I am no longer going to engage in two debates.
- I will no longer argue against those who believe the Bears have lost four straight games because of a lack of depth on their roster. The results of these four games have been affected by the lack of depth at a single position: quarterback. The Bears have not received poor play from their backup signal caller. They have received horrible, unprofessional, career ending play. No team in football could win a game with Caleb Hanie at quarterback.
- I will no longer debate who is responsible for the Hanie Debacle. Why? Because I don’t know. I do know the organization tried to attain Kyle Orton and when that failed acted quickly in signing Josh McCown. I know the organization believed very much in Hanie’s performance in the NFC title game. I know Mike Martz never believed in Hanie. But I do not know who made which call regarding what on Hanie. And frankly neither do you. If you want to put all that blame on Jerry Angelo, fine. I’m just not discussing it anymore because it’s a road to nowhere.
Here is what I will argue: the tenures of Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith in Chicago (both under contract through 2013) will be defined by the club’s performance in 2012. No matter how the remainder of the 2011 regular season and playoffs turn out, next year’s expectations will begin where this year’s died: the moment Jay Cutler’s thumb went all kooky on a tackle attempt for a soon-to-be 7-3 football team. The Bears will be expected to pick up from right there, that moment, that tackle and make a Super Bowl run. Anything short of playing deep in January will not be acceptable.
Why? Because the team is closer to complete than they have been since Mike Ditka was the head coach. They have the big quarterback. They need a caretaker behind him. They have the big running back. They’ll franchise him and keep Kahlil Bell waiting in the wings. They have talent at wide receiver – Knox’s speed, Bennett’s rapport with Cutty – and need to add a big target on the outside. (This offseason will see a few exceptional receivers on the open market.) They have a young, developing offensive line and may look to add Fred Miller/Ruben Brown types for a veteran presence on the outside while former first-rounders Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi return. And the defense, contrary to naysaying fans, did not show the age that is supposedly bringing it down any day now. Nor did it see its lack of depth at linebacker and defensive end tested this season. The Bears will look to fortify each position early-ish in the draft.
They will now pick in the middle of the first round, barring a trade. They have substantial cap space, barring any lucrative extensions. They have specific roster needs and are in prime position to address them. They are also unlikely to see much turnover at the major coaching positions unless you still believe the fictional reports of Mike Martz being considered for everything from Bayonne, New Jersey’s Superintendent of Schools to Ron Paul’s running mate. The Bears will have a lot of things going for them come next season. They’ll have no excuses.
These last six games of the 2011 campaign will be a memory come Bourbonnais next year. All we’ll remember and discuss is the 7-3 team, putting up thirty points a game, looking poised to challenge the Packers for conference dominance. Those expectations will be placed on the 2012 Chicago Bears starting Week One. The first week of a tenure-defining season for Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith.