Former Chicago Bears GM Jerry Angelo selected eight first-round draft picks during his 11-year tenure with the organization. With the club trading offensive lineman Gabe Carimi to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yesterday, none of those first rounders remain on the roster. In fact, only one – Greg Olsen – is still a starter in the league.
For all you future GMs out there, that is a textbook way to stall an organization, particularly in the free-agency era, where first-round selections are akin to gold.
And so Phil Emery has been left to pick up the pieces.
The saga of Carimi puts a cap on the Angelo era but does it signal the beginning of a new era, one in which success will come on a yearly basis instead of a few times per decade? And in simpler terms, did the Bears get better by trading Carimi?
To answer that question, we have to consider how this all unfolded. A four-year starter at left tackle for Wisconsin, Carimi was awarded the Outland Trophy his senior season, given to the best offensive lineman in the nation. He showed extreme confidence at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, saying he was the best lineman in that draft. Yet, despite his self-assurance and his success in college, he fell all the way to the Bears at 29th overall.
One scout we talked to said Carimi was considered an injury risk by many teams heading into the draft and that he didn't have the lateral agility to play on the left side. It turns out he was right on both counts.
His rookie year, the Bears never even tested him at left tackle, inserting Carimi immediately on the right edge. He took his lumps during training camp and was routinely beat by Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. Yet during the preseason, Carimi appeared the most stable piece of an extremely shaky front five.
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse just six quarters into his rookie season, when Carimi dislocated his right kneecap. He immediately had surgery to fix the knee and was projected to come back in roughly six weeks. During the Week 8 bye, he returned to practice but experienced a setback almost immediately. That prompted another knee scope and landed him on injured reserve.
He had a third surgery last offseason and was noticeably bothered by the knee during 2012 training camp. Things got worse when the regular season started, as Carimi could not keep anyone out of the backfield as a pass blocker. In the run game, he was his usual dominant self but his inability to move in space was exploited by almost every defender that lined up across from him. It all culminated in the Week 11 loss to the San Francisco 49ers when Carimi gave up 5.5 sacks to Aldon Smith. He was demoted the next day, with Jonathan Scott replacing him at right tackle.
Yet Carimi didn't sit for long, as injuries thrust him back into the starting lineup almost immediately. He ended up starting four of the final five games last year, three at right guard, where he performed noticeably better.
Fast forward to this offseason, the first under new head coach Marc Trestman. During voluntary minicamps, Carimi said there were three positions up for grabs along the starting offensive line – left guard, right guard and right tackle – and that he would be competing for all three. But when asked what position Carimi will play, Trestman left no room for interpretation.
"Guard," Trestman said in March. "We're going to focus in on him competing at the guard position."
A few weeks later, it was reported that Carimi was to skip organized team activities (OTAs), which are voluntary practices. Despite the fact 89 other players showed up for OTAs, the first full set of practices under a brand new coaching staff, Emery said all the right things regarding Carimi's return.
"We'll welcome him with open arms when he comes," Emery said last week. "I look forward to seeing how he's doing."
Although, when asked if Carimi would be in attendance for veteran minicamp this week, Emery couldn't give a definitive answer.
"That'll be up to Gabe. You might want to ask him that," said Emery. "I'm assuming that he will be. Those are questions only Gabe can answer."
Bear Report was told that Carimi skipped OTAs because he believed the Bears mishandled his knee injury and that time away from the training staff, working out with LaCharles Bentley in Arizona, would be the best thing for his health.
"We'd like all our players to be here but Gabe made a decision that was best for Gabe so every individual player has to make those decisions," Emery said. "[OTAs] is voluntary and we're going to respect that and we're going to respect Gabe in his decisions."
Carimi flew back into town last Friday ready to compete for a starting gig. He'll never get that chance, as he's now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Here's the long and short of it: Carimi didn't want to be here and the Bears were happy to oblige. A lot of folks are stuck on the "voluntary" label of OTAs. While players don't technically have to show up, Carimi was not in a position to sit out three weeks of practice.
Trestman and new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer are installing a brand new offense, with a new zone-blocking scheme, a system that relies almost entirely on chemistry amongst the offensive linemen. Carimi sat out and 89 other players were in attendance. You can't tell me that didn't leave a bad taste in Trestman's mouth. You also can't tell me that Carimi wouldn't have been three, four or five steps behind the rest of his linemates in terms of his knowledge of the new system.
So let's look at it from the organization's standpoint: Carimi has a questionable knee, he was horrible last year, he was the only player to miss OTAs, there are already 15 linemen on the roster, which includes first rounder Kyle Long, and the coaching staff is going to need to spend extra time with him to get him up to speed.
It's hard to argue with the trade when you consider those factors. But you can question whether a sixth-round draft pick was acceptable value for a player selected 29th overall just two years ago. That is some severe depreciation, making it easy to wonder whether this was a knee-jerk, get-what-we-can reaction by Bears brass. If Carimi returns to full health and goes on to have a long career as a starter, Emery is going to look pretty foolish.
So did the Bears get better? Yes, but only because I firmly believe Carimi was on his way to being cut this year. And when you throw in the fact he didn't want to be here, the club now avoids a potentially messy PR situation with a disgruntled player and a Chicago media that has historically salivated over such drama.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.