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Bears’ cheap ways with Olin Kreutz will be costly for Jay Cutler

Scott M Bort/Post-Tribune Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler calls an audible during their divisional playoff game Sunday Solider Field Chicago.

Scott M Bort/Post-Tribune Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler calls an audible during their divisional playoff game Sunday at Solider Field in Chicago. The Bears defeated the Seahawks 35-24 and will face NFC North rivals Green Bay for the NFC Championship.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:21AM

No one would be silly enough to say that Olin Kreutz is the football player he used to be. Even if Kreutz were silly enough to say it and everybody nodded in agreement out of fear of ending up on the business end of his death stare, he and they would know it was a lie.

But he was the best lineman the Bears had last season and the leader of a team that somehow made it to the NFC Championship Game. It’s all past tense now because the Bears decided not to pony up some extra money to keep the physical and emotional anchor of their offensive line. Don’t cry for him. He’s rich, and he’ll get richer when another team signs him.

But it’s OK to rage, again, at this epically cheap and astoundingly dumb franchise. Perhaps you remember how brutal the offensive line played in the first half of last season, when Jay Cutler, the quarterback in whom the Bears had invested so handsomely, came within an inch of losing a few million of his brain cells. Their center didn’t play particularly well, but that had more to do with the bumblers around him than it did with the aging process. He was the only person who had the ability and the knowledge to pull the line out of its rut.

And now he’s gone. Kreutz made $6 million last year. The Bears offered him a one-year deal worth $4 million. That’s how you reward your steadiest offensive lineman? You draw a line in the sand with the lineman you least can afford to lose?

It’s hard to absorb, not out of nostalgia for one of the best centers in Bears history but out of concern for Cutler and the team’s future. This is how you protect a $50 million investment? By replacing him with someone named Chris Spencer, who has been the epitome of unexceptional in his six seasons in the NFL? Don’t put general manager Jerry Angelo in charge of the Department of the Treasury. Before you know it, we’ll be using yen to buy groceries.

If you allow them, the Bears will go on for hours about how much players’ leadership qualities mean to them. What they said Sunday was that, come to think of it, leadership is overrated. Kreutz played 13 years for the Bears, with distinction. The team’s response to his leadership was to lead him to the door.

Pain in neck, but tough

The guy could be as fun to handle as a rattlesnake. He spent way too much time poring over newspaper stories and columns, searching for agendas, conspiracies and errors. But he cared. In 2002, he played 10 days after an appendectomy, which is borderline insane. And he rushed back to join a bad team. Who else does that?

Punter Brad Maynard got a lot of ink and airtime last week when the Bears decided not to re-sign him, but that had more to do with timing than anything else. It was the proverbial slow news day. The Kreutz news should be a much bigger blow for fans, but this being August and hope being everywhere for another big season, we’ll soon hear the true believers singing Spencer’s praises. At 29, he’s five years younger than Kreutz. People who wouldn’t know a zone block from an ice block will tell you how much Kreutz dropped off last year. Sure.

You might want to listen to his former teammates, who have a better idea of what he meant to the team. Bears guard Chris Williams said Saturday that Kreutz was “irreplaceable.’’ We now know Williams was wrong. Chris Spencer has replaced Kreutz. I know: Chris who?


You probably won’t be surprised that Bears player personnel director Tim Ruskell, formerly the Seahawks’ general manager, chose Spencer with Seattle’s first-round pick in 2005. And you probably won’t be surprised that Angelo was Ruskell’s buddy when both worked for Tampa Bay and, well, that’s how things work in the NFL.

Angelo had two things to do this offseason: Get Cutler some blockers and some receivers. For the former, his response was to find a cheaper center and to sign a big tight end, Matt Spaeth, to help the overmatched tackles with blocking. For the latter, he signed Roy Williams, a receiver who hasn’t done much since 2006. But he had that one good year in Detroit when Mike Martz (now with the Bears) was the Lions’ offensive coordinator, his receivers coach in college was Darryl Drake (now with the Bears) and, well, that’s how things work in the NFL.

But pay for someone like Kreutz? That’s not how things work in Lake Forest.

Spencer was a starter the last five years, but the Seahawks planned to start Max Unger at center this season. That is correct: The man who’s replacing Kreutz had lost his job in Seattle.

Good luck with that, Jay Cutler.

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