Jump into the Chicago Bears time machine with me. Let’s go back to the summer of 2007 where the defense wasn’t porous and the run game mattered. To a time before smokin’ Jay, a time where Lovie and Urlacher lead the way. You remember those days, right?
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Fresh off their 1st Super Bowl appearance in over 30 years, the Bears were in a good place despite a loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Bears had one of the more stout defenses of the decade, built by Head Coach Lovie Smith and Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera. They found enough scoring pounding the rock with a Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson combo at running back. Although the offense wasn’t great, it was supplemented with the home run ability of returner Devin Hester.
After an up and down season from QB Rex Grossman, that position was seemingly the only hole the Bears would need to fill as they prepared to defend their NFC title. In not trying to rock the boat, the Bears began the demise of their identity without even knowing it yet. Small roster and staff changes added with player distractions would take this team from contender to middle class in just a few short months.
First was the Lance Briggs contract saga that felt like it lasted lifetime. After the impending free agent received the franchise tag from the team, Briggs began being very vocal on how he felt about the move. Not wanting to play on another one-year deal, while being interested in seeing what his true market value was, Lance became a distraction. Teammates, including franchise cornerstone Brian Urlacher, voiced their support for Briggs. Briggs eventually signed his franchise tender, but the PR damage was considerable.
Defensive lineman Tank Johnson was also a non-football story before the season had even ended. After being arrested on a weapons charge in December, he was sentenced to 120 days in jail to go along with an 8 game suspension from the NFL. Shortly after being released from Jail, Johnson was again arrested, this time for a DUI. The Bears waived the talented contributor to the defense, taking away an important part of arguably the most important defensive position group.
Changes Across The Board
The team ruined every solid roster move they made that summer by making two bad ones. They did the smart thing in singing cornerback and local favorite Charles Tillman to a long-term deal. They also paid a pretty penny for corner Nathan Vasher, who would never play a full season for the Bears again. Safety Mike Brown would never be the same after the ’06 season after a litany of injuries. The team compounded that problem by trading away the other turnover forcing safety, Chris Harris.
The biggest loss came on offense though. The Bears decided to hand the reins at running back to former 4th overall pick Cedric Benson. They traded leading rusher Thomas Jones to the Jets for a second round pick. Jones would go on to have 3 straight 1,000+ yard seasons in New York. Benson wouldn’t make it through 2008 as a Bear.
The Bears let defensive coordinator Ron Rivera walk in the offseason. Rivera was key in the development of players on defense. After weakening the secondary, causing unrest in the linebacking corps, and losing a piece from the defensive line, a solid draft was needed. While the Bears nailed their first round pick of the ’07 draft, landing tight end Greg Olson out of Miami(FL), the rest of the draft class was forgettable. That might be giving the ’07 class credit, as Corey Graham was the highlight outside of Olson.
A Disappointing Season
The regular season began with a close loss to the Chargers, while also losing Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris to injury. The team could never find its identity again. Grossman was replaced at QB three games in by Brian Griese. Cedric Benson showed early that he was not ready to carry the load. The team’s talented veteran core would lead the team to a respectable, yet subpar 7-9 record.
What was supposed to be the season the Bears took that final step into becoming champions, became the season the team would begin a decline towards the bottom of the NFL. Two years later, the Bears traded for QB Jay Cutler. After a run to the 2011 NFC title game, the core from the ’06 Bears began aging. Before we knew it, an era of underachieving Bears football was over.
10 years after a fail of a summer, the Chicago Bears are still searching for an identity. Familiar faces like Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, Devin Hester, Robbie Gould, and many more have come and gone. Hope has been delivered in the form of QB Mitch Trubisky and RB Jordan Howard, but the last decade could have been so much more.