Mark Anderson is supposedly ready for another breakout season despite evidence to the contrary. Lovie Smith says he wants Israel Idonije to move to end, even if he's the one who moved the Bears' "Mr Inside and Mr Outside" to defensive tackle in the first place.
Those will be among the reasons given for the team shopping veteran defensive end Alex Brown, along with the fact that Julius Peppers will make $20 million this season guaranteed, and by trading or releasing Brown they will save a quarter of that amount this season and half over the next two.
But during this make-it-or-break-it season, another question looms, a question that goes to the heart of team building, a question that should dictate every move Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo make this offseason:
Does getting rid of the reliable Brown make the Bears better?
It's hard to fathom how it would, especially since any decision to move on without Brown is in part based on Angelo and Smith projecting other players will excel in different roles. Not only have these two been inconsistent at evaluating outside talent but they haven't always put the players already on the roster in positions to succeed.
They have anointed players as starters only to discover, for whatever reason, that they weren't ready. They have spent precious time developing players at one position only to switch them to another. Young players receive little or not playing time as rookies and are then expected to play leading roles as sophomores.
Danieal Manning has been bounced around the secondary like a pin ball. Is it any wonder why he hasn't developed into the player they thought he could be? The coaching staff stubbornly stuck with their plan for the offensive line last season, much to Jay Cutler's detriment, only to realize that that unit was much more effective after a late-season shake up that should've occurred much earlier.
By shopping Brown, they are telling us that Idonije can be a fulltime starter at end despite evidence to the contrary. Idonije deserves a shot. Unlike many other players on the roster, he's a hard-working, high-motor performer who gets the most out of what he has. He's a versatile, solid pro, but he may not have the raw speed to consistently get pressure from the edge.
It's the same with Anderson. You have to make tough decisions when you're in a position of power for an NFL team, no question. Based on Anderson's production the last three seasons, however, what makes Smith, Angelo and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli think he will succeed with an expanded role when he has failed in that capacity in the past? He has been unable to beat out Brown for a starting spot in the past. Why should we believe he will be successful now?
Sources claim Brown is unhappy with his contract and may be forcing the Bears' hand. He will collect $5 million per season during each of the next two seasons. Anderson, who makes less than half that amount, is also looking for a new deal, which are more examples of how delusional professional athletes can be. The Bears just spent $121 million in free agency, which means it's not the time to ask for more money, especially when the team in general and the defense in particular has underachieved for three straight seasons.
It seemed reasonable to expect the Bears to shed salary after signing Peppers, running back Chester Taylor and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Brown will be 31 this season, and his career is winding down, but he remains the Bears most consistent defensive linemen and is unlikely to bring much, if anything, in the trade market. He is an unquestioned leader in the locker room and somebody who gives every ounce of effort on every play. In other words, he has been everything Tommie Harris hasn't been, but it's Harris who will likely stick around based on potential rather than production.
Lovie and Jerry like defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert even though he couldn't play his way onto the field for a below average defense last season. They like end Henry Melton, even though he hasn't played a snap in a regular-season game. They better hope they're right, because by their own admission, the defensive line is the key to the defense and therefore the key to the team. By shopping Brown, they're telling us these two untested second-year players will be able to play significant roles even if others wonder if either can produce at this level.
They better be right this time, because when it comes to evaluating talent, either outside the organization or inside their own locker room, these two can't afford to make any more mistakes.