By Robert Zeglinski
Success in the NFL is fleeting. As an executive for a team, if you’re not adapting, you won’t be relevant for long.
The salary cap and lack of dynamic talent at quarterback for everyone places a mandate on franchises. Not tolerating locker room problems, cutting players at peak value just before a downhill slope, drafting well, and constantly making transactions are key characteristics of contending teams.
When taking a look at organizations like the Patriots, Steelers, Packers, and recently the Seahawks, these kinds of processes have become routine. Pittsburgh and Green Bay almost always draft auxiliary pieces well. Seattle tops the league in wheeling and dealing undrafted and unheralded players in trades and signings. And New England with Bill Belichick is notorious for letting older performing players go in favor of the development of cheaper younger guys. Former stalwarts like Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork come to mind.
It hasn’t always worked out for these teams with a championship, but one can’t deny that the relevant turnover hasn’t played into a winning consistency for any number of years. It’s about being in the hunt and cutting your losses. You adjust because that’s what is needed.
These are facets the Bears have struggled with in their fight for relevancy on a regular basis with previous regimes. It’s why fans disappointingly ride the coattails of the ’85 Bears.
Overvaluing and sticking with players who either weren’t true foundations or were past their primes like Tommie Harris or Lance Briggs. Numerous busts drafted year after year with no young talent core. Festering locker room problems with no balance or leadership on the roster like the 2014 Bears.
If you depressingly think about it, there hasn’t been real direction in a long time.
Remember Dan Bazuin or Gabe Carimi? Yeah, it’s best to repress those memories.
However, it seems the tide is turning.
In just two years, general manager Ryan Pace has reversed the trend.
Egomaniac receiver Brandon Marshall was jettisoned almost immediately. Hothead enigma Jeremiah Ratliff was cut after being mishandled by the maligned Marc Trestman and Phil Emery brain trust. And the haggling of players past their peak and quality drafting is hitting every rhythmic cord.
The second year GM acquired four potential long-term starters and stars in the 2015 offseason, in draftees Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford, Adrian Amos and free agent, Pernell McPhee.
2016 saw the same in signing building block guys in Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as well as drafting unsung depth players to a franchise that desperately needed it. If you had any reservations about the model growing, the recent release of Matt Slauson quelled all concerns.
A guy that was by all accounts one of the best Bears chemistry-wise and arguably Chicago’s best offensive lineman was cut, simply because of his age at 30 years old (unless there’s an unlikely dramatic backstory undisclosed). Pace’s decision in regards to Slauson signals the lack of loyalty needed to players that won’t stick around long term. It’s a cutthroat business first and foremost.
You hear “What have you done for me lately” in roster building but if we’re getting technical it’s really “What have you done for me lately and where do you fit in our plans long term?” Slauson didn’t fit and Pace showed a ruthless foresight in letting him go.
The Bears want a youth movement and their new players in a position to succeed. Retool while competing simultaneously. Regardless of criticism of his moves, Pace displays a cold, calculated confidence that’s refreshing. It’s juggling that will make any average team executive’s head spin.
Pace has now set the precedent that he’s well above that bar.
Win now and keep your quality situation in reserve. There’s no room for down years. Contend regularly or lose luster. Organizations like the Packers or Patriots have already set this ideal.
Under Ryan Pace, the Bears finally have the same method to their madness.
The Packers needed depth on both fronts. Boylan alum Dean Lowry was drafted in the fourth round and while not a star with physical limitations, he’ll be a solid rotational end. In fact, most of the 2016 draft class and signees figure to compete well.
There was no flash in a typical quiet Wisconsin offseason.
First rounder UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark can be a plug and play player given the retirement of BJ Raji in the offseason. There are just concerns.
He’s undersized at 314 pounds to play nose in a 3-4 scheme and scouts noted that Clark only had big games against weaker competition. Given this, he figures to be a raw development player in year one which fits the Packers’ patience mold.
Tackle Jason Spriggs from Indiana drafted in the second round, will probably be the most impactful player for the Packers.
Offensive line has been a position in flux for the past few seasons. The game’s best passer in Aaron Rodgers has been hampered by some sub-standard line play more often than not. Spriggs has the build and pedigree at 6-foot-6, 304 pounds to play on either side to stabilize this issue and be a fixture at tackle with Bryan Bulaga or David Bakhtiari.
He’ll have early struggles given some technique issues he needs to work through, but there’s no reason he can’t be a day one value starter.
With the best player in the NFL in Rodgers, nothing else of note needed to be done this offseason. Save for Julius Peppers, Green Bay hasn’t signed dynamic free agents recently. They build around one of the best quarterbacks, turn unheralded players we know nothing about into starters, and contend.
It’s an envious position as the rest of the NFC North grows more competitive.
Follow Robert on Twitter: @RobertZeglinski.