The Chicago Bears tried in vain to bring back defensive tackle Amobi Okoye this past offseason. Chicago signed Okoye, a former 10th overall draft pick in 2007, to a one-year deal in 2011 free agency. He picked up 4.0 sacks last season and proved a very capable backup to Henry Melton at the club's 3-technique position.
Melton and Okoye combined for 11.0 sacks in 2011, the most by a Chicago defensive-tackle duo since 1995. The club wanted Okoye to return but couldn't promise him additional playing time. He wanted a shot at a starting gig and chose instead to sign a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He then had a knee scope in June, which limited his reps in the preseason. His lack of playing time eventually resulted in the Bucs cutting him last week.
During that time, the Bears tried tirelessly to find Okoye's replacement. They brought in a group of five veteran free agents and rookies to compete for the backup 3-technique spot. Nate Collins stood out during training camp, yet that still wasn't enough for Chicago.
As a result, at the start of training camp, GM Phil Emery traded away a seventh-round pick to the Bucs for Brian Price, a former second rounder whom had worn out his welcome in Tampa.
In May, Price's sister, Bridget James, was killed in a hit-and-run accident. Price was compelled to adopt his sister's two sons. The toll of the entire incident sent Price to the hospital shortly before the start of OTAs with extreme exhaustion.
Sadly, his sister was the third sibling Price has lost – two of his brothers were shot and killed while he was growing up.
The physical and emotional toll on Price was obvious in Bucs camp. During the offseason he got into a fistfight with a teammate during a film session and was subsequently excused from offseason activities. Everyone agreed that Price needed a change of scenery, so the Bears dropped a 2013 seventh-round pick for him in an effort to boost the club's defensive line rotation.
DT Amobi Okoye
Richard Mackson/US Presswire
Price showed up in Bourbonnais out of shape and struggled to finish a number of training camp practices. During the preseason games, Price showed a lot of explosiveness but his inability to stay on the field, due to his endurance issues, was too much for the team to overlook.
When Okoye again became available, Emery was quick to snatch him up on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum. To clear roster space, the club – just 39 days after trading a seventh-round pick for him – cut Price. In waiving him, the team was forced to pay his 2013 base guarantee of $510,000, which counts toward this year's salary cap.
Yet despite the cap hit, and the wasted seventh round pick, Emery had no qualms about cutting a player that didn't pan out.
This would have never happened under the watch of former GM Jerry Angelo, who far too often hung on to unproductive players because they were acquired in the draft or through trades. This caused the roster to stagnate, resulting in one playoff appearance the past five seasons.
Emery, on the other hand, is not afraid to admit his mistakes and move on. In addition to Price, the team also cut two draft picks: sixth-round CB Isaiah Frey and seventh-round KR Greg McCoy. There again was Emery doing what was best for the team, despite how it might make him look.
Sure he missed on some players, but what GM hasn't? The difference between Emery and Angelo is that Emery isn't afraid to admit he was wrong if it helps make the team better.
Heading into training camp, Emery outlined this strategy.
"The roster is fairly set – big picture in terms of where we're at in camp," he said. "But that roster may look different as we get into Game 1. It may look different as we're into Game 6. It may look different at the end of the year. That's where we work together — to make sure we have the absolute best players that are available at that time, with our given situation and where we're at with the cap, that makes sense to us to help us win championships."
With Price, Emery showed that the status quo is never good enough. If he can improve the roster – whether through trades, free agency or cuts – he's going to do it. There's no ego in Emery, only the desire to win championships. That should bode well for the organization throughout his tenure.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.