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Roster mismanagement could be downfall

Puzzling Bush situation among moves that could prove costly

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012 11:27 p.m. CDT

BY MIKE MULLIGAN

Chicago TribuneSpecial Contributor

The franchise of Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Red Grange could become the attack of Kahlil Bell, Armando Allen and maybe even Harvey Unga on Sunday at Detroit.

Unga is on the practice squad and Bell has already been signed off the street and moved ahead of him, but there is no telling how desperate the Bears will be.

They hope Matt Forte will be sufficiently recovered from his third sprained ankle of the season to lead a playoff push against the Lions. Forte went down after his first carry of the second half Sunday at Arizona and left in a walking cast.

Forte’s injury leaves the Bears deep in makeshift mode after they pulled the plug on reserve Michael Bush’s season when he failed a pregame fitness test with a rib injury before the Packers game in Week 15. You can’t help but wonder about that decision now.

The Bears reportedly expected Bush to play against the Packers, and when he couldn’t, they were short-handed. They were then embarrassed by a significant short-yardage failure.

Frankly, the Bush saga is puzzling. It’s a confounding narrative from the amount of money they gave him (4 years at $14 million, with $7 million guaranteed) to the production (411 yards, 114 carries) to the decision to put him on injured reserve.

IR is for players projected to be out at least 6 weeks. Why did Bush effectively sit out two games – technically, he had one carry at Minnesota – before the team realized he couldn’t go for the rest of the season?

Did he mislead the Bears about the severity of the injury? Was the IR move punitive because they were relying on him and he couldn’t go? Was his problem diagnosed wrong?

The Bears wasted a ton of money, something they have made a habit of at tight end and running back.

Former general manager Jerry Angelo signed tight end Brandon Manumaleuna to a 5-year, $15 million deal that wound up as a 1-year, $6.1 million robbery in 2010. New GM Phil Emery made a similar blunder by giving Kellen Davis a 2-year, $6 million deal after he reportedly had free-agent visits lined up with Dallas, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

If you consider Cedric Benson was a backup to Thomas Jones in the Super Bowl year, Angelo made an art form of paying bad money to backup running backs. Consider the last 3 years, two under Angelo and the first of Emery.

Chester Taylor was signed as a free agent in 2010 on a 4-year, $12.5 million deal that effectively wound up costing the team $7 million for 267 yards on 112 carries. Taylor is still on the books for $1 million in dead money.

Marion Barber was on a 2-year, $4.5 million deal last year. He wound up costing $2.5 million for 1 year.

Bush was signed before Forte got his 4-year, $32 million deal but has wound up with an eerily similar statistical season to Barber. The difference is that Bush will likely return. His guaranteed money virtually ensures that.

If you play a bit of moneyball with those numbers, you find that Taylor earned about $26,200 a yard, Barber just under $6,000 and Bush about $8,500.

There is only so much money to go around in the world of the NFL salary cap. Spending it on one position means you don’t have enough for other positions. In this case, if you put your millions in backup running backs and bad tight ends, you can wind up with an inexpensive and poor offensive line.

The other issue of concern involving Bush is the way the Bears have been using their roster the last few weeks, particularly in that Green Bay game.

There are only 53 players on an NFL roster, and 46 can dress on Sunday. Putting together an inactive list late in the season is essential to create the flexibility needed on game day.

While Green Bay used everyone but its backup quarterback in that game, the Bears never got to Jason Campbell, Bush, defensive tackle Matt Toeaina or wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.

Toeaina, like Bush, was put on Injured reserve after the game. Sanzenbacher was an inactive last week, then was cut Monday. Why did two injured players dress for a game? If there was some sort of miscommunication with Bush, what happened with Toeaina? And why keep Sanzenbacher on the roster all year with virtually no contribution and then cut him with a game left?

If the Bears need a roster spot to sign depth at safety with Chris Conte down with a hamstring, why not cut Josh McCown, a 33-year-old backup quarterback who was bypassed by the NFL last year and this year?

Little things add up quickly in the NFL.

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