While there do seem to be plenty of level-headed Bears fans posting on message boards and blogs, understanding the Bears’ philosophy to wait out this frantic flurry of overspending for unrestricted free agents (UFA’s).
But of course, we see some rants from fans regarding this philosophy, wondering why the Bears didn’t throw megabucks at Michael Turner, Alan Faneca, and even our own Bernard Berrian.
Yes, the Bears may be more than $20 million under the 2008 salary cap, but keep in mind the players the Bears must try to resign in the next year: Tommie Harris, Robbie Gould, Devin Hester. And hopefully there will be a way in there to keep Brian Urlacher happy, as we all know it’s difficult to remain happy with a $59 million contract. [note sarcasm, please]
A reminder: much more often than not, being a team first out of the gate to splurge on UFA’s from other teams causes more damage than provides benefits. Here are a few cases to remember:
LB Bryan Cox, 1996: Dave Wannstedt, generally in charge of personnel from 1993-1997, argued early in his reign that the Bears would wait until they found one player that would put them over the top before making a major spash in free agency. Sure, in 1994 the Bears did sign their first crop of UFA’s in QB Erik Kramer, TE Marv Cook, RB Lewis Tillman, FB Merrill Hoge. Most of those were generally regarded as mid-tier free agents, just as the Bears should be pursuing eventually in 2008. Following a near playoff-miss in 1995, Wannstedt thought that signing Cox, the consensus top UFA available, would finally lead the Bears to the promised land. Cox became the highest-paid Bear in history to that point, signing a $15 million deal. What happened? After 1/2 of a solid season in ’96, Cox imploded and went off on everyone from teammates to coaches, fans and officials. Cox was released following the 1997 season and his prorated signing bonus helped to kill the Bears’ cap through 1999.
CB Tom Carter, 1997: Carter was a 1993 first-round pick by the Washington Redskins. Redskin coach Norv Turner, buddy of Wannstedt, had no interest in re-signing him. Wannstedt gave Carter more than $10 million to replace Donnell Woolford. Carter’s Bears career was marked with several significant gaffes, including falling down against Mike Ditka’s Saints to allow a late touchdown and victory. Carter was replaced in the starting lineup by undrafted free agent Terry Cousin in 1999, and released.
The 2000 crew: Then personnel boss Mark Hatley was finally able to pull what the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets are doing this year back in 2000. Cox and Alonzo Spellman’s dead money were largely gone by this point, so Hatley was agressive in signing DE Phillip Daniels, S Shaun Wooden and CB Thomas Smith in the opening days of free agency. Daniels became the new highest paid Bear in history, Smith signed for more than $20 million himself, and Wooden averaged multiple millions per year. The results? Daniels was an average passrusher, above average run defender in his 4 years with the team. But he never lived up to his contract. Smith was largely roasted by opposing receivers and was cut prior to 2001. Wooden never started and was also released prior to the 2001 season.
So much more to be said here. Later we’ll follow up with the results of signing our own free agents, and how mid-tier free agent signings have panned out for the Bears in the era of NFL Free Agency.