The common fan is under the impression that the NFL offseason plays out like fantasy football. They think players are traded and signed like old trading cards around the lunchroom table.
Watching the 2014 Chicago Bears offseason probably only reinforced that notion for a lot of people around these parts.
While it was exciting to watch then-Bears general manager Phil Emery toss around bad contracts like Skittles on Halloween, the actual season was a stark reminder that the game is played on the field.
In fact, the NFL’s free agency period serves one practical purpose: separating the good teams from the bad ones.
See, the bad teams, like the 2014 Chicago Bears, think you can buy yourself wins. Good teams believe in signing the right player. And for the common fan that line can be very blurred.
The beginning of free agency is a roller coaster for that common fan. Twitter turns into a madhouse of scoops, breaking news, and commentary as players and agents begin their search for a new home.
As is the case with any social media outlet, it’s also an avenue for slanted information. Everyone and their mother have an opinion causing arguments to become diluted and information misinterpreted.
Twitter essentially becomes a contest for whose fingers can move the quickest and who can make the first impression on the common fan.
Arguably the two biggest names on the free agent market this offseason were Ndamukong Suh and Devin McCourty. Understandably, both players found themselves linked to the Chicago Bears given needs, and palpable urgency for the Bears to replicate their 2014 activity ensued.
Unfortunately, it was completely unwarranted. See, there are few better examples of creating chaos in free agency than the 2014 Chicago Bears. Their fiasco included signing the likes of Lamaar Houston, Jared Allen, Willie Young, Ryan Mundy, and oh yeah, Jay Cutler’s abhorrent contract.
On paper, all of that looked pretty damn exciting. After 2013’s disappointing defensive season, it was Emery’s willingness to spend heavy money to repair it that breathed fresh air into the souls of Bears fans.
But for some ridiculous reason, 365 days later, people actually expected Ryan Pace to double down using the same model—a model that simply hasn’t worked over the years in the NFL.
In 2014, aside from the Bears backing up the Brinks truck, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the patient zero of frivolous spending. Their big three free agent signings—Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins, and Josh McCown—have all been cut after only one season with the team.
The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars continue to make the same mistakes year after year, too. The Jaguars stuck their hand back in the well again this season, agreeing to deals with five free agents on the first day alone. It should come as no surprise that those two organizations have gone a combined 71-153 in the last seven seasons—which is how long it’s been since either made the playoffs.
You could be Stevie Wonder and still see how polar opposite Ryan Pace’s first crack at NFL Free Agency is in comparison to Phil Emery’s last—and how necessary that was.
The Bears made their noise in the days prior to Tuesday’s opening, but didn’t end up actually signing Pernell McPhee until Wednesday. Antrel Rolle and Eddie Royal were both signed for good money, but not before both were brought in for formal visits, and primarily signed under-the-radar.
The pursuit of Devin McCourty is a fantastic example of Pace’s patience and overall vision for the Chicago Bears. It was rumored that the Bears were at the top of the list in the sweepstakes for this class’s top safety, whom also fit the team’s biggest need.
Devin McCourty is the type of player that Phil Emery most certainly would have overpaid for. Ryan Pace bowed out of the race the second his price got too high. That type of responsible spending that will ultimately lead this team in the right direction.
I understand the Bears fans who grow uneasy seeing their team not make massive waves over the Twitter-sphere in the wake of a 5-11 season.
To those fans, I beg you to be patient.
It’s the Ndamukong Suh-like signings of 2014 that left us in the position we are in now. It’s what has caused long-time Bears Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman to become afterthoughts, and it’s the main reason Brandon Marshall’s $7 million cap hit had to be shipped off to the Jets for chump change.
Every fan loves when their team is talked about, but it’s the lack of conversation about the Bears in 2015 that has me optimistic. Because ultimately, it’s the teams who fly under the radar that find the most success come November and December.
It’s good Ryan Pace knows that.
(Featured Photo courtesy of bnoort1 via YouTube)