The Bears and the rest of the NFL without exception have swung onto final approach for the draft that is now 2-12 weeks off.
It is the time and reason for which Phil Emery was hired as Bears general manager. This is his time. And for the Bears in their quest to catch the Green Bay Packers and get back ahead of the Detroit Lions, it has to be.
Setting draft positions aside for the moment, the Packers (Aaron Rodgers) and Lions (Matthew Stafford) landed their franchise quarterbacks in drafts. They landed their top receivers (Greg JenningsJordy Nelson; Calvin Johnson) in drafts. They secured their top defensive players (Clay Matthews, Ndamukong Suh) in drafts.
The Bears didn't have top-four picks but the misses later is why Emery is back in Lake Forest.
Continuity through free agency a first, major positive
Emerys accomplishments in the open market have been considerable. Trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall; adding backup quarterback Jason Campbell and retaining Josh McCown; adding Michael Bush at running back; signing cornerbacks Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite; and with the assorted Blake Costanzo, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems for special teams and ideally more.
Add to that the re-signings of Kellen Davis, Israel Idonije, Tim Jennings and Craig Steltz and the result has been an offseason of several steps forward without any backwards, other than defensive tackle Amobi Okoye leaving for one year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
(Consider that one almost by choice. The Bears made an offer in their range for a player they wanted and who wanted to stay but were simply outbid by a team offering more of a starting opportunity.)
A subtly noteworthy backdrop here has been that Emery has followed a course in sync with much of what Jerry Angelo had laid out.
Angelo had targeted San Diegos Vincent Jackson as the first big strike in free agency. Marshalls character issues made him off-limits for Angelo with Sam Hurd and Tank Johnson on the resume, deserved or not.
Campbell was the goal at quarterback along with McCown, Angelos addition. And Hayden had met with the Bears previously but not signed.
The real point, however, is that Emery clearly is in phase with coaches and their needs a major positive. He did not pull into Halas Hall with an agenda and telling coaches what they needed.
And We used our college scouts expertise to work with us on unrestricted free agents, Emery said.
Emery is generally credited with a significant improvement from the Kansas City Chiefs draft of 2009 before he arrived and those of 2010 and 2011.
He already has put himself and the Bears in apparent better position than the Chiefs were. General manager Scott Pioli arrived in January 2009 but was slow to trust and ran that draft with a skeleton staff. Sources said he was rumored to have simply thrown scouts reports away and gone his own way and Emery was there for 2010.
Emery, as he has done in free agency, has avoided slipping backwards with staff or personnel losses. He worked with many of the scouts when he was with the Bears from 1998-2004; he will not be emulating Piolis first draft year in that area.
Emery, with his own credentials in college scouting, kept the Chicago college-evaluation staff in place. He also undertook a comprehensive program of synchronizing language, standards, expectations and virtually every other aspect of talent appraisal. He had the college scouts evaluate pro tape.
The objective was to ensure that the grading system and descriptions were matched in minds and the Bears system So that I could have a common understanding of where that grade was with the player, Emery said.
We put our coaches through the same process. We met with both groups and formulated the groups of players we had targeted. After the combine, we came back and met for 10 days and went through 400 college prospects.
Now the urgency is taking the steps forward that didnt happen with the Jarron Gilberts, Dan Bazuins, Juaquin Iglesiases and more.
Even though the contracts are small, it has always been the harder side of the personnel job.
Watching players as pros is an easier process because the level of the playing field, Emery said. Whereas in college you have a wide variety of talent prospects are playing against.