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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