NFC North: Jerry Angelo

Whether it's about Jay Cutler or the expected fall of some of the top quarterbacks in this year's NFL draft, former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo continues to express strong opinions regarding several subjects around the league; the latest being Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Suh
On April 22, Angelo made his thoughts known -- pretty scathingly -- on Twitter about Suh, who hasn't attended the start of the club's voluntary offseason workouts.

Angelo, who served as general manager of the Bears from 2001-11, wrote: "As a GM, what Ndamukong Suh is choosing to do by not showing for the team's offseason program [because] he wants a new contract is one of the worst things a player can do. I had a rule with players and their agents: Unless a player was at the facility and working -- just like everyone else -- we would not engage or continue to negotiate a deal. It was that simple."

What's interesting is that as a GM, Angelo came close in 2011 to facing a similar situation with running back Matt Forte, as negotiations throughout that season on a long-term contract proved fruitless. The Bears fired Angelo in January 2012, and current general manager Phil Emery took over the negotiations.

That offseason, Forte skipped the offseason program, but the sides continued to negotiate until he agreed to a long-term deal just hours before the July 16 deadline.

Apparently, Angelo prefers a different approach, and made that clear in writing about Suh.

"Everyone has to honor their contract," Angelo wrote. "We collectively negotiated it and all agreed to its terms and conditions. No one gets to change the rules once that's done. That's why they use the term ‘good faith.' Eventually, Suh will get paid and paid very well."

Perhaps that's true. But right now, Angelo believes Suh is taking a selfish approach as the Lions begin work under new coach Jim Caldwell, who needs to set the tone as the team's new leader. In deriding Suh, Angelo seemed to take a shot at Detroit's defense, too.

"When players get caught up into themselves, they forget the big picture: the team and winning," Angelo wrote. "The Lions haven't done enough on defense for any player like Suh to feel he deserves to be treated special. The question is, for what? Grant you, he is a top player at his position, but the Lions defense is no more feared than most defenses around the league. Suh doesn't take over a game like a Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White or Warren Sapp. Suh has that mistaken identity that he is more important than he really is. He will get paid like an elite player, but the Lions defense is far from elite. Yes, you pay players based on performance, but somewhere in the equation the team's performance -- and in Suh's case, the defense -- fits in there somewhere. Winning makes it a lot easier to justify paying players handsomely."

Then, Angelo finishes his Twitter rant about Suh with a kicker.

"Suh is in that long line of people who love the book 'What About ME'!!!"

Jerry Angelo, please tell us again: How do you really feel?
Jay CutlerRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler has thrown 101 TD passes and 75 interceptions in his five seasons with the Chicago Bears.
The fifth-year anniversary of the trade between the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos that brought Jay Cutler to Chicago arrived on Wednesday, and for a variety of reasons, the verdict is somewhat still out regarding the effectiveness of the transaction, which was arguably the most significant in franchise history.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who initiated the move, told The Game 87.7 FM on Wednesday that he’d "absolutely" do the deal all over again because, “You’ll never see a situation like that ever come about again. It never did before, and it certainly won’t (in the future)."

Most likely, Angelo is correct.

“You don’t let a quarterback in his prime who went to a Pro Bowl, where the arrow is going up, out of the building,” Angelo said. “There were some circumstances mostly due to egos that created that. So you seize the moment. There were a lot of teams in line trying to trade for Jay, and if the Bears didn’t sign Jay, I said this: 'There would be four or five teams standing at his doorstep waiting to sign him.'”

The Bears surrendered two first-round picks, a third-round selection, and their starting quarterback in Kyle Orton at the time in a trade on Apr. 2, 2009 that many thought could reverse Chicago’s fortunes, given its need for a bona fide signal caller. But several circumstances have conspired to prevent Cutler from leading the Bears to a Super Bowl. We’ll get into those later, but let’s first look a little more deeply into the trade.

With the first-round picks the Broncos acquired, they traded one in the 2010 draft to San Francisco, which selected offensive tackle Anthony Davis No. 11 overall. Denver used the other in 2009 to acquire defensive end Robert Ayers. Denver traded the third-round pick acquired from the Bears to Pittsburgh, which snatched up receiver Mike Wallace.

Ultimately, Denver traded away two of the three picks received from the Bears and eventually parlayed those into the acquisitions of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who recently joined the New York Jets via free agency.

The Bears, meanwhile, used the Denver’s fifth-round pick in 2009 to select receiver Johnny Knox, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist.

Since the trade, Cutler has led the Bears to the playoffs just once over five seasons, and the Broncos have advanced to the postseason three times, and appeared in Super Bowl XLVIII. ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson made a salient point during a Jan. 31 Four Downs feature when mentioning that “when a team surrenders two first-round picks, a third-rounder and its starting quarterback to acquire a supposed franchise quarterback, and then reaches the postseason just one time in the five years after the deal from a team that ends up reaching the playoffs three times and playing in the Super Bowl over the exact same time period, the winner is obvious: the second team. Spin it any way you want, the Broncos crushed the Bears on that trade five years ago.”

Maybe they did, but it’s still worth mentioning some of the challenges Cutler has faced throughout his tenure in Chicago. The man who made the trade, Angelo, was fired by the club, and former coach Lovie Smith suffered the same fate last offseason. Further chipping away at any sense of stability for Cutler is the fact he’s played for four different offensive coordinators -- and four different offenses -- in five years with the Bears.

And after four years of horrid protection (Cutler has played only one full 16-game season since joining Chicago), a lack of offensive weaponry, and outdated schemes, it appears new general manager Phil Emery has finally fixed those issues. Cutler almost immediately responded with his best year as a pro, which in turn led the Bears to signing him to a seven-year extension.

Here’s what ESPNChicago.com colleague Jon Greenberg wrote about the trade back on Jan. 31: “The Bears traded picks for a franchise quarterback, and that is what they have in Cutler. It hasn't been easy, but after a few stops and starts, it looks like Cutler is finally poised to live up to the expectations brought about with that trade. If he had been traded to a team with big receivers and an offensive-minded coaching staff, this wouldn't even be a question. It's a testament to the Broncos that they wisely used the picks to get Super Bowl contributors in Ayers and (through trades) Thomas and Decker. When you trade a star to get draft picks, that's how it should work, a win-win for both sides. But the real key, of course, is Peyton Manning being available. Otherwise, this isn't even a debate.”

Both Dickerson and Greenberg make strong points, and on the surface, it certainly appears Denver came out the winner in the trade. But my thought is that even after five years, it’s absolutely fair to reserve complete judgment until after the 2014 season, with Cutler in the second year of a real offensive system, surrounded by competent weapons and strong protection.

If Cutler falters, then Denver won big in the trade. If he shines, depending on how bright, perhaps we might be able to one day call it a draw.

“The position speaks for itself. It’s the value of what (Cutler) does,” Angelo explained. “He’s very, very talented. We all know that. The Bears have won a lot of games with Jay. If Jay stays healthy, particularly in this kind of an offense with the weapons he has, I think the sky’s the limit.”
So, let me get this straight: Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo gave up two first-round picks, quarterback Kyle Orton and a third-round selection to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler in addition to spending countless interviews defending him.

Cutler
Now the former GM is criticizing Cutler, who is coming off his best season as a pro.

Did Angelo -- as he once so eloquently and hilariously told a reporter -- "Whistle Dixie" here?

Sure seems like it, considering what Angelo gave up to get Cutler, the contract extension he gave the quarterback just five games into 2009, in addition to all the rhetoric wasted on defending him over four seasons. Grading Cutler and the rest of the league's quarterbacks for sidelineview.com, Angelo wrote: "Has all the physical tools, but inconsistent in the clutch. Mostly due to a lack of poise. He's not comfortable reading defense and consequently locks onto a favorite or pre-determined target that may or may not be the right choice. The less he's asked to see the better he is. A better half-field general than a full field one."

Perhaps all of this is true. But it's not like any of this hasn't been brought up in the past to Angelo.

Back in 2011 prior to a matchup against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, many of those critiques were mentioned in a conversation with Angelo, who defended the quarterback, saying he was "seeing ghosts" and "shellshocked" from all the punishment he had taken due to horrid protection up front. At the time, Angelo's defense of Cutler made sense. Going into that matchup, Cutler had been sacked 15 times over his previous four outings. Then, in that 24-14 loss to the Lions, Cutler suffered three sacks while completing 73.7 percent of his passes.

In the four years Cutler and Angelo spent together in Chicago, the quarterback finished with passer ratings of 76.8, 86.3, 85.7 and 81.3, throwing for 82 touchdowns and 63 interceptions while completing 59.6 of his passes. In 2013, Cutler produced a career-best passer rating of 89.2 and completed 63.1 percent of his throws in Year 1 of a new offense with a new head coach in Marc Trestman.

Angelo also broke down Cutler's game back in September on his Facebook page:
He has all the physical tools. His arm strength, release and precise passes make him dangerous from anywhere on the field. He moves well and throws well on the run, an area that can be cultivated like his days in Denver.

But his numbers and most QB rankings are pedestrian, given his talent. The question is why?

Part of the problem, he's going on his fourth coordinator since arriving in Chicago. Continuity is important to every player, particularly those at his position.

From his standpoint, two issues stand out to me.

First he needs to distribute the ball consistently to his secondary receivers. His penchant to have a favorite receiver is understandable but not at the expense of ignoring the others. To put up big numbers, you have to keep defenses on their heels and off balance. Make them guess or cheat and when they do, you make them pay.

The way to do it is force them to defend the whole field, not half of it. Make them defend every level and every zone. You do this by spreading the ball to all your weapons.

You force defenses to respect those weapons by going to them.

All the elite quarterbacks create receivers.

The second concern ties into the first; his lack of consistency and production in the red zone. It's not all on Cutler, but it's where the top quarterbacks distinguish themselves. The Bears were tied for 22nd in offense when they got down there. He's better than that, and they have enough established weapons to exploit opponents when they are down there.

The optimum word for Cutler is 'trust': in himself, those around him and what he's asked to do. He's taken a lot of 'hits' and at age 30 they can take their toll. I've never questioned his toughness and knowing him, I know he's in top shape and anxious to get going.

Usually at this point, you either get it or you don't. He has an offensive specialist as his head coach, and it's going to take the help of a specialist for him to reach his ceiling.

I think it's a good bet he'll have a top year.
Obviously, Cutler did that. Yet Cutler remains a target of criticism from the man who spent so much in 2009 to acquire him and so much breath defending him. Angelo's critique isn't without merit, just a little perplexing given their history.

Remember, Angelo once said "it's crap" in response to criticism regarding Cutler's toughness after the quarterback left the NFC Championship Game following the 2011 season due to a knee injury.

"We wouldn't have been where we were without [Cutler]," Angelo said at the time.

Now, Cutler lacks poise and isn't comfortable reading defenses.

Again, maybe that's all true. But as we so often like to say on Monday Night Countdown: "C'mon, man."
We're Black and Blue All Over:

And, just like that, the 2012 season is over in the NFC North. Three of our teams finished with double-digit victories. Two qualified for the playoffs. Now, after Saturday night's events at Candlestick Park, everyone is home for the winter.

The blog? We'll keep rolling on, as always. We have the Chicago Bears' coaching search to keep us busy. I have some "Rewind'12" items I would like to get to, and I also want to renew our "Big Decision" series to preview what is in store over the next few months. And, crazy as it might sound, draft season is right around the corner. The NFL scouting combine starts Feb. 20 in Indianapolis.

While we have a quiet moment (even after a late start), let's take a mid-morning stroll around the NFC North:
  • Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings sounds like a player who knows he will be elsewhere in 2013. Speaking Sunday, via Sarah Barshop of ESPNMilwaukee.com, Jennings said: "But at the end of the day, you know the Packers are going to do what's best for the Packers. And that's not going to change whether you're No. 4 [Brett Favre], No. 80 [Donald Driver], No. 85 [Jennings], No. 77 [Cullen Jenkins]. That's going to be the case. They're going to do what's best for the Packers and the organization. And as the other half of the businessman sitting down at that table, I have to do what's best for myself and my family."
  • The Packers have some tough decisions coming on defense, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Packers coach Mike McCarthy will have to decide whether defensive coordinator Dom Capers "has lost his touch and no longer has the ability to keep up with the NFL's increasingly diverse offensive attacks" or whether the Packers' defensive issues are personnel related, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • All but one of the Bears' known 13 coaching candidates are available for second interviews this week, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • The Bears' interview with Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was "brief," according to Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is in play for the New York Jets' open position, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
  • The Detroit Lions "have their usual array of serious personnel issues," writes Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.
  • The Lions will add former Jacksonville Jaguars assistant Bobby Johnson to their staff, according to coachingsearch.com.
  • Minnesotans shouldn't be quick to assume that the Packers' run of supremacy in the NFC North is over, writes Patrick Reusse for 1500ESPN.com.
Jay CutlerAP Photo/Andy KingQuarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears were shaken up in a Week 14 road loss to the Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- A step into the Chicago Bears' locker room Sunday afternoon was like opening a door into a blizzard. The people inside spoke in hushed tones, steeling themselves from elements that had been pounding them for hours. They looked wind-worn and resigned to additional accumulation.

Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was the Bears' fourth in five games, a slump that has dropped them from NFC North leaders into a fight for wild-card playoff position. (The Bears are now clinging to the sixth seed in the NFC playoff race after the Seattle Seahawks' 58-0 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.) They are now 0-6 in their past two Decembers, and watching them Sunday made you wonder if they are nearing the end of an era.

Linebacker Brian Urlacher was walking through the locker room in street clothes, sidelined by a hamstring injury that ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported could end his season and perhaps his career in Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler was nursing an injured neck that was so stiff he could not turn it during a postgame news conference, instead swiveling his upper body or just moving his eyes to face questioners. Even coach Lovie Smith, who always looks ready for battle, was notable for the gray stubble sprouting from his chin.

"The window of opportunity for us is a lot smaller," Smith said, "but we still control what happens to us."

Smith was referring to this season's playoffs, and yes, the Bears have a good chance of advancing if they win their final three regular-season games. They might well get in with a 2-1 finish. That schedule includes one home game, next Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, and then road games at Arizona and the Detroit Lions to finish the season.

Do you see three wins in those games? Maybe. Do you see two? It's quite possible. But here's a more specific question: Do you see either scenario from the team the Bears trotted onto the Metrodome carpet Sunday? I'm not sure about that.

Cutler didn't mince words afterward, saying: "We have just a handful of games left, and we have to win them all." But what if they don't? What would a second consecutive December collapse mean for this franchise?

Smith has a 79-62 record in nine seasons with the Bears. He had them in the NFC Championship Game two years ago and seemed destined for a deep playoff run last season before Cutler's season-ending thumb injury. This year, Smith had the Bears at 7-1 before they hit this slump.

Instincts tell you that Smith's job isn't riding on the next three games. But the Bears haven't been predictable since George McCaskey ascended to the chairman's role two years ago. After Week 14 last year, I wouldn't have guessed general manager Jerry Angelo would be fired the day after the season. That event means that Smith's boss, new general manager Phil Emery, isn't the man who hired him.

Even if Smith keeps his job, you would think the Bears' 2012 finish will jump-start the rebuilding of a defense that has been slowed by age and injuries in the second half of the season. Sunday, the entire team seemed literally to be falling apart in front of our eyes.

Place-kicker Robbie Gould strained a calf muscle in pregame warm-ups. Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson ripped off a 51-yard run on the first play of the first game Urlacher has missed in three seasons. Receiver Alshon Jeffery slipped on a cut, resulting in an interception that set up a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.

Receiver Devin Hester dropped a certain touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and teammate Brandon Marshall allowed a potential fourth-down conversion to skip off his hands. Even Cutler interrupted one of his better NFL seasons with some sloppy throws, including one in the third quarter that sailed over Marshall and was returned 56 yards by Vikings safety Harrison Smith for a touchdown. That score proved to be the deciding points in the game.

"We have to come out with a higher sense of urgency," said defensive lineman Israel Idonije. Said linebacker Nick Roach: "We kind of came out a little flat, maybe."

How the Bears came out flat in a December game with playoff implications is a story with no acceptable explanation. This performance should be a wake-up call to anyone who believes in the Bears' status quo.

Cutler was one of the few players who appeared to be scrapping from the start, most notably on an 11-yard run on third-and-10 to extend the Bears' second possession. But Cutler paid a price for his hard-driving play. He said his neck was "stiffening up more and more" as the game progressed, and Smith pulled him late in the fourth quarter after he absorbed one final head shot from Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Marshall said "we just have to win out" three times in a span of four questions. And if they don't? Well, anything -- and everything -- seems possible.

 
Part of ESPN The Magazine's NFL preview is a narrative of how Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte kept his head together during the year-long process that ended with his new four-year contract last month. Seth Wickersham offered insight into the ups and downs Forte faced, including at least one anecdote I wasn't previously aware of.

Forte
Forte
Just before the start of the 2011 season, former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo made an unusual request: A direct meeting with Forte, who to this point had left negotiations to his agent. Forte agreed because he thought it would bring good karma to the discussions.

We'll let Wickersham take it from there:
Almost none did, beginning with the first exchange between Forte and Angelo. "Why aren't you trying to pay me as an elite back?" Forte asked. The GM's response: "You haven't even made it to a Pro Bowl." As the discussion dissolved into the minutiae of Forte's popularity -- the Pro Bowl is partially voted on by fans, Bakari pointed out -- the meeting ended, and Forte entered the season with a very clear parting message from management: You are not as good as you think."

How could he argue otherwise? This was about more than Forte. It is the existential dilemma every football player faces: trying to convince teams that both demand and devalue your performance that you're worth more. And to do it without alienating everyone -- fans, teammates, even family -- in the process. Forte had a theory about what might work. Over the next 11 months, it did. Barely.

If nothing else, the anecdote helps us understand the mindset Forte took through the entire 2011 season. The full story is here.

NFC North weekend mailbag

June, 2, 2012
6/02/12
8:00
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Hey, whaddya say we throw together a weekend mailbag? Comments, questions, criticism and praise are always welcome through the mailbag, Facebook, Twitter or skywriting.

Via Facebook, Kona reacts to the latest lively comments from Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley: "oh goodness.. As usual, the media blowing things out of proportion…."

Kevin Seifert: In truth, those of us who are used to hearing Finley hardly blinked at his comments, which came after last Wednesday's organized team activities (OTA).

For those curious, Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com offers a succinct rundown. Finley said that he and quarterback Aaron Rodgers "didn't have chemistry" in 2011, suggested he needs to "freestyle" more on the field instead of playing like a "robot" and insisted that Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham are "going to have to show me a little more" before he assesses their level of play.

Some of those comments, particularly the one about chemistry with Rodgers, drew national attention. Here is what I'll say about them: We long ago learned that Finley has a way of making general sentiments sound more dramatic and that he rarely is as convinced about an assertion as he appears to be.

In the case of Rodgers, Finley was simply referring to their minimal work together last offseason because of the lockout. By "freestyle," he didn't mean he plans to ignore playcalls. He simply wants to play with more instinct, which is what the NFL's best players routinely do. On the other hand, I'm not sure if I can interpret his comments on Gronkowski and Graham other than to say he wants to see how they respond to defensive adjustments.

With all of that said, at some point Finley will need to clean up his method for public expression if he wants anything he says to be taken seriously. In Green Bay and around the NFC North, he's more or less viewed as a harmless loose cannon. But eventually something he says will strike a teammate or coach -- or opponent -- the wrong way, if it hasn't already. Trouble would ensue.

From a national perspective, there will be upwards of 2,880 players on NFL rosters this summer. It's too much to ask national media members and fans to know Finley well enough to brush off his words without taking a closer look.


Chris of Detroit questioned our criticism of Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew for not addressing his team's off-field issues in a public manner: I believe that you don't realize that Mayhew rarely addresses the media for good or bad. [Coach Jim] Schwartz is the face of the organization, he has and will always address such in-house issues. Since Mayhew took over he has addressed the media once before and after the season, rarely any other time especially with off the field issues. Mayhew has taken a lot of heat from local media for is lack of access to the media, however they all praise him for being consistent and allowing his coach to be the face of the franchise. While I agree that a GM should be held accountable for his draft class being in trouble, I give him credit for not being vocal during good and bad times as the Lions GM.

Kevin Seifert: Believe me, I'm well aware that Mayhew rarely speaks publicly and that the Lions' set-up calls for Schwartz to speak for the franchise on most matters. But I still don't think it's right for Mayhew to hide behind that structure in times of unique circumstances.

I fully understand why Mayhew wouldn't want to speak regularly. He wants his actions to speak for themselves and doesn't want to be put in a position to evaluate coaches and players in a public manner during the season. Rare is a general manager who comments on, say, a coach's decision to bench a quarterback or go for it on fourth down. And by all indications Mayhew maintains that policy on both a local and national level. It's not as if he has separate rules for different reporters or outlets.

I guess I just saw six incidents in five months to be beyond the daily operation and structure of any NFL team. It's not quite a crisis, but it is a dire-enough situation that team vice chairman Bill Ford called it "disappointing, very disappointing" and "a shame" last week.

I don't believe that Mayhew has an obligation to "to take the heat" from a throng of media because he "deserves" that punishment. Again, I thought it was unfair in this case for Schwartz to do all of the explaining and to be cast alone in the spotlight for something that is not only this serious, but also something an issue for which he does not have ultimate responsibility.


In the comments of this post on Chicago Bears offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, WINDYCITYWOMBRAIDERRETURNS notes that two first-round picks of former general manager Jerry Angelo -- Carimi and Chris Williams -- could "make or break the season."

Kevin Seifert: In a way, it's interesting to see so much discussion on the Bears' relative lack of attention to their offensive line when two former first-round picks could conceivably be among their five starters this season.

Our commenter is no doubt hoping that Williams makes a career comeback and overtakes the left tackle position from J'Marcus Webb. That might be too much to ask, and it's quite possible Williams is headed for a year as a swing left/right tackle before departing the franchise in 2013.

But even if that's the case, it's not clear if Webb has any better chance than Williams to develop into a fixture at left tackle. That circumstance places further scrutiny on Angelo's failed attempt to lock down the position with Williams five years ago.


Brandon of London, Canada, remains concerned about Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder after reading this post: While I would usually 100% agree with your feeling that you can't read too much into OTA's and off-season practices etc., but shouldn't the Vikings be extremely concerned that Ponder cannot even succeed when there's 0 pressure against their historically last bad secondary of last season (plus a few rookies)? Shouldn't now be when he's wowing people and being over-hyped?

Kevin Seifert: There is something to be said for that. I mean, it's far more common to read enthusiastic coverage of a player lighting it up during spring drills than the other way around.

And to be clear, my post wasn't meant to suggest that Ponder struggled through the OTA that I watched. He had one really bad mistake that I saw, one that seemed rare even in this kind of setting. But he also made his share of nice passes. He was inconsistent, which isn't totally unexpected for a player going through his first NFL offseason, and I thought that positive/negative was implied in the "fits and starts" headline.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Former Green Bay Packers safety Nick Collins hasn't decided whether to pursue a job with another team or retire, according to his agent via ESPNMilwaukee.com's Jason Wilde.

The Packers released Collins last week because they think a neck injury he suffered in September 2011 makes his return too risky. I wouldn't be surprised at all, however, if other teams have made inquiries about his health and status. Collins was a three-time Pro Bowl player and one of the NFL's best safeties before his injury.

Every team's medical staff is different, and there are no black and white answers with Collins' medical history. Someone might be willing to clear him. Ultimately, the decision could be up to Collins.

Continuing around the NFC North:
The Chicago Bears' annual push to sign their draft class early hasn't changed in the transition from general manager Jerry Angelo to Phil Emery. The Bears agreed to terms with second-round receiver Alshon Jeffery on a four-year contract Wednesday, believed to be the first contract agreement for an NFL draft choice this offseason.

Contracts for rookies have less wiggle room under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), and holdouts should be far less frequent. And in truth, agreements aren't necessary until the start of training camp in July.

But clearly, Bears contract negotiator Cliff Stein is getting his usual head start. One down, five more to go. Get 'er done, Cliff.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The aggressive offseason of first-year general manager Phil Emery has caught the attention of Chicago Bears players. Speaking Wednesday to announce his contract extension, linebacker Lance Briggs said: "It feels like a miracle, what they've done this offseason."

Briggs continued: "They've gone out and gotten a bunch of guys that are going to help us win a championship. I know that … we are a contender. Even guys that have signed, they know they signed here instead of possibly other places because we're a contender."

Briggs said that "on paper," the Bears have their most talented roster in his tenure with the team.

"Would I call us the dream team?" Briggs said. "No, I would not. But I would say we're a championship-caliber team, potentially. … We have to go out and transition it to the field. We have to go out and turn the paper into reality."

With a pair of 2011 playoff teams in their division, the Bears needed to get better. They knew it and their players knew it, and Emery has made a good first impression on them.

Continuing around the NFC North:
We're Black and Blue All Over:

In many ways, it's tough to criticize the Chicago Bears' hiring of Phil Emery as their new general manager. He is by all accounts a highly respected figure in NFL scouting circles, someone who has demonstrated the willingness to work all day and every day to unearth talent and separate the so-called contenders from pretenders. As we discussed Monday, his character and approach are that of an ex-Naval Academy conditioning coach, and he sounded in his introductory news conference like a fine person to work for.

About the only criticism I could find in the Chicago media was the suggestion that the Bears swung low in their search to replace general manager Jerry Angelo, valuing competence but also requiring a level of conformity to their existing structure that might have disqualified higher-profile candidates. Here's how Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times put that sentiment:
"You get what you ask for. What the Bears asked for was a GM who has no desire to fire a middling head coach, a GM who thinks the team isn’t far away from being great and a GM who is extremely happy to be here. Check, check and check. Emery sounds like a man who can work with anyone who is put in front of him. That includes [coach Lovie] Smith, the scouting staff and, presumably, Staley the mascot, as long as he's a team player."

Regardless, I think we can use baseball terms to put this hire in proper perspective: The Bears put a runner in scoring position even if they weren't swinging for the fences.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "Much of the public listened to Emery and equated uninteresting with incapable, but be careful before jumping to conclusions. Judge Emery's substance, not his style."
  • Smith's job appears as safe as it could following a general-manager transition, writes Dan Pompei of the Tribune: "Emery did not sound a bit like a man intent on running out Smith as soon as possible so he can put his stamp on the Bears with the head coach of his choosing. In fact, he made it clear his goal is to ensure Smith is the coach of the Bears for a long time."
  • Jon Greenberg of ESPNChicago.com: "It seems to me, a professional scout of character, that Emery is an old-school, salt-of-the-earth football guy. He's certainly not a personality in the vein of Jerry Angelo, whose famous last words in Chicago were telling a reporter to 'whistle dixie.' But I have a feeling that Emery knows what he's talking about when he's in a room full of like-minded men. He's a scout, after all, a guy who works in anonymity, taking his victories mostly in silence."
  • Emery received a five-year contract, according to Brad Biggs of the Tribune.
  • The Bears will speak with Alex Van Pelt for their open quarterbacks coach position, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • The Minnesota Vikings are looking at a stadium site across the street from the Metrodome so that they can continue playing in the existing stadium until the new one is ready, writes Kevin Duchschere of the Star Tribune.
  • Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press speaks with Hall of Fame candidate Chris Doleman.
  • Vikings director of player personnel George Paton interviewed Monday for the St. Louis Rams' general manager job, according to Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
  • Green Bay Packers general manager Ted Thompson was named The Sporting News' executive of the year, notes the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Missed this from a few days ago, but Anwar S. Richardson of Mlive.com reported that many in the Detroit Lions organization are uncertain if running back Jahvid Best (concussions) will play again.
When the Chicago Bears fired general manager Jerry Angelo, one of the first questions we raised was about the future of his right-hand man. Would director of player personnel Tim Ruskell be promoted or follow Angelo out the door?

It appears we have an answer on the first business day since the Bears hired Phil Emery to replace Angelo. Ruskell and the team have agreed to part ways, according to Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

Ruskell's departure is an entirely expected turn of events after the Bears passed over him for the job. But it will leave Emery to make some quick adjustments to the team's front-office structure in preparation for free agency in March and the draft in April.

Ruskell arrived as part of a 2010 front-office reorganization that dissolved the traditional jobs of pro and college scouting directors. Ruskell headed up both departments, so Emery will need either to hire a replacement in that role or resurrect the director jobs to provide structure between the team's scouts and himself.

Emery is scheduled to be introduced at a 3 p.m. ET news conference. We'll let you know if he sheds any light on that issue, as well as other topics on his checklist.
In retrospect, the Chicago Bears' 25-day search for a general manager played out exactly as they said it would. Team president Ted Phillips made clear he wasn't looking to turn the organization upside down after firing Jerry Angelo on Jan. 3. No, as we discussed at the time, the Bears wanted someone who could bring a better hit rate as a talent evaluator.

Kansas City Chiefs executive Phil Emery emerged as a favorite early in the process because of his unique qualifications under those criteria, and for that reason it was far from surprising to hear that the Bears hired him Saturday.

Emery spent seven years as a Bears scout from 1998-2004, making him relatively familiar with the inner workings of Halas Hall and unlikely to pursue a massive overhaul. He was part of a Bears scouting department that drafted eight future Pro Bowlers, from receiver Marty Booker to linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to safety Mike Brown and cornerback Charles Tillman. Later, he drafted receiver Roddy White and quarterback Matt Ryan, among others, as the Atlanta Falcons' director of college scouting.

Emery surely will bring his own tone and vision to the Bears' front office. But initially, at least, he'll do so by assimilating the existing infrastructure and minimizing the side effects of transition.

The Bears have missed the playoffs in four of the five seasons since their appearance in Super Bowl XLI. But whether you agree or not, Phillips said he thinks the team has suffered from inconsistent talent evaluation rather than larger-scale issues. So in essence, he has swapped one longtime scout-turned-general manager for another in hopes of getting better results.

Phillips said Jan. 3 that the Bears needed to close the "talent gap" that exists between the Bears and their two most competitive NFC North rivals, the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. In many ways, the decision to bring back Emery reflects the Packers' hiring of general manager Ted Thompson in 2005.

Thompson spent eight years with the Packers in various personnel roles between 1992 and ‘99 before returning as general manager in 2005. Emery brings a similar reputation as a blue-collar scout and workaholic who figures to spend a good portion of his years on the road personally scouting college players.

Thompson, of course, had the authority to remake the Packers franchise as he saw fit. Much of the front office remained intact, but he fired coach Mike Sherman after one season and hired Mike McCarthy in 2006. The Packers won Super Bowl XLV with a 53-man roster that included 49 players acquired after Thompson's arrival.

That's a tough ideal for Emery and the Bears to pursue, but I wouldn't be surprised if it comes up at some point during Monday's news conference to introduce him formally. The Bears wanted a low-key leader who would focus on talent evaluation and, like Thompson, stay below the radar. By all accounts, Emery fits that bill.

BBAO: Finalists in Bears' GM search

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
7:15
AM ET
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Chicago Bears are moving forward with their general manager search and have received assurance they won't lose their just-promoted offensive coordinator. Such was the upshot of two developments for the franchise Monday night.

The finalists to replace general manager Jerry Angelo are Kansas City executive Phil Emery, a former Bears scout, and Jason Licht of the New England Patriots. Both will receive second interviews this week, after which the Bears will presumably make a decision. There have been reports that Emery -- a relatively quiet, hard-working meat-and-potatoes candidate -- is seen as the favorite in many NFL circles, but the team insisted that no decisions have been made.

Meanwhile, offensive coordinator Mike Tice was dropped from consideration for the Oakland Raiders' head-coaching job. Tice had been scheduled to interview for the job Tuesday, but the Raiders have already moved to the second round of their interview process, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.

Continuing around the NFC North:
The Chicago Bears have released a preliminary list of candidates to replace former general manager Jerry Angelo. All four have been granted permission to interview with the team, but a statement on the Bears' website made clear that additional candidates have not been ruled out and that current director of player personnel Tim Ruskell remains in play.

The four outsiders are:
I don't want to pass much judgment on this list because I don't totally know what the Bears are up to. It's unusual for a team to announce its full slate of candidates for such an important job. Is this a new era of transparency? Or could there be a stealth candidate they're distracting us from? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but lots of crazy stuff happens this time of year. Could it be an attempt to demonstrate due diligence before ultimately hiring Ruskell?

There have been rumblings that Ruskell has a better-than-even chance to get the job. Let's just say that the Bears haven't stacked the deck with this pool. None of the four has experience as a general manager.

The most intriguing candidate might be Ross, who has been a rising star since the Philadelphia Eagles made him the league's youngest college scouting director in 2000, when he was 27. He is a Princeton graduate and has a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts.

Stay tuned.

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