If this were March, and the lockout had never happened, I honestly think I would be applauding the Chicago Bears right now. Their decision to get younger at center would have been bold, well-timed and representative of an organization refusing to allow nostalgia to rule its football decisions.
Today, however, is July 31. Two training camp practices are already in the books, and the Bears will have at least two more before newly signed Chris Spencer can formally take over for veteran Olin Kreutz. If there were ever a time for a short-term, Band-Aid decision, it’s now. Instead, the Bears have taken on one of the most difficult post-lockout tasks imaginable: Transitioning a new center into a Mike Martz scheme during this summer’s compressed training camp and preseason, all while leaving their locker room at least temporarily rudderless.
Let’s face it: Kreutz was not nearly the player last season that he was even a few years ago. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said Sunday afternoon that Kreutz “clearly regressed in all aspects.” The Bears knew this as well as anyone, and I think that’s why they weren’t willing to break the bank to re-sign him for one more season.
I would have had no qualms with that decision in March. But as we’ve discussed, the reality of the lockout necessitated a few adjustments to the proverbial viewfinder. If at all possible, it makes sense to carry as much continuity into 2011 as possible. I’d rather have Olin Kreutz at 60 percent than a newcomer facing the kind of learning curve Spencer will now deal with -- especially in this division. Need I remind you of this division's stable of defensive tackles? Ndamukong Suh? B.J. Raji? Kevin Williams? Hello?
If the Bears thought Kreutz was absolutely incapable of playing, then I’m guessing they never would have made him an offer to begin with. I guess you could argue their one-year, $4 million offer, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, was designed as a deal he would clearly refuse. Maybe they were just waiting for Spencer to become available.
Regardless, this doesn’t seem like the wisest time to make a long-term decision at such a crucial position, especially considering Kreutz’s locker room leadership role. I can’t imagine there is a coach on the Bears' staff who would endorse the move now if given a choice.
So it’s worth pointing out that in 2005, Spencer was the first player drafted by new Seattle Seahawks general manager Tim Ruskell, now the Bears’ vice president of player personnel. Spencer is not a bad player, but he has a brutally difficult job ahead of him. Ruskell might have set in motion a decent succession plan at center, but the timing of it will almost assuredly debilitate the Bears in the short term.
Sometimes you have to walk the plank and jump feet-first into a raging sea. Usually, however, it’s wise to make sure you’re high enough to brace for impact. That’s where the Bears failed in this episode. Right idea. Wrong time.