Commentary

Bears view Adams as necessary risk

Pool of available D-linemen lacks quality, thanks in part to poor 2007 draft class

Originally Published: October 20, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Gaines AdamsFernando Medina/US PresswireTraded from Tampa Bay to Chicago on Friday, Gaines Adams has 13½ sacks in two-plus seasons.

During his 14-year tenure as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' personnel director (1987-2001), Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had his share of hits and misses when it came to acquiring defensive linemen.

Then again, in the NFL, just about every personnel executive can say the same thing about rolling the dice on defensive linemen.

In Angelo's case, for every Warren Sapp, rescued by the Bucs with the 12th overall choice in the 1995 draft after a precipitous first-round plummet, there was an Eric Curry. Sapp went on to register 79 sacks in nine seasons with Tampa Bay and was a seven-time Pro Bowler. The sixth overall pick in the 1993 draft, Curry was an underachiever, and in five years with the Bucs, he collected just a dozen sacks.

In 2001, the Bucs acquired defensive end Simeon Rice from Arizona, where he was considered a malingerer, and he responded with five straight seasons of double-digit sacks for Tampa Bay's defense. On the other hand, Keith McCants, the No. 4 overall choice in 1990, barely registered double-digit sacks total in his three Bucs seasons.

Next to quarterback, the defensive line is arguably the most difficult position to fill in the NFL, and Angelo's résumé is reflective of that. Which doesn't mean, as evidenced by Friday's trade for former Tampa Bay first-rounder Gaines Adams, that you quit trying.

"Because [defensive linemen] are so hard to get, people gamble more on them," Angelo said before his team's Sunday night game with the Falcons. "People go to great lengths to acquire [defensive linemen] in any way they can. With Adams … hey, the draft is a risk, as this is a risk, too. But it's one worth taking."

Six months after dealing for quarterback Jay Cutler with a package that included next year's first-round pick, Angelo essentially bankrupted himself for the first day of the 2010 draft by swapping his second-round choice to the Bucs in the Adams trade. In return for that lofty choice, the Bears received an end who was the league's fourth overall pick in 2007 but who had produced only 13½ sacks.

In fact, Adams, who as a rookie signed a six-year deal with a maximum value of $46 million, qualifies as the poster boy of an '07 draft that has a dismal record for generating productive defensive linemen.

For franchises that invested in defensive linemen that year, at any level of the draft, it was pretty much a year to forget. The trade of Adams, who had earned nearly $20 million in his two-plus seasons in Tampa Bay, further magnified the lack of quality at the position in the 2007 lottery.

There were 44 defensive linemen (25 ends and 19 tackles) chosen in that draft. None of them has earned a Pro Bowl trip. Only one has ranked among the NFL's top 10 sackers in a season. Compared to the futility of some and the dearth of promise in others, it's easy to see why Angelo was so tempted by Adams' potential.

The first round of the '07 draft alone was chock full of players who are considered disappointments nearly three seasons after the fact. Adams has been dealt. Atlanta defensive end Jamaal Anderson, the eighth overall selection with only two career sacks, was moved to tackle last week in an effort to salvage his career. Denver's Jarvis Moss, the 17th pick, barely kept his job this summer. Dallas' Anthony Spencer, who replaced the departed Greg Ellis this year at left outside linebacker, has yet to notch his first sack. Tackles Adam Carriker (St. Louis) and Justin Harrell (Green Bay) both are on injured reserve.

And the list of 2007 flops goes well beyond the first round.

On Monday, Kansas City traded third-rounder Tank Tyler to Carolina for a fifth-round draft pick. A few weeks ago, the Chiefs waived fellow 2007 defensive lineman Turk McBride, a second-round selection.

Of the 44 defensive linemen from the 2007 draft, the group has produced just eight current starters in the league. Nine members of that suspect class are out of the NFL entirely, 13 are with new teams, six are at new positions, four are on injured reserve and 32 of them have started fewer than 20 games.

As disappointing as Adams' play has been, he actually has had a decent two-plus seasons, compared to other defensive linemen from 2007.

Only one member of that class, LaMarr Woodley of Pittsburgh (with 17½ sacks), has more sacks than Adams (13½). And Woodley, a defensive end in college, was chosen by the Steelers to play as a rush linebacker in their 3-4 front. Just two 2007 linemen, Woodley (11½ sacks in 2008) and Jacob Ford of Tennessee (seven sacks last season), have more sacks in a season than the 6½ Adams garnered as a rookie. Nineteen of the 44 linemen drafted in 2007 are still waiting for their first NFL sack. Two dozen of them have three sacks or fewer.

Angelo is counting on defensive line coach Rod Marinelli -- who scouted Adams for the Bucs in 2007 and then, as head coach in Detroit, nearly chose him instead of wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second overall pick later that spring -- to get the best out of the third-year player. And the Bears get Adams with nearly three and a half seasons remaining on his rookie contract, at a palatable total of about $4 million. And Angelo, one of the NFL's good guys, is a great example of doing whatever is necessary to land a lineman. He drafted two of his current starters, tackle Tommie Harris and end Alex Brown, traded for left end Adewale Ogunleye and signed tackle Anthony Edwards as a free agent.

Said Angelo, speaking of quality young linemen: "Those guys are so rare that, when you have the opportunity to get one, it's really hard to resist."

Even when the prospect has been largely suspect to this point in his career.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.