Defending Jerry Angelo: Why the Chicago Bears Ex-GM Was Not All That Bad

JANGELOFor Chicago Bears fans, former general manager Jerry Angelo was the go-to scapegoat. If something went wrong with the team, it was Angelo’s fault. And, a fair number of times, it probably was his fault. He consistently failed to fix the offensive line and made some questionable personnel decisions that were detrimental to the team. When he was let go in January of 2011, it was time for a change in direction and it was the best thing for the team.

In spite of all of this, Angelo was actually not too bad in the NFL draft. Naysayers will point to his first-round busts as instant indications of Angelo’s poor drafting, but overall, he did an excellent job of finding gems in the draft. It is arguable that he was one of the most successful late-round drafters in the league. He had a surprising knack for finding quality talent in rounds four through seven.

The flaws in his drafting came more-so in the positions he failed to address, rather than the actual players that he chose. He did have a few first round busts, and that is inexcusable for an NFL general manager, but those should not overshadow his brilliance in the rest of the draft.

Look at some of the Bears’ best draft picks of the last decade: DE Alex Brown (fourth round), LB Lance Briggs (third round), S Chris Harris (seventh round), QB Kyle Orton (fourth round), DE Mark Anderson (fifth round), WR Johnny Knox (fifth round), DT Henry Melton (fourth round), and DE Corey Wootton (fourth round). All of them, and others, have been significant contributors for the Bears and were all late-round picks. He was even able to find two starters for the offensive line in the seventh round in Lance Louis and J’Marcus Webb.

Believe it or not, Webb was a remarkable pick. The only seventh-round pick since 2000 to start more games than Webb is WR Stevie Johnson of the Buffalo Bills. Bears fans will be quick to point out that Webb only started out of necessity, but does that really diminish it? He has started for the last three seasons, including 12 games his rookie year, so has been the best they have had.

The Bears had three seasons to get someone better than him, and they tried, but they were unable to find anyone to unseat him. He was not necessarily great, but the fact that he remained starter for three seasons as a seventh-round pick is a testament to how great of a draft pick he was. It is not like he was a first-round pick, where the team feels the need to give him playing time. Seventh-round picks are usually disposable, and Webb was not.

Now, it is a big deal that he was recently benched in training camp, when in reality, it was remarkable that he was starting in the first place. For any other seventh-round pick, it would just be passed over. No one usually cares when late round picks are benched. He is one of the best, if not the best, offensive tackles ever taken in the seventh round. That should be a pretty big highlight on Jerry Angelo’s draft resume.

He had three drafts without a first round pick, two leaving from the Jay Cutler trade and one used to trade down in the 2006 draft. Four of his first round picks were considered busts – WR David Terrell, OT Marc Colombo, DE Michael Haynes, and OT Chris Williams.

Colombo is arguable because while his time in Chicago was injury-ridden, he would revive his career with the Dallas Cowboys and be a fine right tackle for his final six seasons. Chris Williams too would start 38 games for the Bears, but he could not find a position and did not have the consistency to keep his job.

Angelo did have some first-round success too. 2003 first-round pick Rex Grossman would start for the Bears’ 2006 Super Bowl team. 2005 first-round pick Cedric Benson would also be a big part of that offense. On the defensive side of that roster was 2004 first-round pick Tommie Harris, who would have five sacks that season and eight sacks in the following season. 2007 first-round pick Greg Olsen would be a favorite target of Kyle Orton and Jay Cutler while he was a member of the Bears.

Some of the best Bears players of the last decade were Angelo’s second and third round picks. Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs were the Bears’ second-and-third-round picks, respectively, in the 2003 draft. Danieal Manning and Devin Hester were both second-round picks in the 2006 draft. Manning was and still is a quality starter in the league, and Hester is a potential Hall of Famer. The 2008 draft saw the Bears get Matt Forte and Earl Bennett in the second and third round, respectively. They have been crucial parts of the Bears’ offenses of the last five seasons.

Every draft that Angelo was a part of was able to produce at least two productive players, with the majority bringing in three or four. The 2001 draft had RB Anthony Thomas and OL Mike Gandy; 2002 had G Terrence Metcalf, Alex Brown, RB Adrian Peterson, and Marc Colombo to an extent. The 2003 draft yielded Grossman, Tillman, Briggs, and WR Justin Gage. 2004 produced Harris, DT Tank Johnson, WR Bernard Berrian, and CB Nathan Vasher. ’05 had Benson,  Orton, Harris, and LB Rod Wilson.

The second half of Angelo’s tenure was much the same. The 2006 NFL draft had Manning, Hester, and Mark Anderson, while 2007 brought Olsen, RB Garrett Wolfe, OL Josh Beekman, S Kevin Payne, and CB Corey Graham. The previously mentioned Forte and Bennett were a part of the 2008 draft, along with S Craig Steltz, CB Zack Bowman, and TE Kellen Davis. Angelo’s final two drafts included Henry Melton, CB D.J. Moore, Johnny Knox, and Lance Louis in 2009 and S Major Wright, Wootton, and Webb in 2010.

Compare those outputs to some other NFL teams during that span, and it is evident that Angelo was right up there with the best.  Even the great New England Patriots were only pumping out three or four quality players out of each draft.

While the first-round busts were a major negative, Jerry Angelo’s overall drafting was a positive, and should not have been a major factor in his firing. If he was able to bring in quality players with every draft, does it really matter what round they were drafted in? Sure, teams would like to hit on all of their early round picks, but if the amount of talent brought in is the same, should Angelo be at fault for a bad draft? He brought a lot of good players to Chicago and really built the foundation of the defense.

A lot of his problems came in free agency for both the moves he made and the ones he didn’t. His failure to fix the offensive line was probably the biggest. Failing to bring in quality wide receivers was a major problem too. The fact that he thought Roy Williams was a solution is quite telling. The invested money in Orlando Pace, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuna were also big negatives.

However, he should receive credit for some of the good moves he made. He brought in arguably the best quarterback in the history of the franchise in Cutler. If he has a breakout season, it will be because Angelo had the guts to trade for him. He also signed Julius Peppers, who is one of the most important members of the defense.

This is in no way advocating that Angelo was a good general manager. His decision-making often hurt the Bears more than it helped. Still, the fact that he was with the team for 10 seasons says something about his ability. He put together a Super Bowl team in 2006 and another NFC Championship game in 2010, and that is something that not too many general managers can say. listed him as the third best NFL general manager in 2007, but from there, it was all downhill.

Even so, it is surprising that he has yet to find a job. Perhaps he is not looking. After all, he had a pretty nice run. It is unlikely that a team would hire him as general manager, but he should definitely be considered for slightly lesser front-office jobs, if he is interested. He was not all that bad in Chicago and would be a great member for any front office.