NFL Nation: Jerry Angelo

TAMPA, Fla. -- Jerry Angelo, who was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' director of personnel from 1987 through 2000, said he's glad he's not in that role these days.

Angelo said the Bucs face an extremely difficult decision on what to do with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. He said Tuesday it's a "coin flip" between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"They're both good," said Angelo, who went on to work as the general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001-11. "It's what flavor you like."

Angelo said Winston has the edge when it comes to on-field performance.

"Winston has everything you look for," Angelo said. "He reminds me of a Ben Roethlisberger. He's big and strong and can extend a play. He has good mobility. He can make plays with his feet. He's big, athletic and accurate. That's his best trait, his accuracy. And the fact he's played in a pro-style offense certainly helps."

Mariota, who ran the fastest 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds) among quarterbacks at the combine, didn't have the luxury of playing in a pro-style offense. He played in a spread system in college.

"You can't minimize the intangibles with Mariota," Angelo said. "Intangibles are about 60 percent of it -- and he has great intangibles. My concern with him is the system he's played in and his accuracy within the pocket. I weigh that very heavily. With what you've seen in college, you don't know for sure and it's tough to come away with any confidence. Could he be like [Kansas City's] Alex Smith is now? Yes, he could be. But you don't know anything for sure because you haven't seen him in a pro-style system."

Angelo said the Bucs have to factor in more than on-field talent when making their decision. Winston has had a series of off-field incidents, including an allegation of sexual assault, although he was not charged with a crime.

"You have to do your homework very thoroughly," Angelo said. "But you're still taking a flier. The quarterback is the face of the franchise. The Bucs can't afford any more bad publicity. It's not just about the talent. The talent is obvious. But you have to bring character [into the equation] and the potential damage you could do to the franchise. That's an issue for ownership. If you take the character out of it, Winston is the pick. But you can't take the character out of it because that's a very important thing."

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.”

Angelo's view on 'misguided' Pats plan

January, 27, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is a good follow on Twitter, as he offers a perspective of someone who has been responsible for putting together an NFL roster.

Today, he was critical of the New England Patriots' team-building approach in 2013.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Bill Belichick
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsJerry Angelo argues that the Patriots did not give Tom Brady enough talent at receiver.
In explaining his viewpoint, Angelo compared the Denver Broncos' approach with the Patriots' plan.

"When you have a great quarterback, you need to give him as many quality receivers as possible, regardless of where they are aligned on the field," he wrote, using Sulia so he wasn't limited to 140 characters. "... When you look at New England, the strengths of their offense was their line and running backs. When you break down Denver, it was their tight end and receivers.

"I believe, if you don’t have an elite QB, you build your offense the way New England did, from the inside out. Protect the quarterback with a good offensive line and run the ball. A large part of your passing game is going to be based off run action. On the other hand, if you have a quarterback who sets the standard at his position, you built it around him from the outside in, meaning with top-notch receivers.

"This is where New England calculated wrong. Brady is an elite quarterback, and they handcuffed him with talented but unproven receivers. ... My point: New England missed the mark and Denver hit it."

Angelo then explained further.

"New England’s problem is they fell in love with their system. A fatal mistake for successful coaches. I said Bill Belichick did one of his finest coaching jobs this year and I know it. I’m a great admirer and would agree with Bill Cowher when he said that Belichick would go down as the greatest coach in football. But in this case, his thinking was misguided.

"This shows you regardless of how great a coach is, if his philosophy isn’t applicable to the strengths of his personnel, then it’s unsound, not in principal, but in relevance to his personnel. And in football, the labor force starts with CEO of the offense, the quarterback."

SportsNation

Do you agree with former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo that Bill Belichick's approach to building the Patriots' offense was "misguided"?

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    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 11,586)

QUICK-HIT THOUGHTS: This is a strong opinion from Angelo, who was a regional scout with the Giants in the 1980s when Belichick was an assistant coach on staff. So the two have a connection that extends back decades and their connection was later highlighted by some trades they swung in 2003 and 2004. I don't detect any agenda here.

To me, the makeup of the Patriots' offense traces back to the decisions to extend the contracts of tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez after their first two seasons. The Patriots were banking on good health for Gronkowski (he didn't miss a game in his first two seasons) and obviously didn't see a murder charge coming for Hernandez. They then viewed Danny Amendola as a capable replacement for Wes Welker in 2013 and liked the idea of a Gronkowski/Hernandez/Amendola core. Young receivers Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins could then complement that core, and if Julian Edelman was healthy, he'd be another valuable piece.

The plans obviously didn't unfold the way they hoped, and the young receivers were thrust into front-line roles. Not good. It's easy to say the plan was misguided now, but I didn't see too many criticizing those tight end contracts when they happened; in fact, many were applauding the organization for finally being proactive in contract-extension talks with young players. That doesn't take the Patriots off the hook, and Angelo's point is well-taken here. But things seem to move so fast these days that sometimes we forget about the context in which each personnel decision was made.

Bucs seem intent on first-time GM

January, 10, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The common theme emerging from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' search for a general manager is that they’re looking for someone who hasn’t held that title before.

The reported candidates include Lake Dawson, Lionel Vital and Morocco Brown. All three are widely respected in league personnel circles and are viewed as up-and-comers. Those are not bad qualities to have in a general manager.

But the direction in which this search apparently is headed leaves me wondering why the Bucs aren’t even looking at some people who have been general managers before. There are experienced guys out there like Jerry Angelo, Mike Tannenbaum and Tim Ruskell.

None of their names have surfaced in connection with the Tampa Bay opening. That is a little surprising since the Bucs made it a point to get a coach with head-coaching experience in the NFL in Lovie Smith.

That the Bucs hired Smith might be the very reason they are attempting to land a first-time general manager. One of the conditions for Smith accepting the job was that he would get final say on personnel matters. That little detail could make experienced general managers lose interest in the Tampa Bay position.

Maybe that is why the Bucs are looking for a first-time general manager.

Buccaneers filling staff quickly

January, 4, 2014
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TAMPA, Fla. – Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith is off to a fast start in filling his coaching staff.

It was known from the beginning of Smith’s candidacy that he planned to bring Jeff Tedford aboard as the offensive coordinator. The Bucs officially announced that move Saturday morning.

“We are very fortunate to have Jeff as our offensive coordinator,” Smith said. “I have a great deal of respect for the job Jeff did at Cal for more than a decade and I believe he will be a great fit for what we are attempting to do in Tampa. Jeff has a successful and proven track record as a teacher and developer of young talent and I know our players, and the organization as a whole, will benefit from his experience.”

The Bucs also are bringing in former Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier as the defensive coordinator. Smith is off to a much better start at filling his coaching staff than predecessor Greg Schiano.

In fairness to Schiano, he was hired late. Many of the coaches he wanted were already taken and there were times when Schiano had to go with his third or fourth choice.

Tedford clearly was Smith’s first choice. Frazier was no worse than the second choice. Smith wanted Rod Marinelli, but the Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t let him out of his contract as defensive line coach.

The Buccaneers also are likely to get their top pick as general manager because there aren’t any other jobs open at the moment. Kansas City personnel executive Chris Ballard, who has history with Smith, reportedly is the favorite.

But the Bucs also could consider former Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo, who has ties to Smith and the Bucs, former Carolina general manager Marty Hurney and former New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum.

One other name the Bucs could look at is Atlanta Falcons director of football operations Nick Polk. He’s viewed as a rising star around the league.
Tim TebowAP Photo/Jack DempseyTeammate Eric Decker called Tim Tebow's ability to turn it on at the end of games "a miracle."
Editor’s note: ESPN.com revisits the NFL’s most interesting teams since Y2K with a five-part “Most Compelling Teams of the Century” series. We begin with Tebow-mania -- the 2011 Denver Broncos.

It was the day before Halloween and compelling was hardly the word of the day in the Mile High City.

Pathetic, perhaps. Compelling? Not even close.

On a breathtaking fall day, the only brilliance shining on the Rocky Mountains was coming from the skies. The Denver Broncos? They looked like a team at a crossroads.

The Tim Tebow era looked ready to be scrapped. Tebow was simply awful, failing miserably in a pro-style attack. The Broncos were completely stymied, 45-10, by the Detroit Lions.

It was one of the most lackluster, unprofessional offensive performances I’ve ever witnessed.

Team employees were quietly going crazy, watching the ineptitude of Tebow. Teammates walked by Tebow in the locker room without making eye contact after the game. I talked to a prominent Denver player who said he didn’t know how long the team’s brass could justify keeping Tebow on the field.

He just wasn’t a pro-style quarterback.

Then a crazy thing happened. The Broncos came back to work the next day and accepted that Tebow wasn’t a pro-style quarterback, but, in the short term, at least, he could still help the team. In a unprecedented move, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy went away from everything he knew as an NFL coach. He kicked the traditional offensive scheme aside and used the college option that Tebow used to win a Heisman Trophy and become one of the most successful quarterbacks of all time. I recently talked to an NFL head coach who said what McCoy, now the head coach in San Diego, did was perhaps the most remarkable coaching job he’s ever seen in the league.

[+] EnlargeTim Tebow
AP Photo/Kevin Terrell"Tebowing" after his 80-yard, game-winning touchdown pass in overtime against the Steelers.
Tebow-mania overtook the NFL.

Tebow and the Broncos, who were 2-5 at the time of the scheme swap, became one of the most talked-about teams in the NFL. The Broncos were suddenly fodder for countless ESPN platforms and sports talk radio across the country.

What would Tebow do next?

It was rarely pretty and the purists were offended. But Tebow got it done even though his passes often had the accuracy of a high school sophomore under center for the first time.

But Tebow Magic just worked. His teammates bought in.

Tebow-mania got serious on a Thursday night in late November when the Broncos came back to beat the Jets.

It was a classic 2011 Tim Tebow victory.

He was awful for much of the game and the Denver offense was mostly stymied. But then the clock started to wane and Tebow took over. His passes were starting to connect. His legs were getting first downs. After a nearly full game of malaise, Tebow led a 95-yard, 12-play drive, culminating in a wild 20-yard touchdown run by Tebow that gave Denver a 17-13 win.

After the game, I sought out Denver receiver Eric Decker for some insight on how Tebow could just turn it on. He looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and giggled.

“A miracle,” Decker said. “Greatness.”

OK. Whatever. I couldn’t think of a better explanation. But the occurrences were just beginning.

As Tebow-mania took over the NFL, my assignments as the AFC West blogger for ESPN.com usually took me to where Tebow and the Broncos were playing. I’d get to the point where I’d sit in the press box and just wait for Tebow to come alive.

It was happening every week. A week after the New York win, the Broncos came back and won in overtime in San Diego. Then they went to Minnesota and won with a late field goal.

Then, in perhaps the most absurd comeback of them all, the Broncos scored all 13 of their points late in regulation and in overtime against Chicago. Again, Tebow was awful until he had to be great. It was his sixth comeback win in the fourth quarter or in overtime in his first 11 NFL starts.

I’ll never forget watching then-Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo staring in stunned silence for several minutes after the game. Someone came up to console him. "The kid got hot," was all Angelo was able to say.

Tebow-mania was derailed in the final three weeks as Tebow and the Broncos cooled down and lost their three final games. Still, Denver won the division at 8-8 and TebowMania had one last comeback to complete.

There were murmurs that the Broncos would use Brady Quinn instead of Tebow against Pittsburgh in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

But that never happened. Tebow played well throughout and the Denver defense, which steadily improved as the season progressed, kept the Broncos close as the game went to overtime.

On the first offensive play of overtime, Tebow threw one of his prettiest balls in Denver history, a strike to a moving Demaryius Thomas, who then sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown to give Denver its only playoff win since 2005.

Tebow went to the ground and struck his famous "Tebowing" pose. Then, he joined his teammates in a victory lap. In his final act with Denver, Tebow and the Broncos struggled in a 45-10 loss at New England the following week.

Tebow-mania ended almost as quickly as it started. The Broncos loved the spark Tebow gave them, but vice president of operations John Elway is a Hall of Fame quarterback, and he couldn’t stand seeing his team run a non-NFL attack. Peyton Manning became available and Tebow became a memory -- but one few will ever forget.

Darrelle RevisThearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCornerback Darrelle Revis certainly has the star power that would get Bucs fans fired up.
With each day that passes without the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trading for Darrelle Revis, the more convinced I become they will trade for the cornerback.

New York Jets general manager John Idzik and Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik, the guys who used to brew the coffee and make copies when Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell ran Tampa Bay’s personnel department, are holding a very public staring contest.

For more than a month, we’ve been hearing rumors about Tampa Bay dealing for Revis. You can throw out the ones that were floated to try to get Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez involved. But I think everything else -- such as the various compensation packages that have been discussed and the Jets hitting the “pause button" -- is based, at least somewhat, in truth.

The Jets almost have to get rid of Revis because he is headed into the final year of his contract and New York has no intention of giving him a massive long-term extension. That alone, I used to think, gave the Buccaneers the upper hand.

But now I’m not so sure. I’m thinking the closer it gets to next week’s NFL draft, the more the Jets have the upper hand.

Quite simply, the Buccaneers have set themselves up for (perceived) failure if they don’t trade for Revis.

They’re sitting there with more than $30 million in salary-cap room. They’re the only team in the NFL with the room to pay Revis, and it’s widely believed they’re the only team with interest in trading for a guy who might be the best cornerback on the planet but is coming off a major knee injury.

I get it that Dominik is playing the waiting game because he doesn’t want to give up too much of his team’s present or future as compensation. That’s smart and the prudent thing to do. But there’s going to have to come a point very soon where Dominik has to make the deal.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsWith Darrelle Revis, Bucs coach Greg Schiano should see heavy improvement in a pass defense that was the NFL's worst in 2012.
Anything less than Revis in pewter is going to cause problems in Tampa Bay. There already is a large segment of the fan base that thinks the Glazer family, which owns the team, doesn’t spend enough money. Presumably, that thinking has played a role in the Buccaneers having trouble selling out Raymond James Stadium in recent years.

There are other reasons for the attendance issue. This franchise has been lacking in star power for a long time. There was sizzle when Jon Gruden was the coach, Derrick Brooks was tackling everything that moved and doing it with class, and the likes of Keyshawn Johnson, Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice were as entertaining off the field as on it.

These days, the Bucs are coached by Greg Schiano. He might be a good coach, but the flashiest thing you can say about Schiano is that he once held an office in the same building as former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice.

The Bucs have some nice young players (Doug Martin, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy and Josh Freeman) and some talented veterans (Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks). Perhaps it’s because Schiano prefers his players to stay out of the spotlight, but Tampa Bay’s current roster is dull.

Revis would change all that. The guy would be the biggest star to walk into One Buccaneer Place since the day Brooks was shown the door. Heck, Revis could end up being bigger than Brooks.

First off, Revis would go a long way toward fixing a pass defense that was worst in the league last year. I know some fans out there think the Bucs would be better off not giving up several draft picks when no one is sure how healthy Revis’ knee is.

But let’s say the Bucs stay put at No. 13. They’ll have to draft either Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes or Washington’s Desmond Trufant if they want a cornerback. Or maybe they’ll get really daring and trade up into the top five to get Alabama’s Dee Milliner.

I’m not saying any of those three guys are bad players, but they’re not as good as a healthy Revis. And when it comes to flash, they would bring about as much excitement as last year’s first-round pick, safety Mark Barron, who is one of the quietest guys on the roster.

That’s why the Buccaneers need to go ahead and make the Revis trade. If they don’t, they’re going to look really bad to their fans, who have been waiting for this deal for weeks.

Even after spending big money on Nicks and Jackson in free agency last year and safety Dashon Goldson this year, ownership still needs to convince fans that it’s willing to pay whatever it takes to put a winning product on the field.

Revis would make the Buccaneers a better football team, bring some national attention and put people in the stands.

If the Buccaneers somehow don’t pull off a deal that has looked like a sure thing for a long time, they’re going to have a lot of explaining to do to a fan base that doesn’t want to hear anything but that Revis is coming to Tampa Bay.
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 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 afterwards, 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 warmups. 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 afterwards, 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.

 
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 affects 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 believed 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 1992-99 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 the 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.
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.

We've had two rapid-fire news developments pop up Friday concerning the Chicago Bears:

  1. Baltimore Ravens executive Eric DeCosta, who might have been the Bears' top candidate to succeed general manager Jerry Angelo, announced he will remain with the Ravens and won't interview for any outside jobs. The Bears had requested permission to interview DeCosta, who likely is the heir to Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
  2. The search for an offensive coordinator to replace Mike Martz, meanwhile, has reached its expected conclusion. As first reported by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, offensive line coach Mike Tice has been promoted to the job.

There's not much more we can say about DeCosta's decision. It's easy to say the Bears' job has limited attraction for a big-time general manager candidate, considering he will be required to inherit coach Lovie Smith. Most general managers prefer to hire their own people, including the coach. But DeCosta also turned down opportunities to interview for jobs where he would hire the head coach. One name to keep in mind for the Bears continues to be Atlanta Falcons executive Les Snead.

Tice's ascension makes sense for the reasons we've been discussing for weeks. Mostly, it means the Bears won't start completely from scratch after hitting their offensive stride midway through the season. Tice shares some of Martz's terminology and root concepts, and has had two years to build a relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler. That puts the Bears ahead of where they would have been had they hired from the outside.

Tice, of course, is a much bigger proponent of the power running game than Martz was, and that puts him on a closer wavelength with Smith. It will also lead to a unique arrangement that presumably covers for some of the downsides this move would otherwise present.

Tice will call the plays for the first time in his career, according to the Bears' web site. But he will have a running-game focus, while a yet-to-be-hired quarterbacks coach will concentrate on the passing game.

The upside of that arrangement is that Tice will spend more time with the offensive line during the week, even though a new line coach will be hired. And it will also make the new quarterbacks coach more significant in the Bears' hierarchy than he otherwise would have been. (My first thought went to Jeremy Bates, Cutler's former quarterbacks coach when both were in the Denver Broncos. Just a guess, though.)

On the other hand, it will require a special degree of communication and cooperation for this to work.

There is a prevalent line of thought in the NFL that the play-caller and quarterback must be in lock-step and spend maximum time with each other during the practice week. Is that possible if Tice is focusing on the running game, and a quarterbacks coach who isn't the play-caller is spending more time with Cutler?

We'll find out. If the Bears truly become a run-oriented team under Tice, maybe it'll make more sense to have him work with the offensive line. Regardless, as we've discussed many times, there was no perfect solution awaiting the Bears on this issue. Starting over with a brand new coordinator and scheme, which would have been the fourth such change for Cutler in the past five years, wasn't appealing in the short-term. At this point, the Bears' best option was to find a way to make it work with Tice.
Here's one way to think about Tuesday's news from the Chicago Bears: It all goes back to Greg Olsen.

Bear with me for a moment.

[+] EnlargeGreg Olsen
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Bears received a third-round pick from the Panthers for Greg Olsen, who signed a four-year contract extension with Carolina.
(Sorry.)

General manager Jerry Angelo was fired because he ran a front office that was willing to trade Olsen because the Bears' current scheme placed low priority on tight ends. And offensive coordinator Mike Martz was sent away because he ran a scheme that, among other things, couldn't adequately incorporate a player of Olsen's unique skills.

Obviously, last summer's trade of Olsen is one of many flash points that led to what happened Tuesday. But now more than ever, I find his late-July departure from Chicago to be a tight illustration of what should never, ever, ever, never, ever happen in an NFL franchise.

Olsen was the Bears' first-round draft choice in 2007. He had the size of a tight end, but was faster than most, and had receiver-like ball skills that are heavily valued by most NFL teams. His career peaked in 2009, when he caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns, but his impact was limited in a Martz offense that mostly asked tight ends to block and excluded them from the kind of matchups Olsen had already shown he could beat.

His production dropped to 41 receptions in 2010, and with Martz set to return, Angelo couldn't justify extending Olsen's contract when he was destined to be a supplemental contributor. So Angelo traded Olsen to the Carolina Panthers, who promptly signed him to a four-year contract extension worth about $23 million and watched as he caught 45 passes for 540 yards and five touchdowns.

The Bears, meanwhile, had only one player catch more than 37 passes, and that was running back Matt Forte (52 receptions).

Martz committed the first cardinal sin in this episode by not building his scheme around the skills of his players. And Angelo committed the second, not only by presiding over that mistake but compounding it by taking his eye off the horizon.

Martz had turned down a contract extension entering the season, starting the clock on his eventual departure. As the general manager, Angelo needed to hedge on Martz's future and protect an asset that would be of value beyond the potential end of Martz's tenure. Every other coordinator in the NFL, including whoever takes the Bears' job, has a scheme that would use Olsen more than Martz did.

Coach Lovie Smith apparently believes that Kellen Davis could be a similar player, but after catching 28 passes in four seasons, Davis represents hope rather than serious projection. In the end, the Bears traded away one of their best players because he didn't fit a scheme that they summarily dumped five months later. That should never happen.
Now that we know the Chicago Bears will move on without general manager Jerry Angelo but will retain coach Lovie Smith, the next question is natural: Who will take the top front-office leadership position?

We should be careful about assuming that person will be a traditional general manager, not with the Bears operating under a new chairman (George McCaskey) for the first time in nearly 30 years. At the very least, however, someone will have to run the personnel department and head up draft preparations. The first option would seem to be Tim Ruskell, a close friend of Angelo who joined the team in 2010 as director of player personnel.

Ruskell's arrival after five years as the Seattle Seahawks' president of football operations seemed like a succession plan for Angelo's eventual retirement. But Angelo didn't retire Tuesday. He was fired, and that wouldn't bode well for anyone in the front office with close associations to him.

Ruskell's candidacy depends on the extent to which the Bears want to change their front-office culture. He would be a different leader than Angelo, but his ascension wouldn't qualify as a game-changer. His ties to Angelo and their similar philosophies date back to their time together decades ago with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On the other hand, there is NFC North precedent for the right-hand man of a fired general manager to be promoted. That's exactly what the Detroit Lions did after firing Matt Millen in 2008. Current general manager Martin Mayhew had been Millen's assistant for seven years.

Bears president Ted Phillips will address the situation at 5 p.m. ET news conference.
It appears the Chicago Bears will stop short of a complete overhaul after firing general manager Jerry Angelo early Tuesday morning.

The team announced on its website that coach Lovie Smith "will remain as head coach and continue to evaluate his coaching staff." Smith is under contract through the 2013 season, as was Angelo.

The Bears have called a late-afternoon news conference to discuss Angelo's departure. Regardless of what the Bears decide for Smith in 2012, nothing will change the fact that he will soon be working for a general manager that didn't hire him. That's not typically a recipe for long-term security among NFL head coaches.

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