Personnel decisions are always easy to second-guess. Every team in the NFL passed for two-plus rounds in the 1979 draft before San Francisco grabbed Joe Montana in the third. Tom Brady was passed over 198 times in the 2000 draft (the Bears took Brian Urlacher, Mike Brown, Dez White, Dustin Lyman, Reggie Austin, Frank Murphy and Paul Edinger while Brady waited by the phone) before New England took him as afterthought insurance behind Drew Bledsoe.
So in hindsight with the Super Bowl teams now determined, it is interesting to consider the might-have-beens with the Bears roster:
The Bears passed on trading a second-round draft choice to Arizona for wide receiver Anquan Boldin. They used a No. 2 in the 2012 draft for Alshon Jeffery.
Corey Graham couldnt stay out of the coaches doghouse in Chicago and was out of the mix at cornerback and nickel back before leaving for Baltimore via free agency. The Bears struggled at nickel with D.J. Moore and Kelvin Hayden while Graham was starting eight games, intercepting two passes and breaking up eight. Graham was in on 36 combined tackles on defense and special teams.
The Bears added a highly regarded Central Michigan lineman in the 2007 draft but it was defensive end Dan Bazuin, not Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley, who went to the 49ers three picks before the Bears chose Greg Olsen. The Bears, coming off a Super Bowl appearance with an offensive line four-fifths free agents, picked Bazuin 62nd overall before Marshal Yanda went to Baltimore 86th and tackle Jermon Bushrod went to New Orleans 125th.
As I said, second-guessing is easy, and Jerry Angelo conceded that finding offensive linemen was not a strength of his regime. If anything, the bigger point is that the likes of Yanda and Bushrod, both Pro Bowl selections, were taken in mid rounds of drafts.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- The general vibe given off by defensive end Akiem Hicks and linebacker Jerrell Freeman -- the two Bears defenders made available to the media on Wednesday -- was of low-key optimism.
A Bears defense beset by injuries last year ranked 24th in points allowed and only managed 11 turnovers in 2016. But Hicks and Freeman both see bigger things for this defense after general manager Ryan Pace retooled it with a number of veteran free agent signings.
Specifically, Hicks believes the Bears' defense has enough been-there, done-that players to be the catalyst for victories.
“Sometimes, it’s like a second nature, something that you have inside you,” Hicks said. “You just want to be in that situation. But it’s also something you can develop through a lot of reps. You know what I mean? A guy who comes in and has 5,000 reps over his career, he’s going to be able to get in that situation and play it with just a little bit more confidence than a guy in his first, second or even third year.
“Because once you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve gotten enough snaps, you’ve seen everything. You felt disappointment, you’ve felt that feeling of victory at the end of the game when you’re walking off. I think that’s what bringing veteran guys to a team does. They’ve seen it all already.”
The Bears added four possible-to-likely starters to their defense in free agency: defensive end Jaye Howard, safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper. Those four players have a combined 24 years of NFL experience, and the Bears only have one rookie (safety Eddie Jackson) competing for a starting role.
Couple the expected Year 1 to Year 2 growth of Leonard Floyd and the potential for a healthy Eddie Goldman with those veterans, and the Bears see enough players with the right mindset to build a sturdy defense.
“I hope everyone on my defense wants to be the best player at their position,” Freeman said. “That’s the mentality I would want, and that’s the mentality I would want the rest of my defense to have. Getting better, lead a defense to one of the top defenses, just help my team in any kind of way to get some wins.”
"I've enjoyed my time here and I'm open to ending my career here. I know I'm interested in playing here for a long time."
That was Akiem Hicks early Wednesday afternoon when asked about the possibility of signing a contract extension with the Bears before the regular season. It turns out, that might be happening a lot sooner than the defensive end was letting on.
Hicks recently hired Drew Rosenhaus as his agent and the two were reportedly seen together on campus at Olivet Nazarene University late in the afternoon, an indication they could be close to a new deal. General manager Ryan Pace was asked about the possibility at Wednesday's pre-training camp press conference, but sidestepped a direct answer, saying contractual matters stay confidential until there is something to announce.
The five-year veteran signed a two-year, $10 million contract in March of 2016 after three and a half years in New Orleans, where Pace had a hand in drafting him in the third round in 2012 before being traded to New England midway through 2015. Hicks then had a career year last season, starting all 16 games at left end, and collecting seven sacks, exceeding his previous high of 4.5 in his second year.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Bears have more than $20 million in available salary cap space this season, and extending Hicks now would allow them to use this year's money to spread out the financial impact on their cap throughout the course of the contract. A new deal for Hicks could average up to $8-10 million annually.
"I love this city," Hicks said. "It's funny because, I was coming to Chicago long before I played for the Bears. My mother's from here and I know when I was a free agent and when my mom found out that Chicago was a team that was interested in me coming here, she was ecstatic. She wanted to be able to see her son play in her own city. In living here, I've grown to love it."