The Chicago Bears are banking on a lot in the 2010 season.
They were the big bidder for Carolina's Julius Peppers and after several other free agents turned them down.
They settled on polarizing offensive coordinator Mike Martz to fix Jay Cutler and get him to play like $20 million.
They also purged their personnel department, and just when I thought general manager Jerry Angelo was thinking about retirement, he hires one of his former Tampa buddies, Tim Ruskell, to be his righthand personnel man. Like most small businesses, football is one where it is essential to have important friends sprinkled around the league. Ruskell gets fired in Seattle, opening the way for Pete Carroll and John Schneider, but lands on Angelo's door step.
But I digress. Still, after a 7-9 season, there are great expectations in Chicago because Brian Urlacher is returning to give the defense a 1-2 punch with Peppers, plus the offense now has a blocking tight end (Brandon Manumaleuna), a prerequisite for any Martz offense, and a very good receiving back in ex-Viking Chester Taylor to pair with RB Matt Forte, who had a disappointing sophomore season in 2009.
But the bottom line is that unless Brett Favre really retires, the Bears will be picked third, just ahead of Detroit, in the NFC North when the predictions roll out during training camps. Such a finish would not bode well for head coach Lovie Smith and maybe even Angelo, who has made most of these personnel decisions.
Being a defensive coach, Smith's entire philosophy (run the ball well and play great defense) was in disarray last season. The Bears had one of the league's worst running offenses at 93 yards per game, while an Urlacher-less defense excelled in mediocrity.
There are generally two major reasons for such pitiful run production: the offensive line stinks, failing to push anyone off the line, or the star quarterback has no stake in running the ball. When you play in Chicago on a grass field in December and January, you better be able to run, right?
The answer is yes, but now Martz is in control and what is he known for? Well, throwing the ball and improving quarterback play. Now, he did run the ball when Mike Singletary ordered him to in San Francisco and when he had Marshall Faulk in St. Louis (although he did forget about him running him in that upset Super Bowl loss to New England at the end of the 2001 season). His ego got the best of him that night in New Orleans, and that's why they call him Mad Mike. Now, Martz and Smith are friends, considering it was Martz who put Smith on the fast track to being paid $5 million a year by hiring him as his defensive coordinator in St. Louis.
But when you think of the Bears this season, they can only win big if Martz returns to genius form, which translates to Cutler outplaying Aaron Rodgers and Favre, something that definitely didn't happen last season. Now there's a chance of that happening, especially if Devin Hester can assimilate in Martz's offense and if young receivers like Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox elevate their games. Cutler's favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, had better find a way to block or Martz won't use him much except in red-zone formations.
The Bears' family, the McCaskeys, is going through its own upheaval with brother Michael, the former CEO and team president, turning over the reins to younger brother, George. Team matriarch, their mother Virginia, remains in good health and the most of the family says the Bears are not for sale and won't be whenever mom passes.
Still, for all their moves both on and off the field, the Bears are a team that didn't go far enough this offseason. Apparently fearful of the results of their most recent trades for Cutler and the late Gaines Adams, they failed to pull the trigger and trade away next year's first-round pick in order to draft a quality offensive lineman to help the running game and also protect Cutler. New offensive line coach Mike Tice is high on rookie seventh-rounder J'Marcus Webb as a pass blocker, but the kid from West Texas A&M needs plenty of work on run blocking.
Yes, the Bears have star power in Urlacher, Peppers, Cutler and Hester, but their wins and losses will be decided by their guards and tackles.
Random thoughts Speaking of cronyism, has anyone in Cleveland wondered out loud why Browns boss Mike Holmgren hired Tom Heckert, the personnel man that his good buddy, Eagles coach Andy Reid, was trying for dump for years in Philadelphia? This is no reflection on Heckert, but on Reid and Holmgren's relationship. How does Reid sell Heckert? The only other explanation is that Reid doesn't really have personnel power in Philly, Joe Banner and Howie Roseman do. And nobody is really buying that one, are you?
Now that the DEA and federal prosecutors are investigating the Saints alleged misuse of vicodin, several around the league are wondering why the club went down this path. In hindsight, especially if Saints coaches and executives are found guilty, wouldn't it have been smarter to pay off this ex-employee and keep the story in-house? Believe me, $2 million sounds cheap today compared to what the costs could be down the road. There is nothing a U.S. attorney likes better than bringing down a famous name, and indicting a Super Bowl winning head coach certainly fits that bill.
Also, the team's attorneys should have immediately gone to arbitration with their former security chief because that would have hidden the details from most of us and possibly even law enforcement. What would the Saints pay today to have this incident buried forever, coupled with no threat of prosecution?
There is a big debate around the league on who really has the power within the Redskins. Right now, GM Bruce Allen and Mike Shanahan are listed together. But most believe that Shanahan, especially if he wins this season, will have total control eventually. Shanahan flexed his muscles immediately in the draft, going for the pass-blocking offensive tackle in Trent Williams over the more complete one in Russell Okung, who isn't shy about run blocking.
You have to wonder when Cincinnati's Mike Brown is going to quit taking gambles on questionable characters. Granted, Adam "Pacman" Jones is playing for the minimum, but it wasn't that long ago when the Bengals led the NFL in arrests in one season. Is Pacman really worth the gamble? Does he really have a lot of great football left? Most teams would answer no.