The day is finally here. The day that rosters start to come into vision, big names find new homes, and the eventual departure of some familiar, and possibly legendary faces. Phil Emery follows the trend of hitting the ground running fast and furious. Every Bears free agency has started this way. Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Jermon Bushrod, and Martellus Bennett are all examples of that philosophy. If Emery wants a guy, he goes after him. Unfortunately, this year’s Plan A was snatched away, as Michael Bennett elected to stay with the Seahawks. The Bears were aggressive during the NFL’s tampering period, in a push for Bears tight end Martellus Bennett‘s brother.
Defensive line has been the biggest need, and losing out on Michael Bennett was tough. Lamar Houston was Emery’s Plan B. Houston is not the replacement for Julius Peppers of four years ago, but instead an above-average, versatile lineman that is young, big, powerful, and will disrupt offenses in both running and passing situations. He’s been increasing his sack totals yearly, totaling 6.0 sacks in 2013. His 41 QB hurries and 16 QB hits is certainly reminiscent of Peppers. It certainly proves his ability to be disruptive. Where he really shines though is his ability to play the run. Pro Football Focus accounts for 54 total stops (1st) and 40 run stops (1st). It’s likely the Bears will be fine after missing out on Bennett, and ultimately paid less for Houston. Injecting youth to the defense was a priority for Emery and Houston is only 26 years old, whereas Bennett is 28.
[Deal: Five year $35 million, $15 Million Guaranteed]
The Bears resigned middle linebacker, DJ Williams to another one year deal. Jon Bostic’s slow start means that Williams’ cap-friendly deal will be worthwhile, if he can stay healthy. Bostic clearly needs a bit more time to figure things out, and D.J. Williams provides that time. Not only that , but hopefully can help the younger guys transition into the NFL a little smoother. This singing majorly increases draft flexibility, at a position that the Bears simply couldn’t use a pick on this year. The Bears have an interesting linebacker situation going into the new league year. Shea McClellin is going to compete with Bostic at Strong Side, so depth with Green is abundant. This moves biggest advantage is consistency, D.J Williams, Jon Bostic, Khaseem Green, and Lance Briggs all benefit from having played together the year before, and Williams ensures that Linebacker is not a pressing need in this years draft.
[Deal: One Year, $1.5 million, $100,000 guaranteed]
Julius Peppers is no longer a Chicago Bear. His massive contract was simply too much for the Bears to keep on the books. Cap issues eventually meant the end of the run for a truly great Bears player. His age and decreased production meant it was time to move on. With Melton’s future looking bleak, Emery looks like he is cleaning out the last signs of Lovie Smith. The Bears roster from 2012 is going to be almost completely flipped. Many fans will be sad to see number 90 leave, especially after signing with the rival Green Bay Packers. It was a move that had to be made, if Peppers cap number was more manageable it would have made sense to line him up opposite of Houston, but at 18 million against the cap Peppers was more detrimental to the team at that price.
[Deal: Terminated, signed 3-year deal with Packers]
The Bears had poor safety play in 2013, a consequence of the poor line play and a lack of a pass rush. However, that is no excuse, and so the Bears signed two safeties in the first few days of free agency, first signing safety Ryan Mundy and then ex-Packer M.D. Jennings. Neither player jumps off the page, especially when names like Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, and Donte Whitner were on the market. Releasing Julius Peppers and Michael Bush should have prompted the Bears to sign a better safety. If anything this is a move to increase depth and increase competition at both the free and strong safety positions. It should be expected the Bears are looking at drafting a safety due to the depth at the position in this year’s Draft. It is likely that Emery looked at the free agent class vs. the 2014 draft class and saw enough depth in the Draft to pass over the more expensive free agent options. Chris Conte will be back; whether fans understand it or not, he is cheap, played well in 2012, and is still under contract for this year. In letting Major Wright and Craig Steltz go, the Bears were in need of increased depth, so holding on to Conte is a smart move.
[Ryan Mundy Deal: 2-years, details not yet released]
[M.D Jennings Deal: 1-year, details not yet released]
Late Friday, the Bears finally completed my favorite free agent signing thus far. Charles “Peanut” Tillman is back for another year. Keeping Tillman makes Phil Emery’s job in the draft a little easier. It fills a big need in the defensive backfield, as Tillman is a turnover machine. Hopefully he can rebound from a disappointing injury-riddled season. Tillman’s start to the 2013 season was strong. Hopefully his body can keep up and he can continue to be the effective player he’s always been for this franchise. Fans will be happy to see “Peanut” return to the Bears lineup, and it should benefit the team greatly. They still need depth behind Tillman and Tim Jennings. Although that is a great tandem, some youth needs to be brought in behind the two veteran cornerbacks, not only to secure depth but future-proofing the position as well.
[Deal: 1-Year, details not yet released]
The Bears are still in need of a few positions to really solidify freedom in the draft. The defensive line is still missing depth. Even after the Bears signed multiple defensive ends to small contracts — Trevor Scott and Austin Lane were signed to one-year deals — but neither is awe-inspiring. Houston is clearly the crown jewel for the Bears this year in free agency, but Melton still a free agent. The Bears need a dominant force in the middle of that defensive line. The Bears are likely drafting at both the defensive tackle, and defensive back positions. The one offensive position that needs some additions is tight end, and one guy I think the Bears really need to look at is Owen Daniels. I know they have Rosario, but Daniels is a better option. He could come cheap as his injury history has been poor recently, but that could mean he would go for a one-year prove-it deal and really elevate the Bears offense.