Wednesday, September 24, 2008

2005: The End of an Era

I paid FIVE DOLLARS for this damned thing.

It was only a little over three years ago that the NFL draft came to a close, and after the sheer mind-fucking torture of the 2004 season, (You know, the one that featured Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn, and damn near Jeff George serving as injury replacements for Rex Grossman?) and I had one of those brief moments of hope that I should have learned not to have anymore, by that point in time. I mean, we had drafted Cedric Benson, a by-god marquee talent who was more NFL-ready than any of the others in a top-heavy running back class, and on top of all that, he was drafted fourth overall. You know who else the Bears drafted at number four? Walter Fucking Payton, that's who. And we got Mark Bradley! Sure, he was a bit of a project player who had mostly returned kicks, but god damn, he had the size, he had the hands, and oh boy, how he could run. And in the fourth round, a steal in Kyle Orton, a quarterback that I had heard of before the draft, which if you know my non-following of college football, was a pretty big deal. Not to mention wide receiver Airese Currie, a man as fast as greased lightning, strapped to lasers which had also been greased, and then fired through one of those fancy rail guns that they're supposedly actually making in real life soon. And the rail gun was greased, too. Greased with SPEED. All the parts were falling into place. My god, it was going to be beautiful.

But then, reality set in.

Today, (or yesterday, depending on how long it takes to type this) the bell tolled, and Mark Bradley did not send to know for whom it tolled, for it tolled for him. He had twice sat on the brink of being "something special," first in a rookie-year game against the Lions, where he helped spark a victory by hauling in five passes for 88 yards, including a 50-yarder, but which also included an ACL tear. The next year, he was a starting wide receiver destined for greatness with Rex Grossman - who was still thought to be an actual NFL quarterback at the time - at the helm. Alas, he fucked up his ankle early on, which opened the door for Bernard Berrian to step in and own the job, which somehow convinced the dumbasses in Minnesota that he was worth like 7 million a year. After that, he was in the doghouse with the coaching staff for reasons which never became clear, but were rumored to include his dead-on-balls accurate, yet completely unflattering, impression of coach Lovie Smith. He was basically never heard from again, even when healthy and otherwise playing well, and today, he got the axe so that the Bears could sign a cornerback, which is a position they've already got like eight guys at. And with Bradley gone, this leaves Kyle Orton as the last remaining member of the 2005 draft class to still be employed with the Chicago football Bears. And with him on a one-year deal and not exactly emerging as a superstar, the book has all but closed on what was originally thought to be a pretty decent draft. In the meantime, let's take a look back at the others who have fallen along the way:

Cedric Benson ended up being the Bears' biggest draft bust I can remember, and I can remember shit heels like Stan Thomas and John Thierry. He was a completely unnecessary choice, coming hot on the heels of Thomas Jones damn near running for a thousand yards without any passing game to take pressure off the running game, in addition to being the Bears' biggest threat in the damn passing game, as well. But he didn't fit Ron Turner's system, which shunned quickness, speed, versatility, blocking, hands, and leadership from the running back position in favor of... Cedric Benson. He was slow, couldn't block, couldn't catch, had severe attitude problems, was hated by his teammates, and was probably an alcoholic. His only redeeming qualities might have been bitchin' dreads and a love of Sun Chips. But by god, he was Turner's boy, and as soon as he was done spending the next two seasons racking up another 2,500 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, Jones was traded for a song to the Jets, and Benson - who never even came close to supplanting Jones in a fair fight - became the starter. And we all know how that turned out. I'm willing to guess that when he got busted for being black on a boat and later for being shitfaced in a car, the front office types had to be more relieved than disappointed, freed from the albatross around their neck, a 220 pound albatross that cried in public about being compared to Ricky Williams (With Williams being the exact opposite: Instead of being a drunk who sucked at football, he was a pothead who excelled at it) and could be arm-tackled by a crippled child. Somewhere, Ron Turner clutches an old #32 jersey and weeps.

In the fifth round came the aforementioned speed demon wide receiver, former track star Airese Currie. Currie was perhaps the ultimate speed-merchant; a man gifted with the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and the speed of Mercury, who subsequently decided that he really, REALLY dug the hell out of the "speed of Mercury" part and traded the wisdom, strength, stamina, power, and courage in for even greater amounts of speed. As Jerry Clower might have put it, he was forevermore fast. But there were problems. Well, for starters, there was the fact that he couldn't catch, run routes, or do much of anything else involving football very well. Well, okay, you could just coach him up, right? Nope, that would involve a receivers coach more competent than Darryl Drake, a man who could make Jerry Rice start dropping Nerf balls with only three coaching sessions. But okay, why not just send him down the field and hope he snags a deep one or two, or at the very least, draws some coverage off a real wide receiver? No dice, the man was not only faster than a speeding bullet; he was also faster than his own damn tendons and ligaments. In two years, Currie stayed off injured reserve long enough to play in exactly one football game, before being cut and heading for the Canadian League, which is something we refer to in America as "making the decision to leave professional football." But boyyyyy, was he fast!

The last two throwaway rounds gave the Bears linebacker Rodriques Wilson and safety Chris Harris. Wilson never amounted to much, but that's okay, because seventh-round linebackers are never supposed to amount to much. He hung around for a couple of years as second-string middle linebacker behind Brian Urlacher, which is to say that whenever Urlacher got hurt, Wilson would stay his ass on the bench while Hunter Hillenmeyer moved from the strong side to the middle and someone like Jamar Williams served as the actual backup. Sixth-rounder Harris was a nice surprise, starting 15 games at strong safety his rookie year and seven more in an injury-shortened 2006. He seemed to be this close to having a breakout year, but ended up getting traded to the Panthers in 2007, mainly because the Bears had signed Adam Archuleta and just had to have back a fifth round pick they had traded away the year before. In the end, Archuleta sucked just as bad as he had sucked the previous year in Washington and just as bad as everyone on Earth knew he was going to suck, Harris become a ball-hawking turnover machine who led the league in forced fumbles, and that fifth round draft pick became half-crippled cornerback Zackary Bowman, a reach who ended up on the practice squad.

Such is the legacy of the Chicago Bears 2005 draft class. A quarterback who's just keeping the spot warm for whatever future failures the team has in mind for the position that's been damn near vacant since 1948, a pretty good player for a different team, and a handful of headcases and cripples, all of whom are more or less done as far as the National Football League is concerned, save possibly Bradley.

The hurting really never does stop.

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