The unseemly circumstances this weekend involving Jeremiah Ratliff, in which police and security were called to Halas Hall after the veteran defensive lineman was involved in a protracted, escalating confrontation with team officials that included GM Ryan Pace, left the Bears with a difficult situation inside one of the pivotal position areas of any NFL team. The events also represented another clear indicator of the culture change within a previously troubled team that has been about establishing that new culture virtually since the end of the catastrophic 2014 season.
The details of the Ratliff incident, which will simply be described here as “ugly,” are less the point than the outcome.
From a purely football standpoint, the move to jettison Ratliff, coming less than a week after the team lost defensive lineman Ego Ferguson for the season with a knee injury, meant that the Bears over the past handful of months have lost three of their projected top four or five defensive linemen for 2015 (Ratliff, Ferguson, Ray McDonald). Ferguson’s case obviously is nothing like the other two, but the organization was clearly no longer willing to compromise rules and standards as it had not all that long ago.
Ratliff had been involved in an incident at practice in the days before the Bears’ final game last season, in which sources said he came to work in no condition to work and was sent off the field. Yet he was one of the co-captains that Sunday as appointed by Marc Trestman. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall ignored the uniform order of the day, got into an acrimonious confrontation with assistant coach (and former Bear player) Chris Harris and was never disciplined.
The point was not how bad things had become (5-11 made that point more than eloquently). The point is what they have become, which began when Pace was hired away from New Orleans and made a trip to Denver for the second interview of John Fox.
The Bears traded away Marshall without any assurance that Kevin White or Amari Cooper would be available at No. 7 in the draft. They did not excuse Ratliff’s outburst in order to keep a defensive need area filled. Ratliff’s explosion reached the level of Fox, and he was having none of it. Players told CSNChicago.com that Marshall actually not one of a small handful of bad guys in the locker room last year, wouldn’t identify exactly who the bad eggs were, except to say that they are now former Bears.
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Changing the chemistry and culture starts at the top and that includes exorcising demons that threaten the greater good, regardless of some perceived football value. Ratliff was respected to the point of even rookie center Hroniss Grasu seeking out the veteran d-lineman for advice on his craft. Ratliff was rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman’s football role model.
Actually, Marshall and Ratliff really do represent templates for being a Chicago Bear. Just not the kind of model they may have thought.