As the Chicago Bears look to rebuild their defense, they could start by poaching some players from their division rivals.
The Bears have a lot of holes on their defense and their division rivals have a lot of quality veterans who are due to hit free agency and would be immediate upgrades for the Bears.
Like the Bears, the Green Bay Packers struggled defensively last season, but they had some quality pieces that could fit in very nicely with what the Bears are trying to do.
There are many who think B.J. Raji would be better suited for a one-gap defense and that the Packers have wasted his talent in recent years. Raji’s career got off to a fast start as a nose tackle, before the Packers moved to the 5-technique. The theory was that he could play like Haloti Ngata or Vince Wilfork, but it just didn’t work out.
Raji is best closest to the ball and the Bears could give him that opportunity. Regardless of position, he has to prove he can be consistent before any team should even think about giving him a big contract.
Another possibility is cornerback Sam Shields, who has given the Bears fits throughout the years. Shields is a physical cornerback who is athletic enough to play man coverage and instinctive enough to make plays in zone. He’s exactly what the Bears are looking for.
He suffers occasional mental lapses and has issues with durability, but he won’t turn 27 until next December and would give the Bears a terrific duo with Tim Jennings.
A cheaper name from Green Bay that could be interesting for the Bears is defensive end/linebacker Mike Neal.
Neal had a hard time staying healthy early in his career, but broke out as a defensive end in Green Bay’s 3-4 in 2012. This past season, they decided to have him lose weight and try him at linebacker, but it was a disaster. His best fit is as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, but the fact that he can play multiple positions in multiple alignments makes him an interesting target.
Willie Young has excelled as his playing time increased with Detroit, but he’ll likely be elsewhere in 2014.
The 6’4” 251-pound defensive end was a perfect fit for the Wide-9 scheme Detroit ran under former head coach Jim Schwartz and could fit as a defensive end or rush linebacker in the Bears’ scheme, whatever that ends up being.
While his size leads many to believe he’s a pass-rush specialist, Young is actually pretty good against the run as he’s proven to be too quick for many offensive tackles.
If it’s a pass rusher the Bears want, one of the best in the league is available as the Vikings aren’t expected to bring Jared Allen back.
What Allen’s contract demands end up being will be interesting as the market for aging pass rushers hasn’t been great the last few years.
Allen will turn 32 in April, but he has had double-digit sack totals in seven consecutive seasons. In addition to racking up sacks, Allen excels at taking the ball away. He has 29 forced fumbles in his career and has recovered 17. He also has five interceptions, a very high total for a defensive end.
Perhaps the most interesting name for the Bears, however, is Everson Griffen. The Vikings have had a hard time finding a full-time role for their young playmaker, but he’s a defensive end who can play inside on passing downs and is athletic enough to rush from a two-point stance. That is the kind of versatility the Bears need as they rebuild their defense.
The 26-year-old (who won’t turn 27 until December) has 13.5 sacks over the last two seasons despite playing in a strict rotation.
The Bears obviously won’t sign all of these players, but if they’re able to bring any of them in it would be a major addition to their defense and a huge loss to a division rival’s and none of them can afford to lose quality players on that side of the ball.