Really, when we look back, it began with more of a whimper than a bang. Brad Maynard, who had been with the team and been the glue that solidified what had been a below average punting game since 2001, was passed over in favor of a new punter. Not too many people pay much attention to a punter unless he screws up, but perhaps we all should have.
Brad Maynard was merely the first domino to fall in what is starting to become apparent as a changing of the guard for the Bears, the next being Olin Kreutz. Olin has been a Chicago Bear since 1998, and has been an absolute anchor to a line that has seen many a bad quarterback. In fact, in the absense of a real leader at QB, Olin took on that job and became the defacto leader of the offense and the lockerroom, made necessary by the Bears’ ineptness at putting together a real NFL caliber offense. Ever since, Olin has been a fixture, a mainstay in the lockerroom.
However, every career has an end, and Olin just hasn’t performed as well the last few years, lockerroom antics aside. Ultimately, it was his lockerroom manipulation and status that ended him, as he used coaches and teammates to politic for him to come back, when he could have just taken the $4m offered by the Bears and made one last run at it.
No, this isn’t just a one-shot either. We often think of our favorite players who stand the test of time as ageless immortals, who will be there forever, holding up the pillars of the team and our fanhood. But the reality is the NFL is a harsh, cut-throat business where winning matters more than loyalty, and production is the currency of choice for Superbowl-contending teams, something Olin just couldn’t afford.
And looking down the line, he isn’t going to be the last fan fav to run out of that currency in the near future. Fans need to be prepared for guys like Lance Briggs, Peanut Tillman, Patrick Mannelly, and the mighty Brian Urlacher to be the next on the way out. One could even argue that Brian was heading that direction when an unfortunate arm break actually extended his career by forcing him to take a year off to get healthy.
Now I am not saying these guys will be actively replaced, but they are the longest tenured Bears whose best years are behind them. And the Bears front office realizes this and have begun the process of bringing in depth that will also allow the Bears to transition into the new core that will lead the team into the next decade. As guys like Lach and Briggs fall, guys like Jay Cutler will be expected to step up.
It’s an odd, confusing, agonizing, and frustrating time to be a Bears fan, but its one we must all weather in the coming years, as the old guard falls to the wayside, and the Bears of Tomorrow take their place, until 10-15 years later, when we must all go through the process all over again…