Bears need 'Plan B' at defensive end after Ray McDonald release

The sudden release of Ray McDonald creates more uncertainty for a Chicago Bears defense stuck in transition mode.

Don’t be fooled by McDonald’s modest one-year, $1.050 million contract that contained no guaranteed money; the Bears had big plans for the eight-year NFL veteran in 2015 up until McDonald’s arrest on Monday on charges of domestic violence and child endangerment.

While McDonald, 30, is not a Pro Bowl-caliber player, he spent four years in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme in San Francisco, and was considered a lock to start Week 1 at defensive end.

Now the Bears must find McDonald’s replacement.

If the team decides to address the defensive line in-house, the Bears will likely take a closer look at Ego Ferguson, Jarvis Jenkins, or even veteran Jeremiah Ratliff.

Ratliff is an interesting choice because Bears general manager Ryan Pace said after the draft that Ratliff (the favorite to start at nose tackle) is one of the club’s core players up front. The 33-year old Ratliff is going to play heavy snaps -- it's just a matter of where.

“He's so athletic,” Pace said of Ratliff. “He's versatile to do all that. He's got quickness, athleticism, balance.

"That's what I like about Jay a lot is his versatility. That will all sort out. But we'll get our best players on the field and Ratliff will definitely be out there and I like his position flexibility.”

A key in the Ratliff scenario may be the development of 2015 second-round pick Eddie Goldman. If Goldman proves he can handle nose tackle, the Bears may consider kicking Ratliff outside to defensive end. The only problem with this scenario is Goldman will not have a chance to really prove himself until teams put the pads on in training camp. There is only so much a coaching staff can learn about linemen in non-contact organized team activities (OTAs) and offseason minicamps.

The Bears do have a year of NFL film on Ferguson -- the team’s 2014 second-round draft choice -- described by Pace as another hybrid player who is capable of moving from tackle to end. Ferguson appeared in all 16 games last year, recording 24 tackles and two sacks.

Jenkins started 33 games for the Washington Redskins from 2012-14. He is expected to be a game-day contributor, at the very least.

Another possible route is to move one of their newly converted 3-4 linebackers back to defensive end. There are plenty of candidates here to choose from: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and David Bass.

So the Bears have options, but losing a projected starter in late-May in far from ideal.