In the eyes of many, Phil Emery did not inherit a particularly tough act to follow as general manager of the Bears from Jerry Angelo. But history is not always fair in how it treats its subjects.
In 11 seasons as the Bears GM, Angelo won four NFC North (Central in 2001) titles and one NFC Championship (2006).
Angelo drafted eventual Pro Bowlers Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Tommie Harris, Nathan Vashar, Matt Forte and Devin Hester, but that’s not a lot to show for 10 drafts.
Angelo had as many misses (Adam Archuletta, Orlando Pace) as he did hits (Reuben Brown, John Tait) in veteran free agency and eventually his tenure was recognized mainly for his draft busts.
Emery arrived shortly after the 2011 season with a clear mandate to upgrade the talent in every area of the Bears roster.
How has he done so far?
It is unfair and inaccurate to try and judge a college draft class in less than two years, but reasonable to value veteran moves at the end of a full season.
Emery’s first big move was to trade two third-round draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for Brandon Marshall and he clearly knocked it out of the park.
Marshall has proven to be one of the three or four best wideouts in football and he’s brought none of the off-field baggage with him that haunted his stays in Denver and Miami.
Score the Marshall trade an A+.
The 2012 NFL free agent class included quarterback Jason Campbell, running back Michael Bush, special teamers Blake Costanzo and Eric Weems, wide receiver Devin Thomas and defensive backs Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite.
Bush was strong behind Forte in 2012 but disappointed this year and Kelvin Hayden performed well at the nickel in 2012 before spending 2013 on injured reserve. Costanzo and Weems have been OK and Thomas and Wilhite failed to make the team.
That group is a C+ at best.
The 2012 draft and undrafted rookie free agent class can now be evaluated after its second season. And, if anything, it resembles an Angelo draft.
Trading up to get wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the second round looks great, but that’s about it, and that’s a problem.
Defensive lineman Shea McClellin has disappointed, cornerback Isaiah Frey inherited the nickel from Hayden as pretty much the only choice and was OK at best most of the time, and offensive lineman James Brown made the team but failed to dress for a game this season.
A grade of C on Emery’s first draft is probably kind.
The 2013 veteran free agent class, including Jermon Bushrod, Martellus Bennett, Matt Slauson, James Anderson and D.J. Williams looks like a B+ or possibly even an A if Bushrod, Bennett and Slauson take another step forward in 2014.
The 2013 draft class yielded four starters in Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, backups Marquess Wilson and Cornelius Washington, and free agents Michael Ford, Zach Minter and Demontre Hurst. This group shows real promise, but is a year away from being evaluated.
Emery took over an 8-8 club, improved to 10-6, fired his coach and then backslid to 8-8 this year.
All of that serves as the backdrop for this offseason, and the likelihood that the roster he takes to Bourbonnais this July will most likely define Emery as the Bears general manager.
He has an offense that is ready to win right now with two of the most important pieces, Forte and Marshall, rapidly approaching the point in their careers where NFL backs and receivers can decline quickly.
His defense needs a complete overhaul and he has precious little time to get it done.
Emery’s off to a good start by re-signing Robbie Gould, Tim Jennings and Slauson and he’s staked his future on Jay Cutler.
With the Cutler gamble, Emery’s 2014 veteran free agent and draft classes have to hit to keep the wolves away from his door.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.