When Phil Emery spoke at the outset of his tenure about winning “championships” – plural – he had ample NFL organizational models to emulate whether on a divisional, conference or Super Bowl level: Green Bay, New England, any team with Peyton Manning on it.
But the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs may provide a template for the strategy that is taking shape through Halas Hall. The intriguing aspect for the Bears is that Emery and the organization have, in fact, set themselves up for both a present and a future, both obviously only on paper right now and both annually dependent on the vagaries of catastrophic injuries.
Most important, however, is the manner in which San Antonio and players made the situation work with both skills and economics.
The Spurs, like the Packers with Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers and the 49ers with Joe Montana-Steve Young successions, won championships beyond one individual as the Michael Jordan Bulls did. All of San Antonio’s five championships came with Tim Duncan but he was a bridge between the David Robinson titles (1999, 2003) and the ones with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker (2007, 2009, 2014).
The Bears should have had a San Antonio-esque situation with the 1984-and-beyond team that went from being the NFL’s best and youngest to one watching Super Bowls instead of playing in them, for multiple reasons. That’s old news and another story.
What isn’t is the manner in which Emery and the Bears built for a Super Bowl window both immediately as well as longer term, with a defensive re-tool that includes Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff, Charles Tillman and Willie Young - some with one-year, some with multi-year deals - and a draft pipeline that includes the projected successors to Tillman (Kyle Fuller) and at defensive tackle (Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton).
Nothing involving rookie draft choices assures anything, but the concept is clear, and it’s not too dissimilar to what the Packers did in drafting Rodgers when they had Favre; the 49ers acquiring Young while Montana was in place; or the Spurs when they were drafting Ginobili in the 1999 second round and Parker in the 2001 first. Those were in place when Robinson retired.
But the Spurs also were able to put additional talent around Duncan in particular because of his and others’ contract philosophies that left them extremely well-compensated but without strangling the organization as situations in Miami and LA are doing.
A source confirmed for CSNChicago.com that Brandon Marshall did his Bears extension without waiting one more year for free-agency leverage, and that he expressly approached his situation with the intent of being part of a sustainable high-end entity instead of grinding out every last dollar from the team and the market.
Jay Cutler’s deal was a market figure but with flexibility for the Bears as well, and the two sides worked the deal ahead of the free-agency market opening. Jared Allen had more lucrative options than Chicago.
It’s indeed all theory and doesn’t ensure “championships” if only because as long as Rodgers is in Green Bay, and until the Bears can rip the crown off the Packers’ heads, it’s just talk. As well planned out as the Spurs were, it didn’t mean Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki weren’t getting paid, too. But even when the Spurs weren’t winning NBA titles, they were winning divisional ones (11 from 1999-2014) and another conference one (2013).
For the Bears, the championships plan may have to be wild cards. But that’s a “championship” of a sort and advances them beyond 16 games, which is where championships lie.