The NFL isn’t fair, and it never will be. Fair isn’t fun, and it isn’t reality.
That’s partly why over the last two days we’ve seen the dismissal of several long-time leading executives. First it was the Polians yesterday, and now Jerry Angelo’s 11-year run as the general manager of the Bears has come to an end. The circumstances in Chicago and Indianapolis that led to the demise of all three men are remarkably similar.
Both teams struggled through crippling injuries, with the football overlords at least having the decency to crush Indy’s hopes immediately, while Chicago was looking like a legitimate Super Bowl contender before Jay Cutler’s season ended in Week 12, followed by Matt Forte’s season-ending knee injury a week later. Both teams also experienced success under their now former front office leaders, with Angelo’s personnel decisions guiding the Bears to four playoff appearances during his tenure, including one in his first season when they went 13-3 after finishing with a record below .500 in each of the previous five seasons. The Bears also advanced to the NFC Championship game twice under Angelo’s watch, going to the Super Bowl in 2006 (where his Bears lost to Bill and Chris Polian’s Colts).
Each front office also had a few glaring and often ignored weaknesses that planted the seeds for the future unemployment of Angelo, and Bill and Chris Polian. For the Polians, it was the lack of run support behind Peyton Manning, a sore spot highlighted by an aging Joseph Addai, and a failed pick in the form of Donald Brown. Those weaknesses weren’t enough to entirely cripple the Colts, though, whereas the strength of Chicago’s defense often masked the massive offensive deficiencies that Angelo ignored until it was too late.
The Bears’ offensive line improved towards the end of this season, but Chicago quarterbacks were still sacked 49 times, good enough for fifth worst in the league. Cutler was the QB on his back for 23 of those sacks, meaning he’s now been sacked 110 times during his 41 starts for the Bears, which evens out to a painful average of nearly three sacks per game (2.7).
Angelo brought in Cutler from Denver in a blockbuster deal during the 2009 offeason that required a hefty investment of two first-round picks and a third-round pick. Yet even when it became apparent that his investment would get pummeled on a weekly basis, Angelo did little, and was content with the status quo and improvement through coaching.
It was classic blind faith, and his selection of Gabe Carimi in the first round last spring was the only time Angelo spent a pick in the first five rounds on an offensive lineman since acquiring Cutler. After he took 14 sacks over just the first three weeks this year, Cutler was unsure if he’d survive an entire season.
The other weakness was at wide receiver, where Earl Bennett began to develop some chemistry with Cutler during the three weeks when they were both healthy. Bennett had 251 receiving yards between Weeks 9 and 11, but with Greg Olsen dealt to Carolina, Cutler was left to use his receivers as the primary option, and there was little depth at the position.
Beyond Bennett, Cutler was throwing to one wide receiver who belongs in a comfortable rocking chair on Sundays (Roy Williams), a converted cornerback and return specialist (Devin Hester), and Johnny Knox, a supposed deep threat who only has two 100-yard games over the past two seasons.
Forte was consistently strong and dominant, but this is a league where passing is no longer just an option, it’s a necessity for offensive life. Three quarterbacks eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark in passing yards, and Eli Manning came within 67 yards. For now Lovie Smith will stay on board, and he’ll continue to ride Forte and his strong defense, hoping that his offensive line continues its improvement, and receiving fortification is finally on its way through either the draft or free agency.