Special Edition: As a Browns fan living in Chicago, I recently attended the Bears’ preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals and got a chance to tackle this question in real life. We won’t cover anything else as we wait for the first week of the season to arrive.
Question: So, are the Bears going to be any good this year?
A thoughtful and long winded answer: Honestly, I see a lot of the 2008 Browns written on the Bears this year.
Sitting in a Chicago bar with Bears fans you can feel it in the air. Everyone is in on the edge of their seat. It’s like they are watching one of those movies where a car almost drives over a cliff, but at the last second stops and is left balanced on the edge, teetering back and forth. Bears fans are holding their breath in suspense as they wait for the car’s passenger to shift just slightly the wrong way, causing the car fall over the edge.
This is what happened to the Browns in 2008.
In 2007, the Browns were the cinderella story of the NFL. They came out of nowhere, with a quarterback nobody wanted, scored a ton of points, and finished the year 10-6. Though they missed the playoffs by a half game, the networks pegged them as a team to watch. The following year they played on national TV five times.
Browns upper management was thinking the same thing. Phil Savage began trading away the future to win now. Before the draft Shaun Rogers was acquired for a third round pick and Leigh Bodden, and Corey Williams was acquired for a second round pick.
They were already without a first round draft pick in 2008 because they’d traded it away to get Brady Quinn. This left the Browns with no picks in their first three rounds of the draft.
Derek Anderson was given the starting job out of camp despite fans being bitterly divided over supporting him or Quinn. He was also handed a contract extension, as were Romeo Crennel and Savage. The pressure was on the Browns to make the playoffs, now. They pushed all of their chips to the center of the table and went all-in.
And then casino exploded in their face.
2007 turned out to be a mirage of an easy schedule. Derek Anderson turned out to a QB who just got hot for a month. He lost his starting job midseason. The Browns wilted under the heat of national TV schedule and only won 4 games. The injuries that always seemed to plague them returned from their 2007 vacation.
Romeo Crennel became a dead man walking, focusing on his guys instead of the future, fading into defiance. Phil Savage began to panic as the ship he was steering swerved out of control. He exploded in a profanity laced text message to a Browns fan, and threw Kellen Winslow under the bus asking him to publicly lie about a staph infection.
The Browns lost eight of their last nine games.
When the dust settled both Savage and Crennel were gone, and the Browns would come to admit they pulled the trigger on today too quickly. They were left with cupboard empty of talent, and a long rebuilding project before them.
The Bears have it coming.
They play on national TV four times this season. Like the Browns in 2008, they’ve drawn the treacherous NFC East.
They traded away their future – two first round picks for starting Quarterback Jay Cutler. They forked over another second round pick in this year’s draft to acquire defensive end Gaines Adams (now deceased). They gave 30-year old free agent Julius Peppers a record $41-million guaranteed to become a Bear. The time is now and there is no turning back.
If they fail this year it may be time to rebuild.
General Manager Jerry Angelo has now made enough Savage-esque moves to lose his job. Bears coach Lovie Smith is a defensive specialist, and a dead man walking.
The great Bears defense of 2006-2007 is past its peak. They are old and their window is closing.
Jay Cutler is a more accomplished quarterback than Derek Anderson ever was, but he is not playing up to the price the Bears paid to get him. A league high 27 interceptions in 2009 has the natives restless.
Back in the Bears’ bar you can hear it: Moments after Cutler completes a nice pass over the middle to Chester Taylor for 17 yards and a first down, a patron bellows out “Stop throwing off your back foot!”
Cutler, like Anderson, is on thin ice with his home town crowd. He can’t win.
You can see the Bears season unraveling painfully and slowly, with Cutler disintegrating to the sound of boos as the Soldier Field crowd turns on him.
Picture a little boy running as fast as he can down a suburban sidewalk. He is smiling and happy, until he trips and slams face-first down into the pavement. That is the best metaphor for what Browns fans experienced in 2008. Bears fans can see it coming and are getting antsy.
It’s not that they don’t have talent at all, they have a chance. But they are still thin in key areas, especially along the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. They are not a bad team, but are still looking up at the Packers and Vikings in their own division, much the way the Browns look up at the Ravens and Steelers.
In their dress rehearsal preseason game against the Cardinals, they scored 9 points total, all in the fourth quarter. They missed two field goals, Cutler threw two more interceptions, the defense handed former Browns disappointer Derek Anderson the starting QB job for Arizona – with a bow on it.
Everyone in the bar knows it. The Bears are slipping farther and farther away from the Super Bowl they appeared in five years ago, and their front office is grabbing for straws more franticly. Their fans are desperate, knowing they are just one last step before the edge of the cliff leading to a rebuild.
So the answer is, no. There are too many question marks for the Bears. Too many things have to go right for them to pull off a successful season. There is too much tension surrounding the team for them to survive intact.
Follow me on Twitter at @JimmyCTown to talk Browns, or CTown sports in general.