I can’t quite explain it, this feeling inside me. Over the course of the last eighteen months I have found myself defending the tenure of Jerry Angelo both here and across the Twitterverse. Never did I argue Angelo was a good GM, mind you, just that his applause meter should swing nearer to mediocre than terrible. (If Cedric Benson and Marc Colombo had their success in Chicago as opposed to Cincinnati and Dallas, respectively, Angelo’s tenure would be viewed far differently.) But even I must admit I have of late experienced a deep, profound feeling inside me I have not felt in an awful long time: confidence in the general manager of the Chicago Bears.
It is not necessarily about what Phil Emery has done since a few minutes prior to the start of free agency on March 13th. I’ve written repeatedly that I believe the Brandon Marshall trade was a stroke of genius. But recent comments from Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, admitting the team was going to cut Marshall, make it even more so. Emery used a couple third round picks over two years to avoid a bidding war that – in a world where Laurent Robinson nets $32.5 million over 5 years from Jax – would have cost the Bears far more than Marshall’s current contract.
The addition of Jason Campbell proved Emery was not willing to let a very talented Bears team repeat the mistakes of yesteryear. The additions of Eric Weems and Blake Costanzo illustrated Emery’s commitment to special teams while also understanding the team was likely to lose Corey Graham on the open market. (In the past Mr. Angelo would have relied upon Dave Toub to develop another late-round selection into a Corey Graham type.) The “controversial” contract given to Michael Bush makes the Bears one of the deeper offenses in the NFC (should Mr. Forte care to suit up). These were not headline-stealing signings but they are game-winning decisions. They are first downs, field position and roster depth.
But my feelings of confidence have also been about the decisions Emery has not made. Emery’s acquisition of Marshall enabled him to avoid the absurdly high numbers paid to unproven receiving commodities like Robinson and Pierre Garcon. His refusal to enter the Mario Williams sweepstakes shows a GM comfortable in his own skin; unafraid to disappoint a desperate fan base short term for the better good of a long term organizational plan. While rumored to the contrary Emery did not write a big check to Cortland Finnegan or Brandon Carr. $50 million for a position that is being continually devalued by an evolving NFL rule book? No thanks.
Perhaps Emery’s smartest decision has been to not jump into the public discussion of Matt Forte’s contract. While Forte, the newspapers, current players (Greg Olsen, Robert Mathis) and former players (our friend Cam Worrell and Alex Brown) have debated the Double Deuce’s worth in regard to a lucrative contract extension, Emery has stayed silent. He didn’t defend his Bush decision. He didn’t castigate Forte for making his emotions public. He didn’t reaffirm to Forte and the fans that a deal was in the works. He has stayed silent. And in that lack of noise can be perceived an air of confidence and leadership that Angelo seemed to projected as arrogance and disorganization. Emery does not panic. He does not take a reactionary approach. Fans know there’s a plan even if we never hear it said aloud.
You don’t win champions in March. Just ask the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Giants – a team considered by most, including myself, to be the overwhelming loser of the 2011 off-season. But what Phil Emery has won is the confidence of a fan base that had lost faith in the ability of Halas Hall to build a championship roster from top to bottom. A Halas Hall that served fans a dish called Caleb Hanie. Emery has won that confidence but he should not know it will not last long if Spring strategy does not deliver Autumn and Winter wins. Not in Chicago. Not with the Bears.