The 2004 season was an ugly one for the Chicago Bear's offense. In his first season as head coach, Lovie Smith watched as his point-producing unit finished dead last in the league in total offense and passing offense, as well as 25th in rushing. The previous offseaso, Chicago traded its best receiver, Marty Booker, for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. After 2004, it was obvious the passing game needed an upgrade.
The Bears went hunting in free agency and found a player, Muhsin Muhammad, that in 2004 caught 93 passes for 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns playing for Carolina. Chicago signed him to a six-year deal worth up to $30 million, with $12 million guaranteed. The first three years of the contract paid him $16 million.
It was thought Muhammad would provide an immediate and substantial upgrade to a receiving corps that, as a group, totaled just 111 catches, 1,561 yards and three touchdowns in 2004.
"I don't think there is one person that's a Superman in this sport that can totally revolutionize or change a team," Muhammad said after signing his deal. "But I have a lot of experience at what I do and I'm going to bring that experience to Chicago. I'm going to bring my leadership skills and hopefully I influence enough people to make the team better."
WR Muhsin Muhammad
While Muhammad did bring leadership, his production nowhere near matched his contract. With the Bears, he failed to catch more than 64 passes, 864 yards or five touchdowns in any given year. His final season in Chciago, for which he was being paid more than $7 million, he recorded 40 receptions for 570 yards and 3 TDs – the equivalent of a typical No. 3 receiver.
After the 2007 season, Chicago cut bait with its expensive pass catcher. Muhammad went on to blame the organization, calling it the place "where receivers go to die," instead of taking responsibility for his poor play. But at this point, do we really expect anything more from a position filled with divas?
Fast forward to the present, where rumors continue to swirl regarding the current crop of free-agent receivers and whether or not they are on Chicago's radar. Names like Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinoco, Sidney Rice, Braylan Edwards and Plaxico Burress have been tossed around as possible cures to what ails the Bears' passing game. Yet all of those players – even Burress, who spent the last two years in jail – will command a hefty contract.
Whether or not the team truly needs a big-name receiver is still up for debate. Even Lovie Smith, at the recent NFL owners meetings, said he wouldn't mind having a big-bodied, No. 1 wideout. Yet, with the aforementioned Muhammad debacle still relatively fresh in GM Jerry Angelo's mind, is it really plausible he will pony up big dollars for a pass catcher?
One has to believe that, with all the money the team wasted on Muhammad, the front office will be very hesitant to cut a large check for a player at the same position. If the team does decide to make a splash in free agency, it's assured they will do a better job of vetting the available receivers, something in which they failed regarding Muhammad.
What no one took into consideration after the 2004 season was Muhammad's gaudy numbers were the sole result of his receiving partner, All Pro Steve Smith, landing on injured reserve in the 2004 preseason with a broken leg. The Panthers had no other receivers of note, and as such, Muhammad received nearly all of the looks in the passing game. Yet he caught no more than 63 passes in any of the three seasons previous. In essence, the Bears fell in love with a player whose production was mostly smoke and mirrors.
Don't expect the team to make the same mistake this offseason. Every big-name receiver out there has significant question marks attached to him. Because of Muhammad, the Bears won't be as likely to gloss over those deficiencies. So when the team is considering spending its free agent money, and the decision comes down to choosing a linebacker or wide receiver, expect the defensive player to take priority.
They say those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Let's hope Angelo has a photographic memory.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider