hasn't done much for the Lions, but wouldn't he be better than what the Bears have lined up this year? The Bills' second-round pick, Cordy Glenn (No. 41 overall), has played well, while the Ravens' second-round pick, Kelechi Osemele (60th), has been serviceable. You really can't say that about J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi has been worse than Webb.
Emery was hired to be the Bears version of Packers' boss Ted Thompson, a draft master with a keen eye for talent. The goal was to close the talent gap with Green Bay, something that obviously won't be done overnight and may never be done as long as Aaron Rodgers is under center.
And while no one was demanding immediate Pro Bowl contributions from the Bears' rookie class, the simple fact is that there hasn't been enough contribution, period. First-round pick Shea McClellin has 2 1/2 sacks in 12 games as the Bears' fourth defensive end. He's no Chandler Jones.
Second-round pick Alshon Jeffrey has shown flashes when available, but he has missed time with two injuries and has just 19 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. Three offensive pass interference penalties in the second half of Sunday's loss to the Packers are a real drag on his rookie season. Jeffrey should improve, but the Bears need him now.
The rest of the draft class has made little contribution.
Third-round pick Brandon Hardin was placed on injured reserve to keep him with the program. The safety missed his entire final year at Oregon State with a shoulder injury so he effectively is coming back from two years out of football next season. Good luck.
Fourth-rounder Evan Rodriguez someday may develop into Chris Cooley, but not this year. Sixth-round pick Isaiah Frey is on the practice squad.
Maybe Emery's greatest mistake thus far is a common one in the NFL. He tried to add to the Bears depth by signing backup players. Despite some big money going to Campbell and Michael Bush, the only real starter brought in was Brandon Marshall via trade.
The way to do it is to sign starters, improve the roster from the top down and wind up with former starters as backups. That's what real depth is in the NFL.
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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