Meatball fans beware; you won’t get your fix here. Sure, I do intend to paint a picture of failure. It just may not be as seemingly glaring as the one you’re used to.
It’s not as if I disagree that Jerry Angelo has had his share of failures, but I would disagree with the notion that many seem to have, which is utter shock at the fact that he still has a job.
Just a few days ago, the NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora reported that multiple league general managers and executives had told him at various intervals throughout this season that Jerry Angelo may step down after this year.
Of course, we’ve heard it all before. Last year was the same story. Only last year, Angelo flat-out denied the claim. This year, he was not so absolute on the subject.
"When that day eventually comes, like it comes for all of us, hopefully I'll be in a position where I can determine when my time is. But, that will come from me, and no one else, or a rumor mill broadcast," Angelo told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Over the last few years, Bears fans and football experts alike have criticized, defended and/or flat-out bashed the Bears’ GM for, mostly, draft classes which have yet to lead to a consistent offensive product.
There have been both hits and misses along the way, many of which could have been used—and rightfully so—to fire Angelo years ago. But it hasn’t happened. And, while I have often argued for change at the top during Angelo’s tenure, it hasn’t shocked me to see him retained season after season.
He is currently the fifth most tenured GM in the NFL.
One might even wonder why I’m already making this argument, with three games remaining in the regular season and a chance—albeit a minor chance—to finish 10-6 and even make the playoffs.
The truth is that, for me, the position Jerry Angelo has put this team in has never been more apparent than it is right now. And I could care less how this team finishes … it’s time for Angelo to say goodbye.
Before I get into that, let’s do something—are you ready for this—that many fail to do—get ready, novel concept coming your way—when making the argument for Angelo’s removal: Let’s be objective! Let’s at least give the man the time and effort to look at, both, the positive and the negative.
Under General Manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears…
- made their first Super Bowl appearance in 21 years.
- have won three division titles in nine years.
- have made the playoffs 40% of the time.
- are tied for the third most regular season wins in the NFC.
- drafted perennial Pro Bowl DT Tommie Harris in the first round.
- drafted perennial Pro Bowl PR Devin Hester in the second round; the greatest returner the game has ever seen.
- drafted perennial Pro Bowl OLB Lance Briggs in the third round.
- drafted RB Matt Forte in the second round.
- drafted CB Charles Tillman in the second round and proceeded to get nine solid seasons (and counting) and the league leader in forced fumbles.
- drafted All-Pro DB Chris Harris in the fifth round; a key contributor in, both, the Bears’ Super Bowl run in 2006 and their NFC Title run in 2010.
- were ranked seventh in the league among 2010 playoff teams with 24 drafted players on their roster.
- have at least one player on the roster from each of Jerry Angelo’s last nine drafts.
- picked up perennial Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould off the NFL waiver wire.
- picked up Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and Pro Bowl DE Adewale Ogunleye via trade.
- made the biggest splash in 2010 free agency by acquiring DE Julius Peppers.
- made one of the biggest trades in NFL history by acquiring then Denver QB Jay Cutler.
- have maintained financially sound organizational health (this is one fans don’t care about when it’s being done, but will notice immediately if it’s not).
I’d put third-round draft choice Earl Bennett in that player list above, but if I’m being honest, he’s not in the same class as the guys I did mention; at least not yet, and definitely not without Jay Cutler throwing him the rock.
I’ve even seen quite a few arguments in Angelo’s favor, tossing Johnny Knox in his repertoire of successes also. I’ll at least save you from that filler.
Where others have hit on first-round talent, Angelo has hit hard on second and third-round talent. That’s not an excuse for his failures elsewhere and, as I’ll point out, there have been a lot.
But Bears fans quickly forget the state in which Chicago football was when Angelo was hired in 2001. The Bears hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1994, and their record over the previous ten seasons was 67 wins to 93 losses. In the ten seasons since, Angelo has turned that number completely around, currently with a record of 94 wins to 79 losses.
But having said all of that, it’s time to look at just what has gone wrong, and why Angelo most certainly should bear the burden of some heavy criticism.
Under General Manager Jerry Angelo, the Bears…
- have never drafted an offensive Pro Bowl player.
- hold claim to such first-round busts as RB Cedric Benson, DE Michael Haynes, OT Marc Colombo and OT Chris Williams.
- hold claim to second-round bust DE Dan Buzuin.
- have selected just 14 offensive lineman in the last 11 drafts. Seven of the 14 have been in the sixth-round or later. None of them developed into much more than bench-warmers (verdict still out on Carimi due to health).
- have passed on such players in the draft as QB Matt Schaub, WR Greg Jennings, LB DeMarcus Ware, S Troy Polamalu and, yes, QB Aaron Rodgers. Trust me, there are others…
- have consistently boasted a talent-deficient wide receiving core and sub-par offensive line, while trading the farm to get a gun-slinging quarterback. Tell me how that makes sense.
- traded up in 2011 to get DT Stephen Paea, while passing on WR Torrey Smith, who is currently on pace for close to 900 receiving yards as a rookie and 7.5 TDs (thought I’d toss in a more recent mistake).
- have not drafted a Pro Bowl skill/position player since 2004 (Devin Hester would not count as a special teams player).
For me, though, the fact of the matter is that drafting and scouting is not an exact science. Every team and every GM will have their hits and misses. What may be even scarier is the idea that Tim Ruskell, Bears director of player personnel, could be the heir apparent.
Just for a quick glance, Ruskell served five seasons as president of football operations and general manager of the Seattle Seahawks. He resigned in 2009 in the midst of a 4-7 season, after his team posted a 4-12 record the previous year.
When Ruskell came to the Bears, however, he was returning to a position more in-line with his proven ability—in a more identified scouting role. And that’s just fine. He can remain there. The Bears need to start looking for their Theo Epstein (the smart, young, innovative guys are out there, believe me), not a front office reclamation project like Ruskell. Save that for the football field and guys like Roy Williams and Orlando Pace…joking.
When you consider Angelo’s tenure, in line with the way this season appears to be coming to an end, I simply think it’s a perfect time to say goodbye. Angelo may even want to do it on his own terms, before the current product on the field gets him fired.
Despite my tempered criticism of Angelo, the buck definitely does stop with him.
After all, it boils down to a lack of depth and overall talent that has led to the Bears’ implosion over the last three games. And that responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of Jerry Angelo. The Bears rather mediocre drafting has led to a culture of acquiring starters via free agency; which would be fine if your draft classes had put you in a position to fill gaps; which would be fine if you had a proven track record of developing talent...it hasn’t, and you don’t.
For that last one (talent development), that’s where Lovie Smith and crew do not get a pass in my book. It’s their responsibility to develop players. And while that’s a hard thing to judge, I also think one can take a close look at this team and question whether or not it has been happening consistently.
When it comes down to it, it’s easy to look at the Packers of last year—a team decimated by injury more than any other team in the league—going on to win the Super Bowl and wonder why the Bears didn’t have the personnel in place to survive a very survivable schedule without Jay Cutler.
But the Packers were not without their starting quarterback during the end of their playoff run; and when they were without him, earlier in the season for two games, they lost both contests.
Another good example of just what losing the single most important player on your team can really do is the Indianapolis Colts; a franchise who hadn’t missed the playoffs in nine-straight seasons, and hasn’t won a single game this year without Peyton Manning.
It would be easy to say, that Colts GM Bill Polian is to blame for that failure. After all, injuries are a part of the game and it was his responsibility to make sure the personnel were in place, should something catastrophic happen.
Bill Polian, by the way, has won NFL Executive of the Year six times. He is also largely regarded as one of the best—if not THE best—general manager in the game. Not even he could overcome the loss of his starting QB.
So, while I agree a change is needed in Chicago, and while I agree it should start with Jerry Angelo, take it easy, Bears fans. The guy deserves a little more credit than you think.