Well, the first couple days of free agency has come and passed, and not surprisingly the Bears have been busy. And not surprisingly on the defensive side of the ball. You could call it a “rebuilding” of the defense, with the release of an aging Julius Peppers, 34, freed up enough cap space so that the Bears and upgrade and go younger. Basically replacing JPep is Lamarr Houston, only 26, and will be entering his fifth year in the league. Houston has played in every game in his first four years with Oakland and had six sacks last year, Peppers had 7.5 but at this point you take young, fresher legs on the defensive line. Overall, I like the move and have been a JPep supporter for all his four years in Chi-Town, but we hardly heard his named called, if at all, in the last half of the season. Peppers should land on his feet somewhere, but at his age maybe only a situational, 20 play-a-game pass rusher. I also really like the addition of Willie Young opposite Houston on the defensive end. Again, another young guy, only 28, and has played in the same division as the Bears for the Lions since 2010. A late round pick with late round stats on his resume so far, only six sacks in three years, but expect that to increase quite a bit since most of the attention will go to his now partner in crime, Lamarr Houston.
Not knowing the status of Peanut Tillman was the Bears’ decision to move on without him. Two safeties were also signed in the personnel of former Giant Ryan Mundy and Packer M.D. Jennings. But now with Tillman back in the fold, signing a one year deal to stay with the Bears makes the secondary a bit more enticing. I’m not sure how much Tillman, 33, has much in the tank but using the old saying “an older cornerback should be moved to safety” is defiantly out of the question. But all in all Tillman is a proven cornerback in this league, maybe not a “shutdown” corner, but gets the job done, and with two upgrades at safety, it should make his job a wee bit easier. Mundy is a former Steeler and won a Super Bowl with them back in 2010, so maybe the Bears saw him as not only a hole to fill, but also a guy who has some championship experience. M.D. Jennings is also a very young guy, 25, who knows the Bears very well as he played his first two years in Green Bay. Overall I like the additions in the defensive backfield for the Bears, although Chris Conte will try to have something to say about his playing time vs Mundy, but expect Jennings to be nice upgrade for the Bears’ D.
The subtraction of Peppers, and not to mention wide receiver/kick returner Devin Hester, also freed up some cash to bring back linebacker DJ Williams for at least one more year. Williams had a below expectation, sub-par year, although he did battle injury. Williams is still a tough, physical linebacker who, when healthy of course, can be a sideline-to-sideline player.
One of the key losses I tend to look at most is quarterback Josh McCown, who played really well when Cutler went down last season. He had 13 touchdown passes to only one interception. In the time he saw the field, McCown looked like he might have taken Cutler’s job from him, at least for the rest of last season. McCown did however, probably take the job from last year’s starter in Tampa, Mike Glennon, as he signed there for two years, although some mock drafts have Johnny football falling all the way to Tampa with the seventh pick, but I’m not sure about that. Cutler is injury prone, and im not sure Bears’ fans, or really the Bears themselves, want to see Jordan Palmer take the field if Jay goes down. The front office does have faith in Palmer, otherwise he’d be walking the streets looking for a job. I do think, however, that the Bears will look to either sign a veteran QB, like McCown, maybe Shaun Hill or David Garrard. Or draft one in the later rounds, I don’t think the Bears will take a QB with the 14th pick, as they still need linebacker and defensive tackle help, but nothing surprises me anymore.
The release of Devin Hester was no shock either. Although the best kick returner in history, the rule changes of late have diminished his role tremendously. The Bears, and Hester himself, couldn’t figure out what side of the ball to play on. They tried him at receiver, while dangerous with the ball in his hands, it was a struggle to get the ball in his hands. Playing in the defensive backfield obviously didn’t seem to work either. So naturally he went back to returning kicks and punts. But we’ve seen more punts now be fair caught to avoid injury, so I’m not sure what help he, or any player that only have that role plays anymore. Chicago also brought in Domenik Hixon, which was an intriguing signing to say the least because he does play wide receiver, and he’s not going to start over Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery. I could see him fighting for the number three spot with Earl Bennett, or placing him in the slot. Either way, depth at wide out always helps.
Overall the moves the Bears have made up to this point have been good, not great but good. I would love to have seen Martellus Bennett’s brother Michael in a Bears’ uni, but the additions they have made on bother defensive ends is very solid. You probably won’t see the reincarnation of the ’85 Monsters of the Midway Bears with Richard Dent and Dan Hampton, as Lamarr Houston has already claimed, but there will be less hard to watch games on defense next season. There weren’t too many changes to the offense, but that was expected. The offensive line was significantly better last season than the past few combined. Cutler had the least amount of sacks in his career last season, and we hardly saw McCown on the turf either. Look for the Bears to pick up a veteran QB, and stand pretty pat at wide receiver with two 1,000+ yard guys last year. Running back is also very good with Matt Forte, he is very versatile and dynamic, but can’t play all the snaps, maybe look to see a vet RB be scooped up as well, or with one of those later round draft picks.