By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) Caleb Hanie is the man for the Bears, courtesy of Jerry Angelo. When the lockout ended last summer, Angelo made the conscious choice that Hanie could lead the Bears in case Jay Cutler went down with an injury.
Bad decision, Jerry.
Hanie lacks the accuracy, touch, patience and command to win in the National Football League. At best, the decision by Angelo could be classified as a risky longshot. At worst, it was the poison pill for the Bears season.
Make no mistake that the decision was Angelo’s. He may have gotten input from Lovie Smith and Mike Martz, but putting together a winning roster is the general manager’s job. Just as Marion Barber had to know that he was supposed to stay in bounds when running out the clock, the general manager has to fill the backup quarterback spot with a competent player.
Angelo is not the only general manager who is willing to play Russian Roulette with the position. Big-time salary-cap money is spent on starters and backups get scraps. That’s the way a lot of teams have conducted business in the NFL since the introduction of the salary cap in 1994. Prior to that, contending teams wanted a solid starter and a veteran backup who knew the offense, could make all the throws and keep the team at a high level as possible.
Look back at the 1985 Bears, perhaps the best one-year performance in the history of the NFL. Jim McMahon was the starter, but Steve Fuller was forced to stand in for McMahon five times. The Bears won all but one of Fuller’s starts.
The opponents in Super Bowl XX was the Patriots, a team that had Tony Eason as its starting quarterback and veteran Steve Grogan as the backup. Grogan started in place of Eason six times and was sharp enough to lead the Pats to a 5-1 record in those games. Grogan was a former starter for the Patriots and the skills he learned during his days as a starter helped bail the Pats out and turn them into AFC champions.
Talented backups have a way of keeping a team afloat when the starter is out of commission. The 1990 New York Giants defeated the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV with backup Jeff Hostetler filling in for injured starter Phil Simms. Nine years later, the St. Louis Rams won their only Super Bowl in franchise history when backup Kurt Warner ran the table after starter Trent Green was injured during the preseason. Warner was not experienced, but head coach Dick Vermeil and offensive coordinator Mike Martz recognized his extraordinary accuracy and quick release. Two years later, backup quarterback Tom Brady led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl championship because head coach Bill Belichick knew that starter Drew Bledsoe just was not sharp enough to win the game.
The point is that the Bears simply aren’t in the position to recover from an injury to the most important position on the team. Hanie was the Bears’ third-stringer last year, behind a washed-up 39-year-old Todd Collins. Collins completed 10-of-27 passes last year for 68 yards with no touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Hanie was not good enough to beat Collins out.
Despite that, Angelo did not bring in another suitable quarterback that could play the position in case Cutler went down. That’s an unforgivable offense for a general manager who has struggled so badly when it comes to drafting talented players in the early rounds of the draft. Finding a backup quarterback with talent is different. You can find a veteran free agent with a strong track record or train a talented youngster.
San Diego’s Billy Volek has been a go-to backup since 2001, and other top backups include Detroit’s Shaun Hill, Green Bay’s Matt Flynn, Philadelphia’s Vince Young and a Denver quarterback by the name of Tim Tebow.
Ignoring the position and praying for the health of the starter does not work in the NFL. Preparation is the key to long-term success in the NFL and Jerry Angelo allowed the Bears to play this season thoroughly unprepared at the backup quarterback position.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.