What Could Have Been: Defense

The Chicago Bears ranked 28th on defense in 2007, but GM Jerry Angelo didn't make much of an effort in free agency to improve. Defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek isn't any more durable, and safety Mike Brown is still a question mark. Making just one of the following moves would have helped greatly ...

Wilson could have been the perfect insurance policy at safety for Brown
Lovie Smith's Cover-2 scheme simply doesn't work if he's not getting top-notch play from the safety position, which was certainly the case this past season. Mike Brown tore an ACL in Week 1 and again forced to injured reserve, and Adam Archuleta was a colossal disappointment after coming over from the Redskins in a trade. Danieal Manning and Brandon McGowan are solid NFL players, although Manning has a tendency to blow assignments from time to time and McGowan doesn't have great cover skills down the field.

Brown is the lifeblood of the defense, both with the way he plays on the field and the way he leads off it, but he's now battled serious injury each of the last four years.

Without him for 15-plus games, the Monsters of the Midway fell all the way to 27th in the league defending the pass at 231.8 yards allowed per game.

Former Giant Gibril Wilson would have been an immediate upgrade in the defensive backfield, especially since general manager Jerry Angelo is on record saying that he simply can't count on Brown to play a snap in 2008.

Just a fifth-round pick out of Tennessee in 2004, Wilson became a very good player in New York and registered a total of 309 tackles his last three seasons for the G-Men. Perhaps most importantly, he's proven to be durable and has only missed four games since 2005 – Brown, on the other hand, has been sidelined for 43 of his last 64 regular-season games. Wilson came with a hefty price tag for the Raiders at $39 million over six years, but it's possible he might not have been as expensive in Chicago because it's common knowledge that Oakland is forced to overpay for free agents since the organization is in such disarray.

Bottom Line: Second-year pro Kevin Payne could be an option if he returns healthy from 2007's broken arm, but the Bears' continued reliance on Brown sounds a lot like the Cubs' continued reliance on the equally-brittle Kerry Wood.

Stroud would have been the addition Walker was supposed to be last year
While the Bears were dealing with injuries and ineffectiveness in the secondary most of this past season, the defensive tackle position was nothing short of a M*A*S*H unit. Dusty Dvoracek looked great in the preseason after missing all of his rookie campaign with a bad foot, but he suffered a serious knee injury in Week 1 and headed right back to IR. Tommie Harris played on a sprained knee he sustained in Week 3 and made his third straight Pro Bowl, although he got there largely on reputation and disappeared completely on more than one occasion.

DT Marcus Stroud
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Darwin Walker wasn't nearly the player he was billed to be after coming over in a training-camp trade, Anthony Adams was decent before landing on injured reserve, and Antonio Garay has never been anything more than serviceable – even he finished the year on IR.

Walker was let go before his $5.2 million roster bonus hit the books this month, so even though Dvoracek is apparently ahead of schedule in terms of his rehab, depth at D-tackle is again a concern just before the NFL Draft.

But instead of investing another second- or third-round draft pick on an unproven rookie that may not contribute right away, why didn't Angelo make a play for former Jaguar Marcus Stroud?

A three-time All-Pro who helped form arguably the best defensive-tackle combination in the league alongside John Henderson in Jacksonville, Stroud is a monster at 6-6 and 312 pounds. Originally selected 13th overall out of Georgia, Stroud played in every game his first five seasons in the league before battling injuries of his own in `06 and `07. The Bills acquired him for a third-rounder and a fifth-rounder in April's draft, which doesn't sound like too steep a price for a player of his ability – especially since the Bears own two picks in Round 3.

Bottom Line: It's true that Stroud was handed a four-game suspension in 2007 for violating the NFL's steroids policy, but that didn't ruin San Diego's Shawne Merriman of his reputation as one of the best defenders in football.

Briggs should have been allowed to walk because he's quite replaceable
If there's a silver lining that came out of a somewhat uneventful free-agency period for the Midway Monsters, it's that they were able to keep three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs for relatively reasonable money. The six-year, $36 million contract he signed was pretty similar to the six-year, $33 million offer he turned down before 2006, although Briggs claims that this deal is more front-loaded. Bernard Berrian got six years and $42 million from the Vikings, and he hasn't even registered a 1,000-yard season yet.

And keeping Briggs could be even more important depending on what happens with former Defensive Player of the Year Brian Urlacher, who dealt with back tendonitis in 2007 and had a surgical procedure done on his neck during the offseason.

The Bears have now kept one of the best linebacking corps in the league intact, with Hunter Hillenmeyer authoring his best performance yet this past season from his position on the strong side.

However, since Briggs' spot on the weak side has never truly required a top-tier talent in the Cover-2 system, wouldn't it have made more sense to let Mr. Lamborghini walk and replace him with ready-to-start Jamar Williams?

It's true that Briggs is a better defensive player than Berrian will ever be as an offensive player, but it's easier to replace an outside linebacker than it is to find another No. 1 wideout. Williams started twice on the weak side in 2007 when Briggs was dealing with minor injuries, and there wasn't much of a dropoff in terms of production. On the other hand, the receiver position as a whole is in shambles right now because Marty Booker is on the back nine of his career, Mark Bradley hasn't been the same since blowing out his knee as a rookie in `05, and Devin Hester was defending passes instead of catching them as recently as a year ago.

Bottom Line: Not to say that having Briggs line up next to Urlacher for the foreseeable future is a bad thing, but perhaps that $36 million would have been better spent on a porous offensive line that is yet to be addressed in free agency.

To go back and read Part I of the "What Could Have Been" series, when your dearly devoted Publisher took a look at the offensive side of the ball, Click Here.

John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

Bear Report Top Stories