March 12, 2014
Superstars Leave, Children Believe
Only God, and probably Ditka, know if the Chicago Bears will be better in 2014 than they were in 2013 but we all have knowledge that the Monsters of Merriment will be a bit younger and, at least to start, a tad less conspicuous.
The Bears have said goodbye to Devin Hester, the perennial All-Pro kick returner, future Hall of Famer and the closest thing to Bruce Lee the NFL has ever seen. Hester is the greatest return man ever but he’s 31 which is like Abe Vigoda in special teams years and it long ago became apparent that when it comes to doing anything besides returning kicks Hester is really, really good at returning kicks. So, the Bears thanked him for his broken records and Hester, in a very classy way, thanked Chicagoans for all their money and support and he is now standing at the goal line of free agency waiting for some new team to form a wedge and bring him in.
A couple of days ago, after being told by the Bears to pack up and hand in his key card, Hester referred to himself as the best all-around player in the NFL. Hester also considers Keanu Reeves to be Hollywood’s most versatile actor.
It cannot be denied that Hester has been one of the most fun players to watch in the NFL over the last seven years and is one of the most exciting players in league history. Bears fans of a certain age and alcohol dependency will likely rank Walter Payton as the greatest Bear of them all but Hester is neck-and-neck with Gale Sayers as the most entertaining guy to ever wear the orange, blue and blood.
When boys grow up they want to be Devin Hester. There is nothing more electrifying than watching a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown. Seeing the blocking form in front of a returner, watching him dart back and forth before finding a crack of daylight and accelerating toward green is a thrill matched only by donuts and Schlitz with the woman you love.
You will be missed, Devin.
Hester is leaving Chicago and he might be hitching a ride with Julius Peppers. The Bears are not bringing back the Pro Bowl defensive end, a move that will save them $9.8 million against this year’s salary cap and at least that much money in Q-tips.
Just as important as Peppers’ salary is his age, 34, which is the age most pass rush specialists consider switching to a different position called “guy who doesn’t play in the NFL anymore.”
Some other germane numbers in the Peppers discussion are 7.5, the relatively low number of sacks he registered last season, and 30, which was what the Bears ranked on defense in 2013. Peppers is a good guy, a legendary player, and probably still has gas in the tank but he’s expensive, he’s elderly and the Bears’ defense was as solid as the U.S. speedskating team in Sochi so things probably can’t get worse without him.
Everyone in Chicago, in between cursing the latest snowstorm and sucking down a French fry, believes Hester, Peppers and other ex-Bears or soon to be ex-Bears will end up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a reunion with former Bears coach Lovie Smith. If so they’ll be following the lead of a defecting Bear whose departure could end up being the one that truly stings: Josh McCown.
McCown had the best job in the world last year. He was a backup quarterback who played great and when you do that everyone loves you, except for the starting quarterback. McCown was terrific in place of Jay Cutler in 2013 throwing 13 touchdowns against just one interception and throwing for 1,829 yards while seeing action in eight games.
But almost immediately after the Bears’ season ended the team announced a long term deal with Cutler, committing to a younger guy with a better arm and, from almost all perspectives, a brighter future. Still, McCown said he wanted to come back but at age 34, he’ll be 35 in July, he knows that this is likely his last chance to cash in so he took more money, two years $10 million, from Tampa and also received a promise that he is now the starter.
More money, a better job, a warmer city. Well done, Josh.
If Cutler is healthy and the Bears’ offense plays as well as it did in 2013 and there’s every reason to believe it could actually be better with one more year of studying Marc Trestman’s playbook, no one in Cook County will even remember Josh McCown. But Cutler has only played all 16 games one time in his five seasons in Chicago (OK, OK, he’s played 15 games twice) but he played just 11 games last season and 10 in 2011. There were those who believed, and still profess, that the Bears should have let Cutler go and saved on his new $18 million a year salary. They could have given McCown about $5 million a year, what he’s getting in Tampa, and the Bears would have had that much more money to rebuild the defense.
It makes sense. We’ll find out if the Bears made the right move or not this coming season. Or it could all become apparent on one afternoon when the Bucs visit Chicago.
The Bears are not just saying goodbye (they are also not bringing back punter Adam Podlesh, running back Michael Bush and a few others) but are also bringing in some new guys, now that they have the locker space. They have signed defensive end Lamarr Houston from the Raiders, safety Ryan Mundy who was with the Giants, linebacker-special teamer Jordan Senn of the Panthers and safety M.D. Jennings, formerly of the Packers.
Take two puffs of your cigarette if you’ve heard of any of these guys.
Just kidding. These gentlemen are not All-Pros but are all solid players who are getting a lot of good press and there’s no doubt the Bears need help in all the areas they specialize in. The Bears seem determined not to break the bank in free agency but to be sensible by bringing in solid players while looking to build primarily through the draft, which is how they should be doing it.
But wouldn’t Darrelle Revis have been nice?
Mr. Revis was let go by the Buccaneers because he’s making more money than Sandra Bullock and he was not available for long, quickly signing with the New England Patriots who needed him after losing their top cornerback, Aqib Talib (who also used to play for Tampa), to the Broncos who have also added former Cowboys Pro Bowl defensive end DeMarcus Ware. (Though Denver has lost receiver Eric Decker to the Jets.)
This is why the Broncos and Patriots are always good: they have great quarterbacks and they do not mess around. When they want a guy they either go get him or say mean things about him. –TK