Phil Emery is making moves to win now
When an NFL team brings in a new general manager and fires their coach a year later, often they are resigning themselves to at least one down year as they try to rebuild the franchise in the mold of the two new leaders.
That does not appear to be the case in Chicago, however, as general manager Phil Emery is clearly making moves with the goal of winning immediately. This makes sense for a team coming off a 10-6 season in which many feel like they underachieved; many of the pieces of an NFL contender are in place, and Emery is doing everything he can to push the team over the top before their defense has aged out of being elite.
There have been two key decisions made by Emery this offseason have clearly shown this aggressive, win now approach. One comes on each side of the ball, and we’ll look at offense first.
The main reason former coach Lovie Smith was fired this offseason, according to Emery himself, was because he failed to establish even an average offense in Chicago. Consequently, Emery’s search for Chicago’s next coach was limited almost exclusively to offensive coaches. Incoming coach Marc Trestman (profiled here on WCSN) has an offensive background and is known as a quarterback specialist. Emery’s hiring of Trestman, who has spent the last five years as a head coach in the Canadian Football League, was a bold move and one that was clearly done with the intent of getting immediate results.
Emery is banking on the idea that the adjustment from head coach in the CFL to head coach in the NFL, especially for someone with over fifteen years of experience in the NFL, will be quicker than the adjustment from NFL offensive coordinator to NFL head coach. Trestman already has experience running the day-to-day operations of a football team and making the final decisions during a game, something that none of the other finalists in Chicago could claim.
Additionally, Emery has talked repeatedly about Trestman’s ability to adapt a scheme to fit the personnel on hand being one of the major reasons he got the job. Emery is counting on Trestman being able to build a successful offense immediately around the players Chicago already has on their roster, rather than bringing in a coach who will waste a few years trying to bring in players who fit the scheme he wants to run.
The primary reason Emery wants instant improvement from the offense is because Chicago has an elite defense, one which finished first in the NFL in the Water Cooler Sports Network Defensive Rating System in 2012. The defense has an expiration date, however, as four of its best players—Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, and Julius Peppers—are on the wrong side of thirty. Most of the defensive personnel should be back intact next year (with the exception of Urlacher), so Emery is counting on an improved offense pairing with a defense which continues to perform at an elite level.
Part of this depends on the coaching, of course, which is why Emery and Trestman tried to keep defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli in Chicago. News recently broke, however, that Marinelli has decided to move on, likely because he was unhappy with the firing of Lovie Smith, to whom he was very close.
Since he is looking for someone who can handle a veteran defense and maintain a high level of production, expect Emery to bring in an experienced, proven defensive coordinator who utilizes the same 4-3 base scheme to which their defensive stalwarts are accustomed. This will give the Bears the best possible chance of keeping their defense among the NFL elite for another two years or so.
If Emery continues to make moves aimed at winning now, then the rest of the offseason has a fairly clear path laid out for him. He needs to re-sign some key guys from Chicago’s defense, including defensive tackle Henry Melton and linebacker Nick Roach. Re-signing defensive end Israel Idonije to another affordable, short-term deal could also help. Assuming linebacker Brian Urlacher is not back with Chicago, and it seems likely he won’t be, a new outside linebacker needs to be acquired to replace Roach, who will be the middle linebacker. Emery could choose to bring back Geno Hayes, who played fairly well starting the last four games when Urlacher was hurt, or look to free agency or the draft to get a starter.
On offense, Emery will need to bring in new talent at offensive line and tight end, Chicago’s two biggest weaknesses in 2012. Re-signing guard Lance Louis would be a good start, but at least one new tackle is needed, and another interior lineman wouldn’t hurt either. Kansas City left tackle Brandon Albert is a free agent and would be a great signing if Emery can get him. He can free up immediate cap room by extending players like Charles Tillman and Brandon Marshall if he so chooses, enabling him to bring in free agents like Albert or tight end Jared Cook who can help immediately on offense.
The other side of all this is that Emery must be careful not to get too wrapped up in building the best team possible for 2013. He needs to maintain a delicate balance with future needs as well, being careful to avoid mortgaging your future for the present and keeping in mind that he will need defensive playmakers ready to step up in another couple years. The ultimate goal for the Bears is to be able to compete both now and in the future.
In just one year on the job, general manager Phil Emery has completely changed the direction of the Chicago Bears, steering them away from a defense-only approach that led to consistently decent teams that were never good enough. Emery has repeatedly stated that the goal is to consistently compete for—and win—championships, and his moves so far this offseason clearly show that that begins now.
Our very own Rourke Decker, Green Bay Packers beat writer for the Water Cooler Sports Network, will be interviewed by ESPN 99.1 personality Jeff Thurn, host of the Overtime show, at 4:35 p.m. CT. We’ll be streaming it live right here so you can hear every word.
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@LionskillPack Not a bad hire and one that does not surprise me. Lord knows the Lions could use all the help they can get.
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