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It Can Only Be Jared

January 1, 2012

By Ross Mitchell

Note: I wrote this before Jared Allen ravaged J’Marcus Webb and the entire Bears backfield on New Years Day.

Now that Aaron Rodgers has successfully hammered the nails into the 2011 Chicago Bears coffin, it’s time to uphold the annual tradition of looking forward to next year. This tradition, dating back to January 26th, 1986, is one Bears fans are far too familiar with; running through the roster and coaching staff, front office and ownership with a fine tooth comb, finding the blemishes or gray hairs then concocting solutions to fix them. Or in Jerry Angelo’s case, continually doing nothing about the same glaring weaknesses that have haunted the Bears since…well, 1986.

I won’t split hairs here; I am not a fan of Jerry Angelo. I think he is blinded by arrogance that stems from marginal success. I think he has put Lovie Smith behind the 8-Ball consistently, refusing to acknowledge today’s NFL isn’t what it was when he helped build the Tampa Bay roster that would eventually win a Super Bowl. It isn’t the same NFL from the NFC Championship team of 2006, when the Bears won the Super Bowl by negative 12 points (I’m not in denial, it is my perception of the truth).

Over the next few weeks I will be taking a closer look at the Bears off-season, hypothesizing possible trades, free agent signings, and draft picks I feel the Bears should target. Some are more farfetched than others, but all are worth examining. So without further ado, lets embark on the maiden voyage of a series of columns I call “Bear Necessities”:

There have been far too many first round draft picks made by Jerry Angelo which have resulted in what we term as “bust” players. While teams like the Packers are drafting the foundation of their organization (Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, and A.J. Hawk), since 2001 Jerry Angelo has wasted countless opportunities on the likes of David Terrell, Marc Colombo, Cedric Benson, and Chris Williams. And while Colombo and Benson later found success with different teams, and Williams is showing promise at guard, the fact remains that Angelo couldn’t identify the proper players to fit in with our system.

But this piece isn’t centralized on Jerry Angelo’s draft history. I am aware he has had some success in the later rounds (I put a great deal of emphasis on some; for every Lance Briggs there is a Leon Joe, Claude Harriott, Airese Currie, Tron Lafavor, Michael Okwo, Al Afalava, and Marcus Freeman). The focus of this article is to keep with tradition and theorize what Jerry Angelo could (should) do with the first round pick.

The answer can be summed up in two words: Jared Allen.

(Yes, he isn’t a rookie)

I acknowledge, I’m that guy you make fun of for suggesting the Bears use their first-round pick on another defensive end. I mock them too. Why on earth would the Bears spend a high draft choice on a position that is by no means a weakness when they have arguably the worst offensive line in the league and a receiving core that can be labeled average when being kind? Very, very kind. As previously established, Jerry Angelo has made some earth-shatteringly abysmal picks in round 1 (see Haynes, Michael). He also has a propensity to trade down when the Bears have a mid-to-high draft pick (in the 2012 NFL Draft the Bears can pick 19th).

Instead of selecting an unproven rookie (or more picks), why not spend a few draft choices on a veteran who has recorded double digit sacks in every year except his first and third years in the league? Eliminate the risk of the unknown for a proven commodity. Why not pair Julius Peppers, the most physically gifted defensive lineman in the NFL, with the NFL sack leader? Think about it, who does the offense double-team? Peppers? Allen runs free. Allen? Peppers eats the entire backfield. Double them both? Henry Melton and Stephen Paea can only dream.

Lovie Smith states the Bears are not an entirely Cover-2 based defense. But they do play it a large percentage of the time. The Bears cornerbacks (as Zach Bowman proved three times in Week 16 against Green Bay) tend to struggle when placed in man-to-man assignments (with exception of Charles Tillman, who finally made his first Pro Bowl, an accolade long overdue). And in 2012, for the ninth time in nine years, Lovie Smith will start the season with at least one new starting safety. So why not take the pressure off those players?

(Then again, why not sign a big-name free-agent wide receiver to help quarterback Jay Cutler? Or an offensive lineman to keep him upright?)

It has been my opinion for years that the Cover-2 should be renamed the Pressure-4 for the sole reason that if you’re front four does not “pressure” the quarterback, it is doomed to fail. Admittedly there are holes in the coverage scheme and with enough time those holes can be exploited. On the opposite side of the spectrum, when the quarterback is under duress, turnovers happen more frequently than superfluous analysis about Tim Tebow. It is high risk, high reward. Lovie Smith has done an admirable job with decent-yet-not-elite talent but there have been too many lapses against teams with good offenses (Green Bay and New Orleans) and certain systems (Seattle and New England) that cannot be overcome with the Bears current personnel.

And lets face it; the window for Bears to win the Super Bowl is closing. Would adding a rookie who takes time to develop or with the potential “bust” factor do much to improve the Bears chances? I’m not saying we should establish a “Dream Team” in free agency, but we should at least attempt to sign players who have a proven history of winning and individual dominance.

(The last sentence was directed at you, Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe, and Reggie Wayne)

It is fair to ask, “Is this move ‘want’ or ‘need’?“ Do we need to give up another first-round pick for a player who will turn 30 years of age in April? Yes, absolutely. Adding Jared Allen to a defense with Peppers, Tillman, Melton, future Hall-of-Famer Brian Urlacher, and likely future Hall-of-Famer Lance Briggs is more than a cosmetic move, it is the right move. In a division where the Bears play Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford a combined four times, quarterback pressure is the difference between finishing 7-9 and 11-5. And in a conference with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and Michael Vick, it is all but likely twelve of the sixteen opponents the Bears face in 2012 will have gone or will be going to the Pro Bowl at some point in their career.

Look at the how this years playoff teams from the NFC North are modeled: The Packers assault the quarterback with Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Charles Woodson, and a factory of weapons on defense. The Lions have Ndumakong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Clint Avril, and Nick Fairley. The Bears have Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and…um…Julius Peppers’ shadow?

(No disrespect to the members of the Bears defensive line, but Mike McCarthy and Jim Schwartz don’t sit up in the wee hours of the night losing sleep over how to block Israel Idonije or Matt Toeina)

Those teams understand the NFL is a passing league. The best way to combat pass-heavy offenses? A dominant pass rush.

Here is the suggest trade: The Bears first round pick, the third round pick they acquired in the Greg Olsen trade (from Carolina), and Israel Idonije for Jared Allen.

But enough about the “why”. Let’s get to the “how”. How do the Bears and Jerry Angelo orchestrate a deal that will send a division rival’s best defensive player to Chicago? What could Minnesota possibly gain in all this?
1. The first-round draft pick.

As previously stated, the Bears have the equivalent of an NBA Lottery pick due to Caleb Hanie and the non-existent offense Chicago trolled onto the field post Thumb-gate. The Bears pick 19th overall. According to Scout’s Inc., the number 23rd overall player in the draft is Nebraska Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Minnesota already has the 3rd overall pick. Chances are they will not be drafting the services of Andrew Luck. In all likelihood USC’s Matt Kalil, the top rated offensive tackle in this year’s draft, will be off the board to St. Louis. At three, and with another first round pick, the Vikings can draft either Morris Claiborne, this class’s version of Patrick Peterson, or take Justin Blackmon, the most dynamic playmaker in all of college football. They can even select Trent Richardson if they don’t feel confident in Adrian Peterson’s knee rehab (though I doubt they will because Toby Gerhart was more than serviceable in Peterson’s stead). The bottom line is they can solidify their secondary with Claiborne and Dennard, or snatch a shutdown cornerback (Dennard) and add another big-play threat (Blackmon). Imagine a Vikings lineup with Peterson, Gerhart, Percy Harvin, Vishonte Shiancoe, and Blackmon.

(Somewhere Donvan McNabb is turning off his monitor…assuming he reads this, which I doubt)

2. The Greg Olsen Pick.

Has anyone ruled out the chance Jerry Angelo drafts a tight end here? If so, why? This is the same General Manager who traded Chris Harris to Carolina (for a fifth round draft pick that would become Zach Bowman) in 2007, and three years later traded fourth round draft pick Jamar Williams to Carolina for the same Chris Harris, who less than two seasons later was cut because he was vocal in his desire for a long term contract extension which he didn’t get. To be fair his performance did regress, slightly. He did play poorly with an injured hamstring against the playoff bound Detroit Lions…where he now starts.

The Vikings have plenty of holes they need to fill heading into next season and beyond: Offensive Line, Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle, and the entire Secondary. A third round pick would be a prime spot for the Vikings to add an offensive linemen (in a deep offensive line class), or even a defensive tackle to go along side (and eventually replace) Kevin Williams. And with the new rookie pay scale, adding new, young talent would be much more manageable. Which leads me to…

3. Cap Space.

According to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, the Vikings have $4.1 million dollars in cap room. Not a whole lot of space to bring in free agents. In 2012 Allen is expected to make $11,619,850 in base salary with $2,583,333 in potential bonuses, totaling in a $14,203,183 cap hit. If you subtract that from the Vikings cap they have $18.3 million dollars to spend on guards, tackles, new roofing (just playing it safe), etc. I suspect that number will be over $25 million with Donovan McNabb off the books. That’s a lot of support (beams).

The Bears are expected to be $25-$27 million under the cap, leaving more than enough room for the Bears to trade for Allen, sign a number one receiver, and draft help at offensive line, safety, and cornerback. Also, it leaves room to franchise Matt Forte. Look, I as much as anyone want to see the Bears give Forte a long term deal. But we need to come to grips with the fact that isn’t going to happen in 2012.

(Now if Forte were willing to sign a 5 year/$40 million extension with $20 million guaranteed, I’m positive Jerry Angelo would listen, considering a franchise tag on a running back will cost the Bears $8 million this season and $14 million next season, totaling $22 million, which is $2 million more than the guaranteed amount of my proposed contract. Or they can franchise him for one year, let him walk, and lose Cutler’s most reliable target since the Bears acquired him from Denver)

4. Israel Idonije:

Much like Kyle Orton in the Denver trade Jerry Angelo made to acquire Cutler, Minnesota would want a player to supplement Allen’s absence. Idonije has great value here. He has been stout against the run, has averaged six and half sacks over the past two seasons, and has the rare ability to play both tackle and end on the defensive line. Is he Jared Allen‘s talent? No. Is he a good defensive lineman who can be a mainstay on any unit in the NFL? Without question. He does benefit from playing opposite Julius Peppers, but Minnesota’s Bryan Roberson is no slouch, either (though he does play next to Jared Allen). The extra draft picks, the extra cap space, and Idonije open up an entirely new realm of possibilities for the Vikings. I’d also substitute Henry Melton in Idonije’s place, if I were Jerry Angelo, which I’m not.

(The extra cap space could also come in handy should the Metrodome collapse again and ownership needs to hire 10,000 residents of the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area to shovel out Gopher Stadium (or TCF Bank Stadium or wherever the University of Minnesota loses every Saturday from September to November). And yes that is three Metrodome jokes and counting. But what are you going to do? Build a new stadium with a retractable roof? Let the Vikings move to Los Angeles? Who build that eyesore anyway, Hubert H. Humphrey?)

I do not overlook the fact that this would be a big risk for Minnesota. They are giving up the face of their defense, and with Peterson hurt, the face of their franchise. They are giving up an All-Pro defensive end and a great locker room presence. Not making this deal would make a great deal of sense. After all, for a significant portion of the season, the Vikings led the NFL in sacks, largely due to Allen. Do they want to weaken one of the few aspects of the game in which they excel? I myself made the argument earlier that the key to success in the modern day NFL is a relentless pass rush. Lastly, do they want to trade Allen within the division?

(Another team that should be inquiring about Allen is Cincinnati. They have extra draft picks resulting from the Carson Palmer trade (including an extra first rounder), four good defensive ends in Robert Geathers, Frosty Rucker, Carlos Dunlap, and Michael Johnson. They are already on the cusp of making the post-season, have a franchise QB in Andy Dalton, have a dynamic receiving core (including Pro-Bowler A.J. Green and pseudo-gymnast Jerome Simpson), a severely underrated defense, a 1,200 yard back in Cedric Benson, and plenty of available seats for home games. They are literally giving them away!

No, seriously, because seven of the last eight Bengals’ home games have been blacked-out, the league and Bengals ownership has approved a “Buy One, Get One Free” offer for this weekend’s game against the Ravens)

But does keeping Allen get the Vikings back into Super Bowl contention? Who knows if Adrian Peterson will ever return to form (I‘m not going to be the jerk who bets against him)? Who can say for sure Christian Ponder is the answer at QB? How much longer will the offensive line, which wasn’t anything to write home about, stay in tact? The Vikings have won nine games in the past two season, including three this year. The Packers, the Lions, and the Bears are all in a better position to win in 2012 and 2013. After 2013 Allen’s contract expires. Like Dwight Howard, why would one of the elite defensive players of his time resign with a small market team whose best days are behind them? Then where would the Vikings be? Right where they are now, a three-win doormat. Only their prospects would be far more grim.

There are cases to be made on both ends. Ultimately this is a case which both the Bears and the Vikings should explore. Perhaps the best move is inaction. However, the definition of insanity is “repeating the same action and/or behavior with the expectation of different results”. The Vikings are rebuilding, but they’ve never won a Super Bowl and they won’t anytime soon without the cap space and burgeoning talent on both sides of the ball. The Bears are getting long in the tooth (and clearly a Jay Cutler injury away from being the worst team in the NFL. For all that is good and pure in this world sign a number one wide receiver!). Their window is closing.

This is a drastic move on both ends, but drastic times call for drastic measures.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Hillary permalink
    January 7, 2012 3:53 pm

    I very much appreciate the title of this post, although the actual content was different than I thought 😉

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