After George Halas moved a team of starch workers from Decatur, Ill., to Chicago, he famously reasoned if baseball players were Cubs, then football players were Bears, forever linking franchises from very different sports.
Maybe that's why nobody seems to understand the difference between the Cubs' glistening rebuild and the Bears' in-progress teardown. Sadly, the Bears' dramatic escalation in sixth-round pick procurement doesn't signal a Cubs-style fire sale, thrilling as that illusion might be.
Professional football is not Major League Baseball. You don't have a professional minor-league system where you draft players out of high school and develop talent that can be shopped around to the highest bidder. Football's minor-league system is called the college game. Players aren't allowed into the league until after their junior year. The only significant means of entry into the NFL is through the draft.
NFL teams can't eat salary and trade players. To consummate a deal, the second team must have the salary-cap space to accommodate a player's base salary and any unpaid roster bonuses. When Jared Allen was traded to the Panthers for a sixth-round pick, it effectively cost the Bears $11.5 million, the bonus money already paid to Allen in March.
If Allen was owed $11.5 million in base salary, that deal would never have been done. Heck, if that salary wasn't fully guaranteed, he would have been cut long ago. Instead, the Bears traded an aging veteran who didn't fit the new defensive system to a team in need of a pass rusher. The cost to the Panthers was nominal, while the impoverishing hit was absorbed by the Bears because of the way the money was already distributed.
Likewise, it was easy to move reserve linebacker Jon Bostic to the Patriots because his base salary is just $663,254, which is paid off over the 17 weeks of the season. The Bears have already cut three game checks to Bostic, so the Patriots can easily handle the minor cost.
The Patriots liked Bostic coming out of college and now have cover in the likely event they do not pay a $4 million roster bonus to Jerod Mayo after this season. Mayo is set to earn $10.4 million next year after restructuring his deal in April. In addition, the Patriots are likely to still have three unmovable picks in the sixth round as compensatory choices for losing free agents.
The Bears' trades are languid dismissals of guys who didn't fit the plan as opposed to shrewd wheeling and dealing by kid GM Ryan Pace. So what would signal a full-blown teardown/rebuild?
An increasing number of Bears observers have identified running back Matt Forte as the man most likely to be moved now. Maybe at a dismally low price.
The problem with trading Forte is that you would never receive proper value in return. Set aside the sentimentality of trading away your most productive offensive player and effectively betraying every other guy on the team. As a practical matter, the team that trades for Forte would have to pay him $414,705 every week along with another $66,625 roster bonus in every game check.
In other words, a team trading for Forte would have to have nearly $7 million in salary-cap space available. Only a dozen of the NFL's 32 teams have at least $10 million in available salary-cap room. It's too early for a team to lock up that much money on a player at this point with the potential for so many injuries in the next month before the Nov. 3 trade deadline.
Most likely, a team would need at least $15 million in cap space to trade for Forte. Only four teams fit that profile: The Jaguars ($33.5 million), Titans ($26 million), Browns ($24 million) and Raiders ($16 million). It's unlikely any of them are heading to the playoffs and view Forte as the missing piece to get them there. Besides, he's an unrestricted free agent at season's end.
They would love to have him, mind you, just at a bargain-basement price like, say, a sixth-round pick. What is more important to the Bears, attempting to win a game this year or building a collection of late-round picks?
Famously, Tom Brady was drafted with a sixth-round pick. But the last two quarterbacks the Bears took in that round were Dan LeFevour and David Fales.
Special contributor Mike Mulligan co-hosts "The Mully and Hanley Show" weekdays from 5-9 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670.