The Bears were saddled for a very long time with the cliché image of cheapness, maybe dating back to Mike Ditka describing George Halas as throwing nickels around like manhole covers.
Actually, it was in place well before that, and not surprisingly. Halas and contemporaries like the Maras, Rooneys and others who built the NFL didn’t always have a lot of nickels, and old habits die hard. A lot of people who lived through the Depression, for instance, never felt secure ever after, even when they didn’t necessarily have money worries.
The Bears were not always cheap; they in fact spent lavishly on players, too often the wrong players, in part because if there was any parsimony, it was in money not spent on one of the NFL’s smallest scouting staffs even into the early years of free agency.
But the Bears spent: deals, some massive, for Alonzo Spellmans, Bryan Coxes, Thomas Smiths, Ironhead Heywards, Lewis Tillmans, Shawn Lees, Edgar Bennetts, Kordell Stewarts, Adam Archuletas, Brandon Manumaleunas, Chester Taylors. Just not on the right players.
What makes the current situation intriguing is that under chairman George McCaskey, the scouting staff has been enhanced, and the money was in place for Jared Allen, for example, long before it was spent on the four-year deal worth as much as $32 million for him. The Bears did not suddenly decide to spring for Allen (or Lamarr Houston or Willie Young or any other signing) when they were nicely surprised that an Allen didn’t sign with Seattle or Denver or Dallas.
The offseason finances were plotted by McCaskey, president Ted Phillips, general manager Phil Emery and finance minister Cliff Stein, and they did not suddenly alter course when it was evident that Allen was there to be signed.
“You do it in advance, you decide what your levels are, what’s right for your club,” Emery told CSNChicago.com. “There’s a fixed cap, and then there’s a cash budget. Every club sets their own situation, and you always do it in advance. You don’t add to it or subtract from it as you go.
“It’s like any business operation. You’re going to have ‘X’ amount of dollars to apply towards player acquisition, and that’s what you work off of.”