Who Will Pay the Butcher’s Bill?

In 2002, the Chicago Bears were coming off of a magical season.  A fiery young defense led by burgeoning star Brian Urlacher made countless exciting plays.  The offense, led by the sturdy churning of NFC Rookie of the Year Anthony Thomas and the veteran savvy of Jim Miller did their part in what was an incredibly fun prior year.

After the resounding loss to the Eagles, Soldier Field was shut down for renovations while the Bears would play their 2002 football at the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium.  For a franchise that normally plays in front of many thousands of fans on Lake Shore Drive, it felt utterly bizarre to watch the Bears play 8 “home” games in Champaign, IL.

The team was poised for a resilient period of growth:  young heroes on defense like the aforementioned Urlacher, Mike Brown, Warrick Holdman, Jerry Azumah, and Alex Brown were all poised to continue blossoming.  Fiery bucks on offense like Olin Kreutz, Marty Booker, David Terrell, and Thomas had fans excited to see the Monsters of the Midway.

They started out a very competitive 2-2, and then the injuries started.

  • Rex Tucker, starting G
  • Jim Miller, starting QB
  • RW McQuarters, starting CB
  • Ted Washington, starting DT
  • Warrick Holdman, starting LB
  • Chris Chandler, backup QB
  • Jerry Azumah, starting CB
  • Marc Columbo, starting OT

The list went on and on, and the Bears finished the season 4-12 (including an 8-game losing streak).  They had 10 players on injured reserve and cycled through 40 different starters throughout the miserable year.

Sound familiar?  It’s not a mirror image of 2016, as no two NFL seasons are the same, but for a Bears team that had reasonably high expectations going into the season, we have seen nothing but mistakes, confusing decision making from the coaching staff, and above all else – injuries.  Injuries galore.

There are 6 (SIX!!) weeks left in the 2016 Bears season, and the injury list at this point is absolutely comical:

The Bears currently have 12 players on injured reserve or are likely out for the season.  Josh Sitton, the starting star LG, may also be done for the year once the results of an MRI come in on his injured ankle.  Rookie 1st round pick Leonard Floyd’s season may be in jeopardy depending on evaluation after being taken off of MetLife Stadium’s turf on a stretcher and wearing a neckbrace.

Otherwise, just look at that list.

  • Jay Cutler, starting QB – missed 6 weeks
  • Brian Hoyer, backup QB – IR
  • Josh Sitton, starting LG – unknown
  • Hroniss Grasu, starting C – IR
  • Kyle Long, starting RG – IR
  • Bobby Massie, starting RT – indefinitely
  • Kyle Fuller, starting CB – IR
  • Zach Miller, starting TE – IR
  • Eddie Goldman, starting NT – barely played this season
  • Pernell McPhee, starting LB – missed 7 weeks, limited snap count since
  • Will Sutton, backup NT – IR
  • Connor Shaw, backup QB – IR
  • Leonard Floyd, starting LB – unknown
  • Lamarr Houston, starting LB – IR

That’s not to mention Alshon Jeffery’s idiotic suspension for a failed substance test & other starters/crucial depth missing sporadic games and battling through injuries to play on Sundays.

EVERY team in the NFL deals with injuries each season, but this run of doom for the Bears has been utterly unprecedented.  It has added confusion to a season that seems to be a turning point for the Bears franchise going forward:

With a number of potentially good coaches available for hire in the 2017 offseason, do you give the coaches (namely Fox & Loggains) a pass, or do you retain your crew and write off 2016 as a season too injury-plagued to properly evaluate your coaching staff?  Do you ignore the frustrating decisions being made, poor gameplans, and disastrous second halves of games?  Do you throw this all on Jay Cutler and send him on his way?

We don’t have any insight into what Ryan Pace will do.  He doesn’t come before the media often, and when he does he rarely ventures into the realm of the expository.  I think most Bears fans and critics can agree that Pace should be retained as General Manager, but at this point he’s got an enormous amount of pressure on him to decide what kind of GM he’s going to be.

Will he be the progressive GM who eats the rest of Fox’s contract and acquires a younger coach to pair with a rookie quarterback?

Will be the typically over-loyal Bears GM who would rather lose with somebody he knows than win with somebody he doesn’t?

Are you the White Sox?  The Bears need to ask themselves that question, because as of right now the wall of bodies being piled up near Halas Hall feels extremely ominous, and I think many fans are worried about that card being played.

The Bears of 2016 are likely to finish similarly to the 2002 team at 4-12 (or worse).  They’re likely to pick in the top 5 for only the third time since 1998.  They’re facing tumult from within the organization and hellish scrutiny from fans & the press.

But for now?  For now the Bears have 6 more weeks of lifeless, miserable, pointless football ahead of them.

Most of us will be shopping for Christmas presents on Black Friday.

Me?  I’ll be waiting for a belated Christmas gift from Ryan Pace.

On Black Monday.

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