In less than 24 hours, the Chicago Bears have severed ties with two of their more volatile personalities.
First came the trade of OTA no-show Gabe Carimi that shipped the former 29th overall pick to the Buccaneers in exchange for a sixth round selection in 2014. The next morning, fullback Evan Rodriguez was shown the door after two offseason DUI arrests pushed him out of Phil Emery’s good graces. Both were undoubtedly talented players that had a good shot at making the Bears’ roster in 2013 but quickly became disposable once they posed a threat to the sanctity of locker room chemistry.
Now, more than ever, Emery must continue to make the tough decisions and create an example of those that aren’t on board with the age old Chicago sports philosophy of hard work on the field and admirable character in public. Despite Brian Urlacher’s departure and Marc Trestman’s entrance, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy is still very much at hand for the Bears in 2013 if they can keep a potentially harmful cocktail of personalities pointed in the right direction.
Brian Urlacher clearly played below his usual standard last season and left a less than desirable taste in the mouths of fans with the way he handled his departure. However, Urlacher never tarnished his reputation as one of the Chicago sports world’s most upright citizens, an intangible trait that always endeared him to the public beyond his accomplishments on the field. Whether by force of speech or sheer desire to emulate an icon, almost all of the young players that were brought into the fold during the Urlacher era avoided bad publicity. Some of the credit also goes out to Jerry Angelo, who despite his many shortcomings always put a premium on acquiring pieces that knew how to behave behind closed doors.
Emery has earned a reputation as the anti-Angelo after two years in the second city, out to avoid the pitfalls of the old regime. He has also proved far more willing to gamble on players with character concerns than Angelo ever did.
Since the end of last season, the Bears have accrued six DUIs, including the two attributed to Rodriguez. A pair of others come riding in from Denver with free agent pickup D.J. Williams, who also bears the mark of a six game suspension for violating the league’s banned-substances policy. New draftees Cornelius Washington and Kyle Long were caught driving under the influence in their collegiate days, though both arrests have been given multiple years to dissipate.
The trouble doesn’t end with alcohol. Seventh round pick Marquess Wilson up and quit on Washington State last season. J’Marcus Webb was arrested on drug charges on drug charges in February. Brandon Marshall’s turbulence is well documented.
Emery is piling up sticks of dynamite, hoping that he can harness their power to win Super Bowls but knowing full well that they can just as easily explode before his eyes. If any one part of the bundle explodes in the community instead of on the gridiron, compounding explosions are likely. At a certain point, no amount of roster trimming or hard line speeches can lift a negative aura. Proven leaders like Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers are on the way out, and in their absence a new legacy will take shape, one comprised almost entirely of Emery’s personnel. So far, the prospects of a smooth transition are uncharacteristically uncertain in the Windy City.
Talent rules in the modern NFL, leading some to call virtuous concerns overblown. Those with short memories might need reminding that there was another talented NFC North squad coming off a 10-6 season with Super Bowl aspirations a year ago. The Lions were decimated by seven offseason arrests and finished 4-12, last in the division they thought was theirs to take. They valued raw talent over a total body of work on draft day and did little to stem the trouble once it began. It’s no wonder that they collapsed under all of the pressure and wrongdoing.
The Bears have already taken the first step by crossing their fingers with so many toxic personalities in close proximity. Going forward, Phil Emery must sustain his definitive line in the sand for insubordination, like he has done with the cases of Carimi and Rodriguez. Management has no other option but to convey a no-nonsense front towards players, or risk total rebuild.