By Chris Emma–
(CBS) There’s a wind of change at Halas Hall.READ MORE: Chicago Police Restrict Time Off For Officers Amid Battle Between City Hall, FOP Over COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate
Such a swift wind emerged when Ryan Pace took office last January in Lake Forest, becoming the Bears’ new general manager. He’s been open about his aspirations to build Chicago a winner.
Pace first found a coach in John Fox, a man touted for his work in player development. From there, the teardown began. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, two staples of the Bears’ dominating defenses of the last decade, each were allowed to walk. Brandon Marshall was traded, largely because his attitude didn’t match his talent.
Early in this past season, the Bears sent Jared Allen packing to the Panthers and began getting more carries for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. The season finished at 6-10, and the next phase of Pace’s process continued. Matt Forte was allowed to leave for free agency. At 30 years old and with Langford ready for the starting role, Forte became expendable for the Bears. Then on Tuesday, the team released Jermon Bushrod.
Ask any former Bears teammate about Bushrod, and you’ll get virtually the same response. The former Pro Bowl tackle was viewed as a warm, kind teammate and a close friend. What he did in 2015 — willingly helping his replacement, Charles Leno, Jr. — stood out, too.
“Probably the biggest role model I have right now,” Leno said during the season. “The guy is a true professional. I look up to that.”
NFL locker rooms can’t have enough guys like Bushrod, who make the work environment that much better. Pace touched on Bushrod’s character in a Tuesday statement of his release from the franchise. Of course, Pace’s praise of Bushrod was similar to that of Forte.
While fans can clamor for their favorite players and root for the good guys, Pace was brought to Chicago with the hopes of building a winner.
A general manager’s job isn’t to care about past performance or accolades. His role isn’t to worry about what a player meant to the franchise. Someone in Pace’s position must only focus on future performance.
The Bears likely won’t stop after Bushrod’s release. There could be more moves ahead to clear roster space and cap room.READ MORE: Artist Nate Baranowski Uses Chalk Art To Bring Halloween Festivity To Howard Street In Rogers Park
Tight end Martellus Bennett may be on his way out via trade. He has been known to be the kind of distraction Pace is looking to rid from his locker room. Antrel Rolle is 33 and coming off an injury-plagued season, mostly failing to bring stability at safety. Pace could look for a younger option at the position.
Even kicker Robbie Gould could be viewed as expendable. His 2015 was marred with several costly misses, overshadowing what was otherwise a productive year (33-for-39 in field goals), but the reality is he’s paid $3.75 million at a position in which many are given six figures. Giants kicker Josh Brown, who was tied for the league lead in field goal percentage, makes just $1 million per season.
The chances for Shea McClellin at middle linebacker may be coming to a close, with his inconsistent play likely leading to change. Phil Emery’s first-round pick in 2012, McClellin never panned into the player Chicago thought it was getting.
Moves like these are viewed as cold-blooded from the outside, but an NFL general manager must maneuver with the best interest of the win-loss record — not anything else before that.
This offseason, Pace and the Bears are making bold moves to clear the roster of players who are expendable and those whose salaries can be used to open up more cap room. The Bears are looking to get younger and better.
From there, Pace will find fits in free agency to bolster any position possible — and there are a lot of needs to fill with an estimated $60 million in cap room — and then follow through with the NFL Draft, in which Chicago holds nine picks.
Come time for training camp, the Bears will have a much different look on their roster. It will be Pace’s team, with a boatload of newcomers aboard. With great cap flexibility at hand, Pace can overhaul much of the roster and bring change to his team. If the Bears see struggles in 2016, it will be because young players are still developing — not because of aging veterans who are out of place.
Pace’s plan is just getting off the ground. With the NFL Combine next week, the evaluation will continue, leading to March 7 and the beginning of the free agency discussions. There will be some more goodbyes, too, which the Bears have done with dignity lately. After all, it should be understood that this franchise is building for something better.
The changes are just beginning at Halas Hall.MORE NEWS: City Officials, Community Leaders Hit Streets To Urge People To Get First COVID-19 Shots, Boosters, And Flu Shots