Bears general manager Phil Emery spoke sparingly to reporters during the season, but he provided a lot of clarity on a number of issues Tuesday during his press conference.
And expound he did... to the tune of 2,234 words.
Given the position and Emery's willingness to really delve into the topic, here's a full transcript of his comments on the beleaguered unit.
"Offensive line, obviously a lot of press. A lot of different thoughts behind that. As a general manager, I have to look at these things, I've got to remove myself from it a little bit. I've got to take the emotion out of it. I'm a fan too. I want to win, just like everybody in this building and everybody on our team. I have to push myself back and try to look at it with an unbiased eye. I don't know if that's always possible. The toughest evaluation that you have, as a general manager and as a scout, is of your own team, because there are emotions involve. I thought of all the available tools. How can we look at this in an objective way?
"Yes we're going to pay attention to the coach's grades. Yes we're going to pay attention to our internal scouting grades. But let's look at this another way. I went to STATS Inc., went through all the numbers. Went to Pro Football Focus, did all the numbers. I'm familiar with STATS Inc. We're one of their contracted teams. Spent quite a bit of time with their people, not only their programmers but went to their offices, watched how they grade tape, how they triple check all their facts. So I trust all their data, that's it's unbiased, that it doesn't have my hands in it, that it doesn't have our coach's or scout's hands in it, or anybody else in the league. They are simply reporting fact. Some ways to look at it is in a very Money Ball way, crunching the numbers.
So where did the Chicago Bears at the end of this process, looking at them, I wanted to know how did we rank, in terms of the most visible thing with offensive linemen is pass protection. Run blocking, ideally you're all coming off, there are all kinds of combinations, it's very difficult for a non-scout to really grade a player for run blocking. But there are statistical ways in terms of hurries, hits and sacks on the quarterback, once you have a criteria for what those are, marking a score. So I took their data. We finished 26th, which tells me we've got to get better. We've got to get better. I look at that from the perspective: how does that impact winning? Our disruption pressures were in the 33-percent range in terms of for every pass play. It's a quotient of total number of disruptions into every pass that you've thrown. What impact does that actually have on winning? Does that just mean that we've got to get better as an offensive line or does that have a huge impact on winning? The six teams below, three of them were in the playoffs, three of them weren't. The team at 25th, that was within .10 difference, was the San Francisco 49ers, one of the best teams in the league. So I can't absolutely say it's on the offensive line that's going to determine out success or not.
"So I looked at different areas. I looked at percentage of dropped passes. How does that look from a league perspective? We were 22nd percentage-wise. We've got to get better. The O-line has got to get better. We've got to push that level up. We can't be in the back end of the 20s or in the 20s if we're going be a championship contending team on a consistent basis. In that, below us was six playoff teams, so I don't know from a fan perspective - and again, I'm a fan - that sacks and drops, are they a factor? Yes, but I would say that it doesn't look like they are the ultimate determining factor. I still think it comes down to: how many playmakers do you have opposed to the team that you're playing? And are they making plays that are at game-changing instances at the moment of truth moving forward.
"To follow up on your question, because I know a lot has been talked about it so I'm just going to jump ahead for you. A lot has been talked about, in terms of our offensive line: did we provide enough talent and depth and competition for it. I'm going to take you all the way back to the process. We came in, we evaluated our team. We had team meetings and as I spoke when I got here: the number one need was to build our around our quarterback. Build weapons for our quarterback. We also needed a complementary pass rusher. Did we need to get better on the offensive line? Yes we did.
"Now, it's a matter of taking the UFA market and the draft into determining if those resources are there so that you can actually accomplish all your goals. In terms of building weapons, the first thing was met with Brandon Marshall. I think Brandon has had a very dynamic season. He's a Pro Bowler and he deserves it.
"Now, UFA market, offensive tackles: How do I look at that objectively? Number one, did we go after some free agent offensive tackles? Absolutely. The three best didn't play ball this year. They all retired. Two of them were medical and one decided not to play. Was I disappointed in that? Yes I was disappointed but I was disappointed in who we ended up with, with Jonathan Scott, who started six games for us, who gave zero sacks for the year. I felt very good that, when I looked at the UFA market and I took all the guys that played, had starts, played at least 33 percent of the reps, a third of the reps, out of the UFA market that did not sign back with their original team. It's very difficult for team to give up on an offensive lineman if they've got one. And really in this past market, franchise left tackles that were in the market didn't exist. So I looked at the ones that were out there. Again, we had three that go out of football. Where did Jonathan Scott rate? He was the second best. Zero sacks. Sean Locklear from the Giants, who ended the season on IR, ended up the best in that respect for those stats. He was one; Jonathan was two. So do I feel like Jon added to our team? Yes I do. That was the UFA market.
"Now I've got to go into the draft. We didn't meet our needs. The UFA part of this solution, the market was small in terms of who was available. Going into the draft, we had decisions to make. We decided to go with Shea [McClellin] to meet our needs at defensive end. I feel good about Shea. In the second round, there were a number of offensive linemen in that round but we still had not our need for a second receiver that can complement the first, that's a big, dynamic target. That was our interest in Alshon Jeffery. Now I've got to weigh that, as a general manager, against what's left in the second round with offensive linemen. Kelechi Osemele, Mike Adams, some of the third round guys that were taken. So when we were picking [in the first round], [Matt] Kalil, who went to Minnesota, was the third pick in the draft. He wasn't in our mix. We're not going to go from 19 to three without giving up the rest of the team. The only other person that was drafted in front of us at right tackle was [Mitchell] Schwartz, that went to Cleveland with the 37th pick. Those guys were off the board when we came to decision time to make a trade to move up a little from our spot to get Alshon. That meant we were going to leave a few guys on the board.
"My though process was, before we went into the draft, to analyze with our coaches and with our staff, we've got two tackles and we had determined that was our greatest need. We felt good about our guard, our interior play. We felt good about Roberto Garza going into the season and looking at the STATS Inc. stuff, the guy had a solid season. We felt good about Lance Louis. He had a solid season before he got hurt. We felt that for the left guard, we had a number of candidates. We had a bunch of guys that had a number of starts. We certainly had enough in reserve, between starters and backups, for the interior play. So for us, it was a tackle question. What's the age of the two guys that we have? 24. Is there a young tackle in this draft that, at the end of this fall, is going to clearly be better than the two young 24-year-old tackles that we have? That's the question I had to ask myself.
"The end results - and again, taking bias out of it, just going to the STATS Inc. information in terms of total disruptions - there were no left tackles taken during that time that came out better than J'Marcus Webb, in terms of total disruptions. There was only one right tackle that came out better than Gabe, and that was tackle from Baltimore. Gabe [Carimi] gave up 31.5 disruptions; he gave up 30. Gabe gave up 6.5; he gave up 7.5. His percentage was lower because they threw the ball more. His percentage came out better. His ranking was higher. But in reality, we're looking at the same guy. So, in my eyes, the decision was: do we go for the playmaker or do we go for the offensive lineman knowing we've already got two 24-year-olds - those two guys are 23 - that are part of our mix. I made the decision to go with the playmaker. I don't regret that decision. I know it's going to be criticized. I feel good about it. I feel good about it moving forward because we have, what, we have another draft. We have another UFA market."