MINNEAPOLIS — While Marc Trestman’s fate appears to be sealed, it’s still unclear what will happen with Bears general manager Phil Emery when the McCaskey family determines the direction of its football franchise Monday morning.
It’s been an up-and-down three years for Emery, who replaced longtime general manager Jerry Angelo in January of 2012. A case for keeping Emery around can be made, but is it as compelling as the case to let him go? Let’s take a look at both:
The Case For Keeping Phil Emery
It took a year, but Emery successfully rebuilt an awful offensive line that had held back the Bears’ offense and exposed quarterback Jay Cutler to too many dangerous hits. The signings of Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson solidified the left side of the line, while the shrewd selection of Kyle Long — Emery’s best draft pick — gave the right side a boost.
Emery’s first big move as GM was to trade for Brandon Marshall, giving Cutler a familiar weapon he had not had access to in his first three seasons in Chicago. A little over a month later, Emery also traded up in the second round of the draft to pick Alshon Jeffery, an undervalued wide receiver who had been hurt by bogus rumors during the pre-draft process. By 2013, Marshall and Jeffery were considered the best wide receiver duo in the NFL.
And in 2013, it was hard for anyone to be upset by what Emery had done in a short period of time. He took a decade-long inept offense and loaded it with talent. The unique hiring of Marc Trestman gave all that offensive talent a clear direction and by the end of the season, the Bears had the No. 2 scoring offense in the NFL.
Emery also deserves credit for signing Martellus Bennett, a dynamic tight end who creates mismatch problems. While the depth at the position continues to be questionable, Bennett was a clear upgrade over Kellen Davis, who Cutler couldn’t rely on.
From a purely football standpoint, no one can argue with what Emery has done with the offensive depth chart. It’s a clear upgrade in talent from what he inherited.
The Case Against Keeping Phil Emery
The biggest reason why Jerry Angelo was let go at end of the 2011 season was because of too many draft failures over the years. The Bears had fallen behind when it came to developing its own talent and the organization was being forced to spend too much money on free agents. It created a hole that the Bears are still trying to dig out of.
But here’s a valid, startling question: After three drafts led by Phil Emery, has that hole actually gotten deeper?
Only two players remain from Emery’s first draft class — Shea McClellin and Alshon Jeffery — and McClellin can’t be categorized as anything other than a bust at this point. Third-round pick Brandon Hardin was miscast and injury prone, leading to a quick departure after just one season in which he didn’t even play. Evan Rodriguez was also shown the door quickly after legal trouble and cornerbacks Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy never panned out.
Emery redeemed himself in 2013 by taking Long 20th overall, but the jury is still out on the rest of the draft class, and the arrow is pointing down on most of them. Second-round linebacker Jonathan Bostic has done little in two full seasons, while fourth-round linebacker Khaseem Greene rarely ever plays. The Bears got decent value out of fifth-round right tackle Jordan Mills, but he’s not a viable longterm solution on the offensive line. Meanwhile, sixth-round defensive end Cornelius Washington is nothing more than a special-teamer. On a positive note, seventh-round wide receiver Marquess Wilson is finally showing promise, but his ceiling is probably as a No. 3 wideout.
As for 2014, it’s hard to evaluate a class so soon, but only one player — first-round cornerback Kyle Fuller — stands out as an immediate successful pick and even he has had his ups and downs this season. Defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton — taken in the second and third round, respectively — have flashed at times, but neither looks like a future Pro Bowler at this point. Fourth-rounders Ka’Deem Carey and Brock Vereen haven’t shown much, while sixth-round quarterback David Fales is only viewed as a future backup. That leaves sixth-round punter Pat O’Donnell, who is starting to come around, and seventh-round offensive tackle Charles Leno, who wasn’t good enough in a stint as the Bears’ situational, sixth offensive lineman.
So in three drafts, Emery has really only hit home runs on two picks (Jeffery and Long), while Fuller certainly looks like he can play in this league for a long time too. But let’s be fair/generous and say two or three other picks end up working out (i.e. Wilson, Ferguson and O’Donnell) — is six successful picks in three drafts good enough?
That answer is no, especially considering he was a college scouting director brought to Chicago to improve the Bears’ drafting.
Meanwhile, drafting hasn’t even been Emery’s biggest blunder. That, of course, was hiring Trestman instead of Bruce Arians. Instead of hiring the reigning NFL coach of the year, Emery hired a head coach from the Canadian Football League who had previously bounced around eight different franchises as an NFL assistant, never lasting more than three seasons at each stop. Meanwhile, specifics from the hiring process that have since leaked out are disturbing — most notably subjecting Arians, who had just spent 12 games as the Colts’ interim head coach, to a mock press conference. Emery also wanted to maintain some control over the hiring of assistants, which included a desire to keep defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who ended up leaving on his own anyway. Mel Tucker ended up being the replacement Emery brought in.
Then there’s the Jay Cutler contract. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what Cutler actually would have received on the open market? At the very least, Cutler’s play in 2014 proves he should have been handed the franchise tag, a move that actually would have saved the Bears $6.31 million this year.
Other smaller signings and decisions are questionable too — including sacrificing special teams in an effort to develop late-round picks and undrafted free agents —but the case against keeping Phil Emery could be boiled down to this: 51 of the 53 players currently on the Bears active roster were either drafted, signed or re-signed by Emery and that roster has produced five wins this season. This is his team and it has regressed sharply from 10 wins in 2012 to eight wins in 2013 to five wins with one game to go in 2014.
When Emery took over in 2012, the Bears were still a defensive-minded football team. Now, in the last two seasons, the Bears have had arguably the two worst defenses in the franchise’s history, while the offense is actually scoring less points now (20.7) than it did in Lovie Smith’s final season (23.4).
So now the question is, have the McCaskeys seen enough or do they believe Emery deserves one more year? If it’s the latter, do they really want to bring in a new head coach at the same time the GM enters 2015 on an extremely hot seat? That could, of course, create another situation a year from now when they are hiring a new GM with a head coach already in place.
Instead of starting the cycle all over again, it might be smarter to stop the bleeding now.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for 87.7 The Game and TheGameChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.