- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Chicago Bears' apparent decision to keep second-year fullback/tight end Evan Rodriguez despite two offseason arrests speaks volumes about the pressure the organization is under to protect its draft picks after former general manager Jerry Angelo got fired for his inability to identify collegiate talent.
The No. 1 reason the Bears hired general manager Phil Emery was to fix the team's approach to the draft after the final years of Angelo's watch produced far too many misses.
Rodriguez was the fourth-round pick in Emery's first draft class. To admit defeat this early on a relatively high draft choice would be crushing, even if Rodriguez has done little to justify his spot on the team, outside of his draft status.
Rodriguez's final numbers his rookie year: four catches for 21 yards in 12 games.
To be fair, the Bears' offense last year was dysfunctional, and Rodriguez was never given the opportunity to stretch the field in the passing game -- the role Emery envisioned -- so it was easy to wipe the slate clean and expect Rodriguez to have a larger impact in the new Marc Trestman offense.
It looked good early in the offseason when Rodriguez traveled to South Florida to train with Pro-Bowler Brandon Marshall and receiver Alshon Jeffery, but then the two offseason arrests essentially erased any goodwill he had built up.
Emery likes to remind the media from time to time that "we all have fallen in life." That is true. We have all made mistakes, especially in our younger years. But there is a difference between an isolated bad decision and a pattern of unacceptable behavior.
Rodriguez's troubles date back to college, and generally speaking, when a player displays questionable character in college, he usually has similar issues in the NFL. Except now the player has money, which makes it easier to go down the wrong path.
The Bears even attempted to "re-educate" Rodriguez after the Miami Beach arrest (charges were later dropped), but that didn't seem to stick. Now comes the DUI charge that might result in a suspension.
So why didn't the Bears cut Rodriguez over the weekend?
Because the franchise badly needs the Rodriguez pick to work out.
Conventional wisdom is that it takes three years to fairly evaluate a draft class. But thanks to all the whiffs in recent years, the Bears need contributions from their younger players more than ever.
However, the 2012 class didn't provide a whole lot in year number one.
First-round defensive end Shea McClellin (No. 19) flashed on occasion, but he never earned consistent playing time from former head coach Lovie Smith or defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. McClellin is expected to have a larger role on defense this year, but the jury is still out on whether he can be a consistent pass rusher or full-time defensive end.
McClellin finished last season with zero starts and 2.5 sacks. New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones, picked two spots after McClellin, had 6.0 sacks and three forced fumbles in 13 starts. Houston's Whitney Mercilus, the No. 26 overall choice, registered 6.0 sacks and two forced fumbles as a rookie. The Bears passed on both players in favor of McClellin.
The Bears second-round pick, Jeffery, had a decent rookie campaign, but had to miss six games due to injuries. However, Jeffery appears poised for a solid NFL career if he can just manage to stay healthy.
Third-round draft choice Brandon Hardin spent the entire year on injured reserve after failing to play in a single game his final year at Oregon State. Hardin enters training camp squarely on the bubble and is not assured of a roster spot due to the Bears' depth at the position, where reserves Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters have done far more to earn a job than Hardin, who must also compete with Tom Nelson and Tom Zbikowski if the team decides to keep five safeties.
After Emery took Rodriguez in the fourth round, he selected a pair of cornerbacks in the final two rounds, Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy, who both failed to make the 53-man roster, although Frey is currently fighting for a reserve spot this offseason.
This predicament serves as a painful reminder that organizations are built through the draft, not in free agency. The Bears need to break the pattern of trying to throw money at their mistakes and start developing their young players, at least the ones who have talent.
Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be for the Bears to cut both Rodriguez and Hardin after one year?
If that were to happen, the Bears' 2012 draft class would start to get lumped in 2007 as one of the most dubious in franchise history.
No, for better or for worse, the Bears appear stuck with Rodriguez. It really is the only way, unless Rodriguez scores the hat trick and gets arrested a third time in the offseason.