For the third straight year, the Bears made a splash on the first day of free agency signing 4 players including one of the top defensive ends on the market, Lamarr Houston. I’m not going to breakdown the Bears new players in detail quite yet, that’s coming soon, but I did add a quick blurb with my initial take. According to Phil Emery, the Bears are far from done in the free agent market, but he is taking his time and waiting to see what sort of deals materialize. That’s a smart approach as every year there are steals available after the initial free agent frenzy dies down. The Bears aren’t flush with cap money and still have plenty of roster holes, so Emery needs to be strategic with what money he does have left. Here is my recap of the first three days of free agent signings for the Bears.
Bears Free Agent Signings
DE Lamarr Houston (5-yr, $35M) - He’s been my #1 or #2 target all off-season. I’ve already explained why here, here, & here if you want a detailed explanation. I know Michael Bennett was Emery’s first choice, but I’m psyched that Houston was his second. I think he was the one of the only guys on the DE free agent market that isn’t a finished product and is still getting better. I expect a breakout year from Houston in 2014 with close to 10 sacks and his usual stellar run defense.
SS Ryan Mundy (2 yrs, $3M) – There were plenty of safeties on the market that I wanted more than Mundy, but the more research I’ve done and tape I’ve watched, I’m slowly getting used to the idea and starting to see what the Bears like about this guy. He’s solid against the run and is a sure tackler, which is an improvement over Major Wright who was among the league leaders in missed tackles last season. Mundy has good instincts and takes sound angles to the ball carrier, which just so happens was one of Wright’s biggest problems. Mundy’s biggest problem is pass coverage. He’s not a burner and doesn’t have the ball skills you look for in a starter, which is one of the reasons he’s been a back-up most of his career. The other reason is he played behind Troy Polamalu most of his career. The Bears defense will be better than it was last year with Munday replacing Major Wright at strong safety, but I hope the Bears aren’t done at the position. Mundy would be an ideal safety-valve if a highly drafted rookie strong safety (Bucannon, Ward) isn’t ready to play in week 1.
LB Jordan Senn (1-yr) – A special teams ace who was the captain of the Panthers special teams unit last year. Senn will be an improvement over Blake Costanzo, who never really lived up to the special teams reputation he built in San Fran. Senn could also fill in at LB which is something that Costanzo proved he couldn’t do last season. Senn hasn’t gotten many defensive snaps in Carolina, but that’s what happens when you are the back-up for Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Senn did see considerable time on the field in 2011 with 7 starts and didn’t embarrass himself. He struggled in coverage but had double-digits tackles in 4 of his 7 starts and was a big hitter, forcing 4 fumbles. Senn played both MLB and WLB, but with Lance Briggs entrenched at WLB, I think Senn might have a shot to get some defensive snaps at MLB with the Bears.
FS M.D. Jennings (1-yr) - My least favorite of Emery’s signings so far as I wasn’t too impressed with Jennings play the last two seasons as the Packers starting free safety. Even though Jennings struggled last year, he was still ranked considerably higher than Chris Conte, the Bears starter at free safety last season. Pro Football Focus gave Jennings a -5.2 grade which ranked 62nd out of 86 safeties. Conte was 82nd (-15.8) and Major Wright was dead last (-27.4) in 2013. Jennings is only 25 so he could conceivably get better, but like with Mundy, I will be disappointed if Jennings is the Bears starter in week 1. There are not many good free safeties left in free agency, really just Chris D. Clemons (my prediction before free agency started) and a couple of slight upgrades over Jennings like Kendrick Lewis and Nate Allen. At this point I hope the Bears draft two safeties.
LB DJ Williams (1-yr) - I wasn’t that impressed with Williams during his 6 game stint with the Bears last season until I saw his replacement Bostic play. Williams was clearly the superior player which is understandable since Bostic was a rookie. There is a chance Bostic makes a leap in year 2 and is ready to play MLB for the Bears, but Williams is a great insurance policy. I was surprised with how good Williams’ timing was on blitzes last year and he could provide the occasional pass rush up the middle which the Bears lacked once he got hurt. He was only mediocre against the run and in coverage, but he was a late signing last year so didn’t have much time to get comfortable with the Bears scheme. I expect Williams to improve across the board in year two now that he is more familiar with what Mel Tucker is trying to do on defense.
DE Willie Young (3yrs, $9M) - I was freaking out a little about the other starting DE position, but not anymore! Young is a guy I thought was a good fit from the beginning of free agency, but I figured he would be out of the Bears price range after they signed Lamarr Houston. I am shocked they got Young for that cheap; He has only started for 1 season so should have plenty of life left in his legs and showed signs of being a dangerous pass rusher (48 hurries, 3rd in NFL) last year. I think Young will be even better next season and could team with Houston to give the Bears a solid pass rush for the next few years.
WR Domenik Hixon (1 yr) – A special teams player who has been a decent receiver in the past (39-576-2 in 2011) and returned punts & kicks back in 2009. Hixon could occasionally contribute as both a receiver and kick returner for the Bears, but I think he will primarily be used as a special teams coverage guy.