In the first 10 days of the league season, in his first season as a general manager, Phil Emery orchestrated a flurry of activity in his initial efforts to close the talent gap between the Bears and their NFC North competition in Green Bay and Detroit.
That was the mandate from Bears president and CEO Ted Phillips when he fired Jerry Angelo and hired Emery in January. Close the talent gap.
"We intend to compete next year," Phillips said the day he fired Angelo. "(The) decision was made that we need to keep up the pace with our division rivals. We want to close that talent gap."
So far, so good.
Most of the early returns have been positive; a lot of fans are practically giddy. But no one believes that Emery's work is completed.
Brandon Marshall, while he comes with a buyer-beware tag, elevates the Bears' passing offense to a level not seen in the Lovie Smith era. Jay Cutler and Marshall both made the Pro Bowl when they collaborated for two full seasons in Denver. Both are better, more experienced players now.
Marshall cost the Bears just two third-round picks, and the $27.5 million he's due over the next three years is about $2 million a year less than the Bucs will pay Vincent Jackson, who is a year older than Marshall. Jackson has three 1,000-yard seasons; Marshall has five in a row. In that time, Jackson has 4,242 yards, while Marshall has 5,938, and he leads in receptions 474-242. Marshall has 32 touchdown catches; one more than Jackson.
Unrestricted free agent Michael Bush is the best backup running back on the Bears' roster since Cedric Benson played behind Thomas Jones in 2006. Incumbent starter, franchise player and world-class whiner Matt Forte may not think picking up Bush was a good idea. But he was arguably the best back on the market, and he gives the Bears peace of mind if Forte gets hurt or decides he's too insulted by his $7.742 million salary to come to work.
With the addition of quarterback Jason Campbell and the re-signing of Josh McCown behind Cutler, the Bears' backup quarterbacks have a combined 103 starts in the NFL, 70 of them by Campbell, who was a starter in each of the past five seasons.
Considering the Bears averaged 26.8 points in the 10 games that Jay Cutler played and scored 30 or more in six of them, the team may finally have an offense that the defense can be proud of.
But Cutler won't stay healthy, and he won't have time to get the ball to Marshall unless the offensive line improves. No talent has been added in an area that was a sore spot in 2011. The expected return of last year's first-round pick, Gabe Carimi, will help. But more help is needed before the line can be considered a playoff-caliber unit.
Improvements at the skill positions will be undermined if the guys up front don't perform at a higher level.
And the defense hasn't gotten any better yet. Re-signing unrestricted defensive end Israel Idonije helps maintain the status quo, but it doesn't help the pass rush, which was a weakness last season. There's not much left in free agency, so any pass-rush improvement, and any help for the offensive line help will have to come from the draft at the end of April.
That's where the pressure will really be on Emery to outdo his predecessor.
"Obviously we want to do better in the early parts of the draft," Phillips said back in January.
Closing the gap depends on it.
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