Commentary

Pick and roll

Bears shouldn't play it safe by trading down from the No. 29 spot in the draft

Updated: April 27, 2011, 6:57 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Given that there's less buzz surrounding the Bears in the NFL draft this weekend than their quarterback's recent engagement, general manager Jerry Angelo may be feeling a little less heat than usual.

[+] EnlargeJerry Angelo
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJerry Angelo's history suggests he'll be tempted to trade down from the No. 29 pick for less expensive players and lower expectations.

Maybe he thinks we have forgotten what it's like for the Bears to have a draft pick higher than 70th overall. Or that we didn't know No. 29 is even in the first round. Or that the Bears can quietly trade down, pick a bunch of little-known guys in lower rounds for less money and with little pressure that they will pan out as bona fide contributors. You know, business as usual.

But here's a thought. How about the Bears actually using their first-round pick? Particularly if the gaggle of projected first-round quarterbacks slide down, prompting other teams to move ahead of them, why not take a chance that a need position will be there or, if not, go for the ever-popular best player available?

"I know the question will come up, 'Will you trade up? Will you trade down?'" Angelo said in last week's always-revealing pre-draft talk with the media. "We're always going to be flexible. We always have. Trading down is easier to do. If there's enough players on the board when it's our pick and it makes sense, it's something we would consider very seriously, as we have done in the past."

He meant it when he said trading down is easy. Angelo has done it enough times with the Bears that he knows whereof he speaks. Not only is it cheaper, but there is less backlash for him if those players don't develop into starters.

But the combination of not taking a chance on a first-round pick with a bigger potential return, and the poor track record in developing lower-round picks, explains why the Bears currently have so many holes at so many positions.

An argument against standing pat at 29 this year is that there aren't any superstars that low in the first round, anyway. But rather than tracking the last five years of No. 29 picks to support that claim, how about looking at the second round in the last two years, when the Bears did not have picks there?

It still comes back to evaluating talent. While it's easy to argue that stockpiling players in later rounds bolsters depth, and easier for fans to forget what ever happened to those players, it's time for the Bears, with new assistant GM Tim Ruskell on board, to stand up and make a solid first-round pick.

Angelo concedes that the Bears have needs in at least four positions they can address in the first round, the safe assumption being that their priorities are at offensive line (left tackle or guard), defensive tackle, cornerback and wide receiver.

"If you can [be open to four positions at No. 29], then that gives you flexibility where you could take the best player," Angelo said. "I know that's a cliché that's talked about and everyone says that's what they're going to do. But you still have to address your needs."

In other words, he hates the pressure of making that pick. But how has trading down worked out for him?

Having already given up first- and third-round picks in the trade for Jay Cutler, Angelo traded the Bears' No. 9 pick in '09 to Seattle for a third-rounder (No. 68), with which they selected Jarron Gilbert (cut this past preseason), and a fourth-rounder (No. 105), which they used to pick Henry Melton, whom Lovie Smith is hoping will replace Tommie Harris at defensive tackle.

In '06, the Bears traded down from the first round and in the second picked up Danieal Manning, who has been slow to develop because of the constant back-and-forth between safety and corner but seems to have finally hit his stride. In the third round, they drafted defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek, who played last season for the Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League after ending four straight seasons on IR for the Bears.

[+] EnlargeChris Williams
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWas Chris Williams worth the No. 14 pick in 2008? How Jerry Angelo answers that question could indicate what he'll do Thursday.

Perhaps Angelo still feels burned by '05, when he looked unsuccessfully for a team with whom to trade down before picking Cedric Benson at No. 5 overall. Or maybe it was '03 that still sticks with him, when he traded Nos. 4 and 13 overall and ended up with Rex Grossman and Michael Haynes.

That would do it.

Also, the arrow on the bust-o-meter for Chris Williams, the 14th overall pick in '08, is still on the negative side and some might argue that Greg Olsen, 31st overall in '07, isn't exactly a Pro Bowler. But Olsen is a solid starter and has been a contributor. And Williams might still be serviceable at least on the right side, though that's certainly not what anyone had in mind.

The point now, especially with free agency in flux and the Bears' nucleus not getting any younger, is to get it right in the draft.

If the goal is to come out of every draft with four future starters, start with one and go from there.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.