Fixing the Bears Defense (Part 4: NFL Free Agents)

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The Bears have 15 free agents on defense. It’s not feasible that they will re-sign them all and they shouldn’t anyway. You don’t bring back everyone from a defense that was the 2nd worst in the league. I’m sure a few defensive players will be back, but there will be multiple holes to fill via either free agency or the draft. Today, I will look at some possible free agents the Bears could target to fix their defensive woes from last season.

Coach Trestman has mentioned multiple times this off-season that the defense needs to get younger and faster, so most of the players on this list are in or near their prime age (26-28). The Bears have some room under the salary cap and the ability to adjust existing contracts to create more, but their resources aren’t infinite and I have tried to keep that in mind with my free agent wish list. The players are listed by position and are also ranked by estimate cost. The first couple players on the list are big-ticket free agents, the middle choices are mid-level contracts, and the bottom of the list are the bargain buys.

* With the move to a 3-4 defense still technically on the table, I added a (3-4) note to players that would be a fit for the 3-4 scheme only.

2014 Defensive Free Agents

Defensive Tackle:

A good rush defense starts with the interior of the defensive line. Good DTs disrupt plays in the backfield, keep blockers off the LBs allowing them to make more plays, which in turn protects the safeties. We saw what happens last year when the DTs don’t do their job. Due to injuries the Bears had to start guys like 6th round pick Zach Minter and off-the-street DT Landon Cohen; Their lack of production made it harder on the rest of the defense. With only injury-prone Stephen Paea under contract and Melton, Ratliff, Wooten, and Collins unrestricted free agents, the DT position is a huge question mark for the Bears right now. I wrote yesterday that I would like to see Melton, Wooten, and maybe Collins resigned, but if they leave here are a few guys who could replace them and potentially be upgrades.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Linval Joseph NYG (25): Has great size (6’4, 323) and is a young, solid DT without any obvious flaws. Joseph is stout vs the run (8.0 grade) and has averaged 4 sacks the last two years. I hear the Giants are making a serious effort to re-sign him, but if Joseph wants to leave he should be the #1 DT on the Bears list. Joseph also hasn’t missed a game in three years and could play NT if the Bears switch to a 3-4.

Corey Peters ATL (25):  Despite facing consistent double teams, Peters (6’3, 305) was productive as the anchor of the Falcons line. Peters was solid against the run (7.8 grade) and pass (5 sacks) and at only 25 years old could be a fixture inside for the next 4 or 5 years.

Vance Walker  OAK (26): Walker was considered a run-stopper early in his career as a rotational DT with the Falcons, but showed surprising skill as a pass rusher in his first year with the Raiders. Walker had 32 QB hurries last year which was 5th in the NFL for DTs while still holding up well vs the run. Walker showed a lot of potential in his first year as a starter and at only 26 should have plenty of good years left.

Earl Mitchell HOU (26): Quick, athletic DT who is a little on the small side (6’2, 296) but fits the mold for what the Bears used to look for in their DTs. Mitchell struggled to hold up against the run early this season, but played much better the last 5 games of the year (9.0 grade). Mitchell only played DT for 2 years in college (converted TE) so it took him awhile to learn the position at the pro level, but his playing time increased every season with the Texans and by the end of 2013 Mitchell was playing very good football.

Clinton McDonald SEA (27): Small (6’1, 275) speed rusher (4.7 40-time) from the DT position. McDonald saw an increase in playing time this year due to injuries on the Seahawks line and responded with 6 sacks and a solid overall season (7.3 grade). The Seahawks have a lot of free agents and McDonald could get lost in the salary cap crunch. Not an ideal starter for the Bears but could provide solid depth as a rotational DT. He’s not great against the run, but could be an asset as a DT in passing situations.

(3-4) Terrance Cody BAL (25) – Monster (6’4, 340) who could clog up the middle if the Bears decide to switch to a 3-4. His play has been inconsistent with the Ravens, but the former 2nd round pick has the size & ability to be a force against the run on 1st & 2nd down.

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  • Erik Lambert

    If they’re searching for quantity over quality, they would serve themselves best by concentrating on reloading the defensive tackle position and adding some cheaper defensive ends as well to bolster the depth. If I were the Bears I’d pursue Wesley Woodyard. He is a very productive inside linebacker, athletic and instinctive. It would allow them to kick Bostic to the outside where he’s a much better fit. If they are going to pursue any big name guy I’d pursue a defensive back, either Alterraun Verner or Jairus Byrd. The defensive ends will simply cost too much.

    • Mike Flannery

      I would be happy if the Bears signed Woodyard, but I think Vincent Rey can bring similar (if not better) production for significantly less cash.

      Are you sure the Bears should throw big money at Verner when he’s only had one good year? I’d feel much better if they spent the money on Ward or Bryd who have been playing at a pro bowl level the last 3 seasons. Bears are ok at CB with Jennings and Frey. Safety is a clusterf#*k.

      • Erik Lambert

        Believe me, I would much prefer if we got Ward or Byrd but if not it’s important we bolstered the corner position because I don’t think Peanut is coming back and three other guys are also free agents. A Verner-Jennings combination would work awfully well, especially if they can properly reload the pass rush.

        Rey would be a more than adequate addition at MLB. He was pretty productive despite starting just three games and would come cheap by comparison. He has that Phil Emery-type free agent feel, the kind of uncovered gem.

  • Thompson Way

    I agree that we need to make room under the cap. The Bears should be letting Peppers, Bush, E.Bennett, and Hester walk. These guys are making to much for what they give the team. Great article. P.S. I hope the Bears don’t go to a 3-4. I think that you need a great D coordinator to make it work, and most can’t, and the Bears don’t have one.

    • SS Bob

      The better teams seem to be using a hybrid 3-4/4-3 depending on the situation. Not the best example but I thought I saw the Falcons use a “heavy” package for a goal-line situation this year. I hear Tucker has experience with both.
      It would be awesome to have a line of Wooten, Ratliff, Melton/Paea, FA/draft pick DE for pass situations and Melton, FA/DP DT, Wooten in the 3-4. you could also combine Ratliff with a big NT in a 4-3 as your “heavy” package in goal-line/run situations to stuff the middle.

  • Jeremiah Collins

    Finally a Linvail Joseph reference, now if we could start mentioning Chris Clemons, and Everson Griffen I would be a happy fellow. Arthur Brown should get a honorable mention too…

    • Mike Flannery

      Keep reading Jeremiah. Both Arthur Brown and Everson Griffen are mentioned in the DE section. Clemons just missed the cut on the safeties mainly cause he’s a bit older than the I think Emery is looking for. He’ll be 29 at the start of next season. I would be happy if the Bears signed Clemons though, he’s much better than any safety currently on the roster.

  • SS Bob

    The silver lining here is that the money saved from Tillman, Melton and Peppers (c’mon guys, the writing is on the wall) amounts to about $24mil. (this doesn’t include the $8mil to Pepp the Bears are on the line for if they cut him. However, it also doesn’t include what the Bears might have to pay to keep either Melton and/or Tillman). Throw out the money paid this year to Hester and E. Bennet, and you have some serious monopoly money to play with.
    Would be nice to see a twist on this article if you could play Monday morning GM and see how the savings above, coupled with the perceived asking price of said FAs could make things happen.

    • Mike Flannery

      That twist is coming next week SS Bob. I’ve got a couple articles queued for later this week on which defensive players the Bears should draft, then next week an in depth look at the Bears cap space, how possible cuts impact the cap (good riddance Bush!) and how many of these free agents the Bears can afford.