From the beginning of last offseason, Phil Emery’s intentions were clear. During the previous regime in Chicago, the Bears’ biggest issue had been finding a quarterback. When they finally did, the problem became protecting him.
In Jay Cutler’s four full seasons as starting quarterback, the Bears finished 13th, 32nd, 31st, and 24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Sack Rate. Over that stretch, no quarterback was sacked on a higher percentage of his dropbacks than Cutler. I guess former GM Jerry Angelo deserves a least a little credit for his effort. Three times during Angelo’s 10-year tenure the Bears spent a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Each was off the roster by the end of his fifth season.
Those misses left Emery with a group of late-round picks, castoffs, and failed experiments that were letting his franchise quarterback get hit more often than anyone cared to see. Rather than waiting out some of the younger players and making a few tweaks here and there, Emery elected to make wholesale changes. In a matter of two months, the Bears turned over 80 percent of their starting offensive line. Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod was brought in from New Orleans with a $36 million deal, veteran Matt Slauson signed a one-year contract to play left guard, and the Bears spent their first-round pick on Kyle Long. Roberto Garza was retained as the center, which meant right tackle was the only spot in question heading into training camp. Eventually, rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Mills beat out J’Marcus Webb, and the new-look group was complete.
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As is the case with many head-coach firings, the reason the Bears parted ways with Lovie Smith in December wasn’t because he’d done an inadequate job. When Smith came to Chicago in 2004, after three seasons as the defensive coordinator in St. Louis, he was assigned the job of restoring a franchise with a storied defensive history to its previous heights. For the most part, he was successful. In Smith’s nine seasons, the Bears finished in the top 10 in defensive DVOA eight times. Twice, they were tops in the league by that metric, but I'd argue taking a Rex Grossman–quarterbacked team to the Super Bowl in 2006 makes that year's second-place DVOA finish more impressive.
The problem is that Lovie Smith was not a defensive coordinator. A defensive head coach’s responsibilities include keeping his offensive house in order, and that was something Smith could never get right in Chicago. Terry Shea turned to Ron Turner turned to Mike Martz turned to Mike Tice, and because the offense never caught up to the defense, it eventually cost Smith his job.
It was time for Albert Haynesworth to go. After being lauded as the next great reclamation project in New England before he ever took a snap (and then fell down) in anger, Haynesworth was alternately ineffective and injured during most of his tenure. The final straw came last week, when Haynesworth followed a holding penalty in the second quarter with what Boston Globe NFL writer Greg Bedard called "...three of the worst plays you will see out of an NFL defensive tackle." His time was up.
Haynesworth isn't the only player whose time should be up, though; there are veterans around the league who are simply collecting a paycheck they don't deserve and occupying playing time that should be going to younger, hungrier players. (Yes, Chad Ochocinco is one of them, but we are contractually limited to only one Pats kick-in-the-teeth per post by our editor in chief.)