The Chicago Bears, like just about every other team in the NFL, are looking to build a roster that can compete for Super Bowl titles. GM Phil Emery did just that on the offensive side of the ball during the 2013 offseason, signing Martellus Bennett and Jermon Bushrod to lucrative contracts while also drafting offensive linemen Jordan Mills and Kyle Long. He also hired offensive guru Marc Trestman as the team’s new head coach.
All of those signings and draft picks paid dividends for the Bears, as they went from one of the league’s worst offenses to one of its best. Unfortunately, the focus on offense had a price, as the defense went the opposite direction and quickly became one of the league’s worst groups on that side of the ball, allowing over 6000 yards and surrendering at least 21 points in all 16 games they played.
That imbalance will surely be addressed by Emery over the current offseason, and one team that the Bears may be able to model themselves after is a team that is representing the NFC in the Super Bowl: the Seattle Seahawks.
Flash back to 2010. The Seahawks were a playoff team, but really shouldn’t have been. They finished that season 7-9, and after somehow managing to upset the vaunted New Orleans Saints in the Pacific Northwest, they were knocked off by the Bears in the second round of the NFC playoffs.
The Bears went on to lose the next week in the NFC Championship game against the eventual Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers, but while the Bears haven’t been back to the playoffs since that defeat, the Seahawks have engaged in one of the more remarkable rebuilding jobs in the NFL.
Under the guidance of head coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, the Seahawks have used trades, the draft, and free agency to rebuild the team into a championship contender.
On the trade front, the Seahawks were able to acquire troubled running back Marshawn Lynch from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for two draft picks, a fourth rounder and a conditional pick. Since the trade, Lynch has rushed for at least 1200 yards in all three full seasons with the Seahawks, and has scored 35 touchdowns over that stretch. Add to that his playoff resume, which features 560 rushing yards and six touchdowns in just six games, and it’s easy to see that the trade was a big time victory for the team.
In the draft, the Seahawks have made it a habit of grabbing guys in the later stages and turning them into superstars. Just about every NFL fan knows that the Seahawks took QB Russell Wilson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but cornerback Richard Sherman, who is either the best or second-best corner in the league depending on who you ask, was also a late round pick, going in the fifth round of the 2011 Draft.
On top of being able to pick those types of players, the Seahawks are willing to take some calculated risks when it comes to putting the best talent on the field. That was illustrated by Carroll’s decision to start Wilson over high-priced free agent acquisition Matt Flynn as the 2012 season got underway, and the results speak for themselves, as Wilson is now one win away from a Super Bowl title and Flynn is a vagabond in search of a permanent NFL job.
Ultimately, there are a few lessons that Emery and the Bears can learn from the Seahawks. One lesson that they have already learned is that trading for a troubled player can work, but only if you surround that player with a good support system and put him into a game plan that makes the most of his abilities. The Seahawks did that with Lynch, and the Bears have certainly done that with Brandon Marshall.
Another lesson that the Bears have got to learn is that draft picks are incredibly valuable commodities. Yes, guys like Long and Mills made big contributions right away as rookies, but a look at the Bears’ 2012 draft class reveals that Emery still has a lot of work to do in terms of his scouting department and in evaluating his own instincts.
In that draft, the Bears took Shea McClellin, a player naturally suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, which the Bears don’t run. They also took Alshon Jeffery, a runaway success, but the fortunes go way down after that. Brandon Hardin, their third round pick, was cut before the 2013 season and is now with the Jets. Fourth round pick Evan Rodriguez was also let go by the team and is now with the Bills. Finally, sixth round pick Isaiah Frey has been off-and-on for the Bears, but hasn’t really shown much ability as the team’s nickel cornerback.
Striking out completely on three picks (Greg McCoy, the seventh round pick, also isn’t with the team any longer) and likely whiffing on two others, including a first rounder, simply isn’t acceptable for a team that is trying to build into a championship contender. If the Bears are serious about making a run at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix, then they need to take the Seahawks’ example to heart, and treat every draft pick and trade as a potential franchise-maker.