Commentary

Paying final price for Cutler

Bears will focus on needs in draft but will have long time to wait before making pick

Updated: April 22, 2010, 12:10 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- When the Chicago Bears finally go on the clock in the middle of the third round during primetime coverage of the NFL draft Friday night, Jerry Angelo will already have a good idea about which player he's getting with the 75th pick in the draft.

Whether that player is any good is anyone's guess.

[+] EnlargeJarron Gilbert
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJarron Gilbert has an opportunity to fill a void on the Bears' defensive line.

The Bears' first pick is a good place to find a football player who lacks the panache or requisite size/speed to be considered a first-rounder, and it offers significant value, with a good chance of getting saddled with a less-expensive bust. Considering the Bears have missed out on consecutive first- and second-round picks, that makes Pick No. 75 all the more important.

The third round, a hit-or-miss spot for the Bears' general manager, has given Chicago Lance Briggs [the 68th pick in 2003], Bernard Berrian [78th in 2004] and Earl Bennett [70th in 2008], along with the likes of Dusty Dvoracek [73rd in 2006] and Michael Okwo [94th in 2007]. Last year the Bears had a pair of third-rounders, Jarron Gilbert and Juaquin Iglesias, who combined for five games and one tackle.

Without the frivolity of a first- and second-round pick gumming up the braintrust's war room, the front office has already prognosticated which second-tier players have what it takes to go 7-9 or 9-7 next season.

"We've identified four players with our third pick," Angelo said at Halas Hall on Wednesday in his pre-draft meeting with the media. "We've identified five players with our fourth pick, and we've identified four players with our fifth pick. I feel like there's a pretty good [chance], 50-50, maybe even a little better, that one of those players, maybe two of those players will be there at that round."

And just what are the goals for these future players?

"What our goal is, what we think our realistic goal is, we'd like to come out of this draft with the third, fourth and fifth rounds, are players that make it to Sunday, meaning that they dress."

Well, I guess that rules out Tim Tebow.

Angelo wasn't lying about sticking to realistic goals. Hoping to find guys who will dress for each week's game, in a league that doesn't exactly reward patience, certainly encapsulates the cold, hard truth about what's available for a team that has traded away its top two picks in consecutive seasons to acquire Jay Cutler and the late Gaines Adams.

Of last year's draft picks, Gilbert was active for four games and made one tackle, while Iglesias played just once. Fourth-rounder Henry Melton never dressed, and D.J. Moore did so just three times. Fifth-rounder Johnny Knox was the bright spot of the class, making the Pro Bowl as a kick returner, and sixth-round pick Al Afalava was a major contributor at safety.

Of the seven players taken between the third and sixth rounds, only two were Sunday players. But Angelo believes some of these players, especially Melton and Gilbert, will follow the example set by Bennett, who went from a non-entity as a rookie to a big part of the receiving corps by his second year.

"Part of why we made the move with Alex Brown is we want to get some of these young players up and going," he said. "We feel that they need playing time. They need to get the reps in practice, and they need to get the reps in preseason, and obviously if they show the things we liked when they came out of college, we have to get them playing time on Sunday."

[+] EnlargeJohnny Knox
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhFifth-round pick Johnny Knox made the biggest impact of the rookies in 2009.

And while it's funny to mock Angelo and Co. for busts like Okwo and fellow 2007 draftee Dan Bazuin, a decent amount of draft picks over the last seven years are still contributing today. Then again, they're part of the reason the Bears have missed three consecutive playoffs since making the Super Bowl.

This is a transition year for the Bears, who have invested heavily in Jay Cutler and now Julius Peppers and expect to win this year, perhaps with Angelo and Lovie Smith's jobs at stake.

Angelo said the team will be focusing on its needs, which basically run the gamut from the secondary to defensive line to linebacker to offensive line, and maybe receiver, if a big target falls its way. The longtime talent evaluator shot down the notion that teams look for the best player available.

"That best player available need is good talk for draftniks," he said. "What we always do, you have to fill your needs. I don't know that any team goes into drafts knowing they have specific needs and ignoring those needs, so they can stay disciplined to their board."

Of course, Angelo relented, teams do this on occasion, like say the Bears when they took Cedric Benson while already having Thomas Jones.

Angelo used to be a guy who would crow about how important it was to stockpile draft picks, even if his record at running the Bears' draft is spotty. So has he had pangs of regret for trading three high picks for Cutler and being left out of the first two rounds? Has it been difficult to watch other GMs bid for offensive linemen with back problems and superfluous, surly running backs in the first round?

"Not difficult," Angelo said, though in all fairness I didn't phrase my question quite so colorfully. "Part of building through the draft, you're using your draft picks to bring in young players. The players we gave the picks up for are young players. I'm looking at that, in part, like a draft pick. So we feel that's still going to be our philosophy."

Angelo is dead-on with his philosophy. In trading for Cutler and Adams, who passed away this offseason because of a heart problem, he acquired guys in their mid-20s, though in Adams' case, it was a bit of a reach considering his so-so track record.

It's easy to cherry pick and look at guys like Michael Oher or Jeremy Maclin, guys the Bears could have taken last year [Denver picked linebacker Robert Ayers, who played in 15 games], but they did something uncommon to this franchise and rolled the dice on a proven quarterback.

How were they to know that Cutler would regress under Ron Turner and get no help from the running game? Well, it wasn't that difficult to figure out Cutler would struggle some in a new offense, but injuries and ineffectiveness across the board weakened the Bears significantly, turning dreams of a conference championship into a season that had to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

So here we are on the cusp of the last draft encumbered by the price of playing quarterback poker. Angelo said he's not willing to gamble on draft picks again, if he still has the same job in a year.

"We're out of that business," he said, reiterating a point he made at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this winter. "I don't want to get cute and keep borrowing in the future with picks. Because the one thing you know, it's very difficult to guarantee the present."

While Bears fans are split on pretty much every move Angelo makes, anyone who sat through last season would agree with that last statement.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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