A little over 14 months ago, when Phil Emery was announced as the Chicago Bears’ new general manager, the issues facing the franchise and the first time GM were fairly obvious. Chicago has embraced an identity as a defense-first town, and while that is based in large part on the Bears fielding some of the most iconic defenses of all-time, a prohibitive lack of offense throughout the franchise's history has probably contributed more than we'd care to admit.
The Bears have played a distinguishable brand of "gritty" football seemingly forever, but, offensively, it's been distinguishably bad. Even in years where the Gale Sayerses and Walter Paytons of the world were running roughshod over the NFL, the Bears were often closer to prophylactic than prolific. They were more contented controlling the football than scoring with it.
What Phil Emery has done in his first two years is become the first general manager that I can remember, and that many older and wiser Bears fans can remember, to actively distance himself from that defensive reputation. Now, that's not to say Phil Emery doesn't want to play great defense. That's as asinine an implication as it is a strategy.
Of course Emery still wants to field a dominant defense, but he'll no longer do it at the expense of an offense that's built to score 17 points, control time of possession and then cross their fingers and pray that the defense and/or special teams can come up with a score of their own. He wants to build an offense that can control a game in its own right.
At Chicago Bears Huddle, we've alluded to the changing nature of the NFL many times here before in podcasts and columns from just about our entire staff. The fact that the NFL is becoming offense-oriented is far from a revolutionary concept, as the League has been trending in that direction for decades. However, a front office that acknowledges this trend in Chicago is still something we're struggling to wrap our heads around.
In Emery's first offseason, he took a shot on a megastar wide receiver nobody else wanted. Two third-round draft picks lighter, and one 118-catch season richer, and we can safely say the Brandon Marshall experiment is off to a pretty damn good start.
Unfortunately, the addition of Marshall wasn't enough, and Phil Emery probably knew it. But, regardless of organizational hierarchy, 2012 was Lovie Smith's final hurrah—one final try the good ol' fashioned way—and that was still his team.
What we've seen in the first offseason sans Smith, is an organization that is dedicating itself to modernism. And while I'll stop short of labeling Emery as avant-garde, it's obvious to me that he recognizes he has to field a roster capable of surviving shootouts with some of the other dominant offenses that have overrun the NFL.
In addition to obtaining Marshall and drafting big-bodied rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery—whose eventual stardom depends almost solely on health in my humble opinion—in year one, he's gone out and addressed two more glaring needs this offseason. He signed Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett to take over at left tackle and tight end, respectively.
He went on to add veteran guard Matt Slauson, whose status as a "grinder" is epitomized by this photo taken of him in college, to take over a spot on the interior. He's also gone on to make several other savvy signings in Free Agency with relatively limited salary cap space.
All told, the picture that's being painted is of a GM who gets it. The Chicago Bears have to score points, and while they'll still welcome them from wherever they come, they'd really prefer them to come rather predictably when they have the ball.
Emery has made that a primary mission, and he's decided to address it rather immediately and rather boisterously. I'm sure he'd like to shape this franchise via the Draft, and in order to sustain success he'll have to do it using his background as a college scout. However, he realizes that Chicago isn't known for its patience, and he doesn't necessarily have the three or four years it often takes to fix a problem through the NFL Draft.
That doesn't mean he won't still be looking for upgrades later this month.
The Bears have age issues defensively which leads many to believe that Emery will go defense-heavy in the first couple of days, but nobody should be surprised if he goes after another talented interior lineman early. He also may be in the market for a slot receiver now that we know Devin Hester will return to an exclusive role as a specialist in 2013.
Heck, Phil Emery may be in the market for a developmental quarterback. All the money is still in the Cutler basket, they just re-signed veteran Josh McCown, and I know from personal conversations with front office personnel that they're high on Matt Blanchard, but Cutler is in a contract year, and if they can find a player with starter's upside in the fourth round or later, they may spring.
For a long time, the Chicago Bears have been defined by defense, but over a year into the Phil Emery era, it looks like things may finally change. These Bears aim to be offensive. You can make a legit argument that they're still lacking the personnel to be offensive, but they're definitely trying.
And it's about time. Because for nearly 70 years, they've just been the wrong sort of offensive.
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