PHOENIX – Former Bears general manager Phil Emery didn’t talk to the media on the record during the previous two NFL annual meetings, but his team certainly made a lot of noise.
Repeat: A lot.
While first-year general manager Ryan Pace gets his bearings at his first meetings, it’s worth looking back at everything that happened at them under Emery.
Last year at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando Grande Lakes, the Bears announced the signing of defensive end Jared Allen moments after the media’s availability with former coach Marc Trestman during the NFC coaches breakfast had ended.
It was the result of some deft overnight negotiations by Emery and vice president of football administration Cliff Stein, which included concealing their talks with Allen’s agent from a national ESPN reporter who nearly stumbled upon their conversations.
There was more, too. The Bears re-negotiated Cutler’s massive contract, and details became known while the meetings played out.
But even Allen’s deal – which includes $12.5 million for the 2015 season – and Cutler’s contract reworking couldn’t upstage what transpired a year earlier when the Bears unceremoniously said farewell to an icon.
Following the conclusion of the 2013 meetings at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, the host venue again this year, the Bears announced that “they were unable to reach accord on a contract with [linebacker] Brian Urlacher for the 2013 season” and that “Urlacher is a free agent after playing the last 13 years with the Bears.”
It came hours after Trestman said that he had spoken to Urlacher and told him that there was a role for him on his Bears.
Later that day, an enraged Urlacher would call the Bears’ take-it-or-leave-it offer insulting and then some. It was the vocal start of the undeniable rift between team and star that was mended by chairman George McCaskey and the Bears’ recent regime change.
This year, Pace and new coach John Fox are the ones with the McCaskey family at the Biltmore – a favorite spot for the Bears’ owners.
There are two days remaining at the meetings, but it’s unlikely this year will end in the same noisy fashion as the previous two.
That’s not to say a signing won’t be completed – there are agents working the hallways and courtyards of the Biltmore — or that news won’t break about a popular veteran. Linebacker Lance Briggs (who has been linked to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and San Francisco 49ers) and cornerback Charles Tillman are free agents.
But even though Pace has been on the job for just over two months, he doesn’t seem to have the same method of operation as his predecessor.
The win-now pressure that seemed to drive Emery isn’t as prevalent. Pace, who will meet with the Chicago media on Tuesday, is widely regarded in league circles to have a big rebuild on his hands, and the draft is the best way to do that.
Every March under Emery, meanwhile, featured some major moves, whether it was trading for receiver Brandon Marshall in 2012, his free-agent signings over the past two years or a press release that was titled: “Bears unable to reach agreement with Urlacher for 2013.”