Bears GM Phil Emery seems to be lucky and good
BY MARK POTASH firstname.lastname@example.org March 14, 2013 9:30PM
Updated: March 14, 2013 9:48PM
When the Bears fired Jerry Angelo after the 2011 season, they were looking for a general manager who would be more successful in acquiring top-tier talent. But they also were looking for a general manager with better luck. Despite all his due diligence, Angelo couldn’t keep a first-round pick healthy and had to pay through the nose to fill holes at defensive end, quarterback and offensive tackle as the Bears’ GM.
In only 14 months on the job, Phil Emery looks like he came to Chicago not only with a more well-defined vision, a better-organized approach than Angelo and the gumption of a real decision-maker, but also a horseshoe the size of a goalpost. For the second straight year, fate has moved its huge hands to put Emery in position to acquire a Pro Bowl player at a key offensive position.
Last year, the frick-and-frack Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall dynamic and the Dolphins’ willingness to rid themselves of a talented but star-crossed Pro Bowl wide receiver led to Emery acquiring Marshall for a pittance — two mid-round draft picks.
This week, another set of fortuitous circumstances — not the least of which was Emery’s own firing of Lovie Smith, which led to the hiring of Marc Trestman, which led to the hiring of former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer — enabled the Bears to sign one of the rarest commodities on the free-agent market: a two-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle in the prime of his NFL career in Jermon Bushrod of the Saints. Angelo might be kicking himself for not being more aggressive. But he also has to be wondering why some guys have all the luck.
‘‘I think we hit the perfect storm,’’ Emery said, ‘‘in that there’s a high-quality left tackle available in the [unrestricted-free-agent] market. That doesn’t usually happen. And when it does happen, nine out of 10 times they’re going back to their own team. So the chances of actually acquiring that player are slim to none.
‘‘Jermon was in a unique situation in that [the Saints] had a salary-cap situation. That didn’t give them as much flexibility as maybe they needed to sign him back — I can’t speak for them. But it certainly was a factor in why he was available.’’
Bushrod is neither Anthony Munoz nor Jonathan Ogden. But the rarity of a player of his caliber on the open market can’t be overstated. Even good-but-not-great left tackles don’t make it to the free-agent market. Last season, all 12 playoff teams started left tackles they drafted and developed.
In the last 10 years, the few Pro Bowl-caliber left tackles to become available have come with some kind of catch: The Ravens signed Bryant McKinnie at 32 after McKinnie had been cut by the Vikings at the start of training camp in 2011; the Panthers signed Todd Steussie at 30 after the Vikings released him in mid-March for salary-cap reasons; the Eagles acquired Jason Peters at 27 in a trade with the Bills because of a contract dispute; the great Willie Roaf was coming off major knee surgery when the Chiefs acquired him at 33 in a trade with the Saints.
It’s so rare for left tackles to reach the open market that when they do, you have to wonder why they’re available. By conventional NFL wisdom, if Bushrod was that good, the Saints never would have let him go. Then again, ‘‘NFL wisdom’’ is a classic oxymoron. In this league, it’s better to be lucky than good. Right now, it’s not too far-fetched to consider the possibility that Emery might be both.