Mike Singletary's knowledge highlights why Bears' offseason strategy was odd
Singletary's knowledge highlights Bears' odd offseason strategy originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Bears legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Singletary has forgotten more about defense than most people could learn in several lifetimes.
He understands the machinations of each scheme, the pressure points, and what each system needs to succeed.
So when Singletary looks at what the Bears did this offseason, investing heavily in the linebacking corps by adding Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards, he sees a defense that added talent but is missing the key components.
"In a Tampa Two, you've got to have the front four," Singletary said on the latest episode of the Under Center Podcast. "You have to have those guys coming off the ball. And because when you're playing
Tampa Two, the quarterbacks, know where you're going to be. They have an idea. And so you give a good quarterback that much time, you know, more than three seconds, and it's going to be a long day. So you got to invest in those front four guys, the outside backers. Hey, you know you're that WILL linebacker who is really the guy that has to hit that hole, the MIKE linebacker has got to be able to drop and really watch that pass down the middle, the SAM linebacker you're filling in, but those corners are vital they have to be really,
really tough and really disciplined. And it makes all the difference in the world with all those different routes and how the offense is always trying to play on those corners. And if they're not on their game and they stretch the safeties out, and they make the middle linebacker his drop invisible."
While general manager Ryan Poles spent big on the second level of the Bears' defense, he didn't get involved in a bidding war for any of the top defensive tackles and failed to add much-needed edge-rushing depth.
You can call Poles disciplined for not giving Javon Hargrave the $80-million contract the San Francisco 49ers did. Perhaps it was smart not to give Dre'Mont Jones, who profiles as more of a 3-4 end than a true three-technique, $50 million.
I can certainly see why Poles made those decisions.
But the Bears entered the offseason needing to fix a defensive line that couldn't breathe on opposing quarterbacks last season. Poles had $100 million in salary cap space to attack that area of weakness. He added defensive end DeMarcus Walker and defensive tackle Andrew Billings.
Walker is coming off a career year with the Tennessee Titans and has the versatility to play inside and outside. He'll be a clear upgrade over the recently-cut Al-Quadin Muhammad. Billings is a run-stopping nose tackle who should be good for 20-25 snaps a game.
Still, those additions aren't nearly enough to fix a front four that was arguably the worst in the NFL last season. Poles knows that.
"No doubt about it," Poles said when asked about the lack of defensive line depth and talent. "I know right now you get the sense that we gotta fix everything right now, and the options are going to be limited, but I feel comfortable between the rest of free agency -- we're only two days into it -- as well as in the draft that we can get that group as good as we possibly can.
"And at the same time, there are going to be some weak spots on our roster that we can't fix everything, but we are going to stay flexible to do the best we can to get better. And then, again, you go from a short-term thinking of we gotta do everything right now, you extend that out and do things the right way, over time we'll be able to heal up all of those positions."
Poles, head coach Matt Eberflus and his staff spent months meticulously dissecting the upcoming free-agent class. They placed each player into a certain "value bucket" and tried to add as many of those top-level value players as they could.
It's clear that Edmunds and Edwards were placed in the top value bucket. The Bears gave Edmunds $72 million to be their starting MIKE linebacker, a big-money deal that doesn't equal the 24-year-old's production in his first five seasons.
They wanted him and outbid other teams to secure his services.
The Bears got Edwards on what appears to be a hometown discount but still committed nearly $100 million to two linebackers.
Even if the Bears nailed the Edmunds and Edwards evaluations, it will mean very little if they can't find a way to give the unit in front of their prized free-agent acquisition a facelift.
"When you play in Tampa Two, you got to have those front four guys," Singletary reiterated. "You got to have a three-technique that can be extremely disruptive at that three, coming off the ball, raising all kind of havoc. The quarterback has to really get it, get back deep. He has to penetrate. You've got to have that end, you know, that end, the blindside end, man, he's got to come with it. Got to come with it all day. And if you got those guys, you got a chance. Other than that, man, quarterbacks will have some time, and you
know you're going to have great athletes on the back, but they're not going to be able to get there in time."
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So, what was the plan? Why outbid other teams for a MIKE linebacker in Edmunds without being willing to pay for at least one piece up front that could make his life easier?
Listen to Singletary, a guy who knows a thing or two about defense, and it's clear the Bears only put one-third of the puzzle together.
It's a puzzle they can't complete in one offseason, but the Bears focused all their energy on one corner instead of spreading it out to give them a better sense of what the picture looks like.
Poles was disciplined. No doubt. But his hard-line stance on value has the Bears speeding toward the draft with holes all across the defensive line. Holes that need to be at least partially patched up this offseason, or else the Bears' revamped linebacking corps will be rendered moot this fall.
I expect the Bears to use at least two of their first four picks on the defensive line.
The hope is that Poles will find at least one game-changer in the early rounds to get the defensive line makeover off the ground. This is a loaded edge rusher class with several solid defensive tackles. There's no excuse for the Bears to enter the 2023 season with a defensive line as flawed as the 2022 edition.
At the moment, that's what they have, which is what made Poles' free-agency decisions puzzling. P
As Singletary was quick to point out, if that doesn't change, then Poles' big moves won't have the desired game-changing impact for a Bears team just starting a lengthy rebuild.
Criticism should be reserved. Poles can still nail the draft, add a veteran or two to the line, and the Bears' defense can go from a complete sieve to something resembling competency.
But there's a lot of work to be done and little room for error.
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