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CHICAGO -- You wanted some excitement, Bears fan, and now you got it.
As of Thursday night, the Chicago Bears still haven't added a "sexy" free agent -- just household necessities like a passel of rookies, a punter and a blocking tight end -- but they did lose a popular, flaxen-haired tight end on the eve of "Bearbounnais."
In less than 24 hours, Greg Olsen went from trusted tight end (albeit one looking for some new paper) to the embodiment of a James Taylor song. He's "gone to Carolina" for a third-round draft pick.
His final sendoff from the team that drafted him in 2007 was a 30-word news release with no mention of his destination, until a later correction. Before that came, it was as though he were traded to the wind and the sea, both of which had better quarterback ratings than Jimmy Clausen last year.
If Olsen were still in the "Seventh Floor Crew" his nom de guerre would now be DJ Expendable. After so much promise and hype, he was cast aside for a philosophy. The Bears obviously didn't want to spend new money on a position that isn't coveted anymore, making this deal necessary.
After scoring a relative victory over the owners (yes, it was a compromise, but the owners didn't clobber the players like a lot of anti-union wonks believed they would), the status quo is returning to the National Football League as veterans like Olsen become expendable on a whim.
Players like to repeat their mantra "It's a business" but I prefer Kurt Vonnegut's old line, "So it goes." And as good as Olsen could be, as great as he could look streaking down the middle, he never quite made the leap to dominant tight end, thanks to generally lousy offenses.
|Greg Olsen's production in Mike Martz's offense was solid but not spectacular.|
But there's a difference between playing up to hype and having value. And I have to think Olsen would have benefitted this offense in 2011. This stinks of the unnecessary talent-for-philosophy sacrifices that plagued the Bears after the Super Bowl.
Olsen proved he could produce (relatively speaking) in Mike Martz's offense. He caught 40 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns. He said his departure is "bittersweet."
"I did everything that I was asked," Olsen told "Chicago's Gamenight" on ESPN 1000. "Playing fullback and pass protection and blocking. That was kind of the wrap going in. I proved all that wrong and showed that I could play every down and did everything I was asked to do. At the end of the day, it just wasn't really a fit. And that's fine. Everyone has their ways of doing things and I have no hard feelings towards it at all, and I'm just happy and satisfied that I have the opportunity to go play somewhere where I feel like I have a better opportunity."
The Bears' offense was dreadful for much of the season, so it's tough to gauge anyone by statistics. With no mini-camps or organized team activities, it seems a little bizarre to make this move and a lot of people are scratching their heads.
"I have no clue what is going on with the Bears organization," said recently departed receiver Rashied Davis on WGN radio, according to host David Kaplan's Twitter account on Thursday night. Olsen's departure certainly gives running back Matt Forte an edge in his contractual demands, which could include a holdout. With no Olsen, he becomes that much more important as a receiver in Martz's system.
This also means the Bears absolutely have to add another receiver to the mix. ESPNChicago beat writer Michael C. Wright reported late Thursday night that the team was in contact with Jacksonville exile Mike Sims-Walker. There is also interest in former Dallas wideout Roy Williams.
And this move certainly puts the spotlight on Martz, who looked neither mad nor like a genius in his first season in Chicago.
It looks like the Bears will go with the classic tight ends he covets. Bruiser Matt Spaeth was signed as a free agent, replacing Martz's expensive mistake, tight end Brandon Manumaleuna, who was released. Desmond Clark was exiled to the bench last season and only Kellen Davis is left as a returner.
The Olsen deal started late Wednesday night when his agent Drew Rosenhaus sent an e-mail to all 32 teams declaring the Olsen market open for business, as the Chicago Tribune reported first. That all he got was a third-round pick is telling, but Olsen, in the last year of his rookie deal, got his extension after the deal was struck. The active Panthers could use a dependable veteran, considering their quarterbacks make the erratic Cutler look like Peyton Manning.
This trade was the culmination of a move that stretched back to last offseason when Olsen was dangled to New England before last season, as the story goes, because Martz, a former tight end himself, thinks of the tight end more as a utilitarian blocker/fullback, replaced as a downfield threat by a running back.
|Greg Olsen and Jay Cutler had instant chemistry in Chicago.|
As much as Martz tried to deny it last season, that's his philosophy, based on the principles of the famous "Air Coryell" offense, and he's entitled to mold this team around his beliefs. You don't bring in Martz to blend in.
Martz gave good lip service to Olsen whenever he talked, never playing up any fundamental problems with Olsen's play. So the tight end was supposedly surprised and quite angry with news of his imminent trade Thursday morning. By the evening, he was more diplomatic.
"I think our relationship was fine," Olsen said of Martz. "I think it was a pro relationship. We never had any issues or quarrels, for lack of a better word. I think that was pretty much it. A good working relationship was how I'd put it."
Last spring, Martz, mindful of his reputation, said this about Olsen's role: "If there's a [good] player who can't fit a system, then something's wrong & with the system, don't you think? We will give everybody an opportunity to find who they are and how they'll contribute. Everybody will get that opportunity, and Greg will too."
It's tough to gauge how well Olsen did in 2010, because the offense was so uneven. Cutler, as you know, was sacked 52 times and completed only 60.4 percent of his passes. Olsen's catch rate was 59 percent. Those numbers are obviously linked. Olsen tied for the team-high in touchdown catches, and added a big downfield score that set the tone in the team's playoff victory over Seattle.
Martz was muzzled in his first season, and wasn't allowed to speak after games, when he might let some heavy criticism slip. Before the NFC championship, he had this to say about Olsen:
"We've asked all our tight ends to take turns at that position of fullback, so that takes away from the down-the-field type of thing we'd like Greg to do at times, too," Martz said. "But he's done so many great things for us that allow us to do those things. Unselfishly, he's been willing to do that so we can run the ball so much better. He leads in there. He's at the point of attack as a tight end. We put him out there as a wide receiver. & It's fun to have that kind of talent and intelligence and unselfishness to be able to utilize him in so many different ways like I've never done before."
It's fun, sure, but as we know, this is a business. So it goes.
As Olsen wrapped up with ESPN 1000 on Thursday night, the hosts brought up that the Bears and Panthers play this season.
"I think Week 4," Olsen said.
Consider it circled.Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.