Let’s go back to Sept. 2, 2013. The Bears still were run by general manager Phil Emery, and Marc Trestman’s first season as coach would kick off in five days.
At a news conference, Emery emphasized how much work was ahead, presenting his own research — as he was known to do — about the Bears’ homegrown talent.
“What I saw was 29 out of the 53 players that we have or roughly 55 percent are original Bears,” Emery said. “The Green Bay Packers are 43 of 53, the Minnesota Vikings are 39 of 53 and the Detroit Lions are 27 of 53.
“I firmly believe that the best way to build a team is [through] your own original talent — your draft picks, your college free agents.”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because new general manager Ryan Pace made similar remarks at his introductory news conference and at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Criticize Emery all you want for some of his draft selections, but they’re not why he’s gone. What really doomed Emery was hiring Trestman, as well as his aggressive approach to spending, whether it was free agents or his own players.
Emery wanted to win now — and you can’t fault him for that —but he never got the bang for his millions and millions of bucks.
So fast-forward to the present, with free agency officially set to open Tuesday at 3 p.m., and Pace’s plans and overall philosophy become clear.
The word is out about the Bears’ rebuilding efforts. League sources have indicated that the Bears have had to sell it to free agents, and some have been more open than others.
The Bears have agreed to terms with Baltimore Ravens linebacker/defensive end Pernell McPhee.
It’s a five-year deal that is reportedly worth $16 million guaranteed. McPhee, 26, isn’t a splash signing, but it’s still a considerable amount for a player who hasn’t started a game in two seasons, even if he can play many positions.
The big question is whether that spending continues.
In all his public statements, chairman George McCaskey has insisted that his team will be competitive at a playoff level. And with roughly $30 million in cap space available, Pace can be active in free agency with that in mind.
But if Pace is really trying to rebuild and rid the Bears of their reliance on free agency, a more guarded approach to spending may be best.
“The problem with a lot of [teams] is that they get into quick fixes that may not work out, and then you’ve retarded developing players that could have been streaming upward by then,” ESPN front-office analyst Andrew Brandt said.
“Salary-cap room is used for however you want to use it — if you want to use it on free agents, if you want to use it to re-sign your own guys [or] if you have to save more this year and bring it over till next year.’’
The Bears’ reliance on free agency is obvious when you check out their financial makeup.
Of the Bears’ top-10 salary-cap hits for 2015, only one player — running back Matt Forte — started his career with the team. The Packers, meanwhile, are the exact opposite. Former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers is the exception.
“Honestly, I respect what Green Bay has done,” Pace said at his introduction.
Brandt spent nine years as a Packers vice president in charge of negotiations and the salary cap. He has some advice Pace and the Bears should consider.
“[The Packers’ philosophy] was, basically, keep your hands in your pockets the first 48 hours,” Brandt said.
“Let the stupid money be spent, then see what’s there. You’re never going to get bargains early in free agency, but you can at least avoid overpaying. There are a lot of cautionary tales out there.”