Chicago Bears: Julius Peppers

Jared Allen watched as coaches delivered instructions just before his first practice as a Chicago Bear, and in the background images of past Bears-Vikings matchups flickered on the screen.

"I’m like, 'We were actually doing this,'" Allen said. “It was a little odd."

But once Allen actually put on that Bears jersey after so many years playing for the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings, the veteran felt “like you’re a part of something special,” and he wants desperately to prove he is worth the club’s four-year, $32 million investment in him.

[+] EnlargeJared Allen
AP Photo/Matt MartonJared Allen has high expectations as he begins his Chicago career after six seasons in Minnesota.
"Change is good if you allow it to be good. It definitely energizes you," Allen said. "For me, it’s the excitement of being part of something great. Minnesota was heading in a different direction than I thought my career, my life, my path is going. So I made the decision not to go back there. When I looked at the total equation, this was a place where I can be a part of something great. Personally, I don’t know if you call it selfishness or not, but I don’t want to be that guy who they feel like 'we shouldn’t have got him.' When I signed, I wasn’t going to be that guy that wasn’t worth the money."

Now Allen sets upon the task of proving it. Not that he hasn’t pretty much done that already with 128.5 career sacks, including seven consecutive seasons in which he posted double-digit totals. In 2011, Allen came within a half-sack of Michael Strahan's single-season record of 22.5 and made the Pro Bowl in four of his six years with the Vikings.

In a side-by-side comparison of Allen and Julius Peppers, who he’s replacing in the Bears' starting lineup, the former has played 580 more snaps than the latter over the past 64 games, with 48 more tackles, 19 more sacks and 22 more disrupted drop-backs.

“My motivation to be the best at what I do is a self-motivation,” Allen said. “It’s probably more of a fear of failing than it is necessarily thriving to be the best. I just want guys, when I leave this league, I want them to say, 'He did it the right way, he gave everything he had, and not one day he was stealing checks.' So that’s what motivates me. That’s what energizes me. I’ve got a full year now of training off my shoulder injury. Last year I couldn’t start working out until May. So I’m healthy; I feel good again. It’s exciting. There are new people. Even though you've played against these guys, you are trying to prove yourself to the coaching staff, to your teammates again to let them know they can trust my day-to-day habits and I’ll be ready to play on Sunday.”

How much he’ll contribute remains unclear. After all, Allen is 32, and over the past six years he’s played 93 percent of Minnesota’s snaps. Allen needs 4.5 sacks this season to move into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time sack leaders list. If Allen posts 13.5 sacks in 2014, he could move as high as No. 5 on the all-time list and pass Strahan.

Motivation certainly won’t be an issue for Allen.

“When you’re with a franchise with so much history, you don’t want to be that guy that 'he wasn’t a true Bear,'" Allen said. "So you try to put everything into it."

Top stats to know: 2014 NFL schedule

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Jennifer Stewart/Getty ImagesThe 2014 NFL season will culminate at Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Sure it is April, but the 2014 NFL schedule has been released and that means it is time to get ready for a season full of intriguing matchups.

From high-profile veterans facing their former teams, to the 16th meeting between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, here is a look at some of the early highlights of the 2014 season:

Reunion games
DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, Chris Johnson, Darrelle Revis, Jared Allen and Julius Peppers.

Those are just a handful of veterans released during the offseason who will have a chance to play against their former teams in 2014.

After a career year in 2013, Jackson was released by the Eagles this offseason. He will face the Eagles twice this season (Week 3 in Philadelphia and Week 16 in Washington).

Smith, the Panthers' career leader in touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards, promised there would be "blood and guts everywhere" if he faced the Panthers in 2014 after being released by the team in March. As a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Smith will get a crack at the Panthers on Sept. 28 in Baltimore.

Johnson only joined the Jets a little more than a week ago, but he's already slated for a Tennessee reunion. Johnson and the Jets will travel to Tennessee Week 15 to take on the Titans. Johnson has posted six straight 1,000-yard seasons, the longest active streak in the NFL.

Allen signed a four-year deal with the Bears at the end of March after spending six seasons in Minnesota. Allen led the NFL with 85.5 sacks during his Vikings tenure. Allen will face the Vikings twice this season (Week 11 and Week 17).

Peppers is now on the other side of the NFL's most-played rivalry after signing a three-year deal with the Packers in March just days after being released by the Bears. Peppers totaled 38 sacks in his four seasons in Chicago and made three Pro Bowls.

And a college reunion
Former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and the Eagles will play the NFC West this season as part of the standard division rotation.

Kelly will have the opportunity to coach against former Pac-10 coaching rivals Pete Carroll (USC) and Jim Harbaugh (Stanford). As a head coach, Kelly was a combined 2-1 against Carroll and Harbaugh with a win over each.

Kelly and the Eagles will also travel to Indianapolis in Week 2 for a "Monday Night Football" showdown against former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. Kelly's Oregon teams were 2-1 against Stanford during Luck's collegiate career.

Top games
On Nov. 2, Manning and Brady will meet for the 16th time, including the playoffs, tied for the most between any pair of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Manning will also face his former team for the second time as the Broncos will host the Colts to open their season. Manning and the Broncos lost to the Colts 39-33 in 2013.

Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks in the 2012 draft, will meet for the first time in Week 13. In their young careers, Griffin III is 12-16, while Luck is 22-10.

A rematch of last year's Super Bowl, Broncos-Seahawks, will also take place this season. The Seahawks' 35-point margin of victory in the Super Bowl is tied for the third largest in NFL history.

End result remains to be seen in NFC North

March, 28, 2014
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Jared Allen and Julius PeppersAP PhotoIt will be interesting to watch Jared Allen and Julius Peppers face their old teams this season.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The subplots behind the roster moves -- among teams that have lived on intra-division player hopping over the last five years -- are particularly juicy.

Jared Allen jumps from the Minnesota Vikings to the Chicago Bears, just four days after Julius Peppers emigrates from the Bears to the Green Bay Packers? We sure do love our star-player-faces-his-old-team melodrama up here in NFC North country, and even by the lofty standards of a division that gave us Favre vs. Rodgers in 2009 and the hottest existential question of 2013 (who is Greg Jennings?), this week's game of musical chairs between pass rushers created intrigue. After all, Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Jennings never got to hit their former teammates on the field.

But behind the flurry of roster moves lies three teams with distinct defensive problems, and three disparate approaches to solving them. How each strategy pans out could have a large hand in untangling the NFL's most mediocre division a year ago.

The Vikings had lived for years on a defensive line anchored by Allen and tackle Kevin Williams, who were named to 10 Pro Bowls between them in Minnesota. But when that foundation aged, and the arrival of coach Mike Zimmer brought a new approach to the 4-3 defense this winter, the Vikings decided they needed to revitalize the position more than they needed to give Allen a new contract before he turned 32. Instead of retaining Allen, they gave $20 million guaranteed to 26-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen, who has so far delivered production mostly in flashes.

The Packers, decimated by injuries in 2013 and forced to generate much of their pressure by bringing extra rushers, needed a player who could give blockers something to think about other than linebacker Clay Matthews. They gave Peppers a three-year, $30 million deal, with plans to add linebacking duties to the defensive end's resume and hopes that Peppers could learn a new role in a 3-4 defense at age 34.

And the Bears, who couldn't get to the quarterback or stop the run in 2013, let Peppers and Henry Melton walk and pivoted to Allen, giving him a four-year contract worth up to $32 million and crossing their fingers he could be a complete player at age 32 and beyond.

All three strategies carry considerable risk, but all three teams had substantial incentive to make changes. Zimmer's defense called for Vikings linemen who would be stout against the run before chasing quarterbacks, and Allen didn't fit that profile. The Packers and Bears were 30th and 32nd in the league in quarterback pressures, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and both teams were among the league's worst at getting to the quarterback with four pass rushers.

What's more, all three teams have central figures on offense who aren't getting any younger. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson turned 29 earlier this month, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will be 31 in April and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers turns 31 in December. If some of the changes seem rash, it's because keeping the status quo probably carried greater risk.

Still, the moves should command headlines as much because of their boldness as the players they involve. The Vikings, Packers and Bears are all gambling they've got the best way to fix an anemic defense -- the Vikings by reinventing their defense, the Packers by trusting an aging player can reinvent himself and the Bears by believing a veteran pass rusher needs no reinvention. How their respective strategies work could swing the NFC North race in any number of directions next season, which might ultimately be the most compelling outcome of this week's moves.

But next fall, when Peppers is bearing down on Cutler or Allen is trying to corral Peterson? Well, we'll still have fun with that, too.

Defining Peppers' role with the Packers

March, 25, 2014
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Don't put a label on new Green Bay Packers defensive end Julius Peppers.

In fact, he probably shouldn't even be called a defensive end.

The way Packers coach Mike McCarthy explained it to reporters on Tuesday at the NFL annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., the newest addition to the Packers' defense will play a hybrid position -- a combination of an outside linebacker and defensive lineman the Packers will call an "elephant."

[+] EnlargePeppers
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Packers plan to use Julius Peppers in a variety of ways along their defensive front.
It's a spot that McCarthy first revealed during an interview at the NFL scouting combine last month that was in his plans, well before he knew he would have Peppers on his roster.

In preparing for that role, Peppers will spend most of his individual practice time and meeting sessions with the linebackers, who were merged into one group under assistant head coach Winston Moss and position assistant Scott McCurley following the resignation of outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene shortly after last season ended. It also means Peppers will not work directly under defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who was Peppers' defensive line coach and defensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers from 2002-08.

"Elephant is a term used for a multiple-position player along the defensive front," McCarthy told reporters at the league meetings. "Julius will be part of that group.

"The specifics I'd rather get into once the players find out, once we go through it with the players, but that's the big-picture outlook for the way we'll use Julius defensively."

In his only public comments since he signed with the Packers, Peppers, who was released this month by the Chicago Bears, told the Packers' web site he expected his role to be "something different" than it was during his stint with the Bears.

This would qualify as such.

Even before the Packers signed Peppers to a three-year, $26 million contract on March 15, they had planned to use the elephant position for Mike Neal and Nick Perry. In some defenses, the elephant position is used to describe an end who lines up between the offensive tackle and the tight end (in what is called the 7 technique) but based on McCarthy's comments on Tuesday, it appears he has multiple positions in mind for his elephants.

Perry, a former first-round draft pick, was a defensive end in college but switched to outside linebacker with only moderate success the past two years. Neal played his first three NFL seasons at defensive end before he switched to outside linebacker last season.

The trio of Neal, Peppers and Perry could be interchangeable this season.

"It's not only your position, your alignment, it's your assignment," McCarthy said. "So he has more to offer in his opinion, and I agree with him, from an assignment standpoint. So where he aligns, competing against Julius, he's lined up on both sides at defensive end. He has been an inside rusher, so those experiences he already has and will continue to do so."

The addition of Peppers and the redefinition of some positions could make coordinator Dom Capers’ defense look a lot less like the traditional 3-4 he has run throughout his 28-year NFL coaching career. But McCarthy said Capers' defense has evolved into a two-linemen look more than ever to combat the spread offenses used so prolifically around the league.

"How much 3-4 defense do we play?" McCarthy said. "We've been averaging 24-25 percent over the past five years. So we're playing so much sub."

When the Packers do use their base defense, McCarthy confirmed that recently re-signed lineman B.J. Raji will return to his old position, nose tackle. Raji played more at defensive end the past three seasons, when his productivity waned. McCarthy said the plan for Raji will be to "cut him loose."

The first wave of free agency has come to a close, but the Chicago Bears still aren't done adding players. We anticipate the club continuing to build the roster all the way through free agency, and even after the draft.

But in the meantime, we decided to spend this week taking a look at some of the best and worst free-agent acquisitions made over the past five years by the Chicago Bears. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section:

Good: Julius Peppers

Position: Defensive end

Contract: Six years, $84 million

Years of service with Bears: 2010-13

Peppers
Recap: Peppers' tenure with the Bears didn't end as well as anyone would have liked, with the club releasing him March 11. But Peppers was arguably the club's best free-agent acquisition over the last five years. Upon signing a blockbuster deal with the club in 2010, Peppers reeled off 18.5 sacks and 105 tackles over the next two seasons. Peppers' tackle numbers dropped in 2011 and 2012, but in both those seasons, he racked up at least 11 sacks before a disappointing 2013 campaign that -- in conjunction with a base salary of $13.9 million in 2014 -- basically facilitated his exit from Chicago. In four years with the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), generating 37.5 sacks in addition to making the Pro Bowl during all but one season (2013) during his tenure with the club. In all, Peppers has posted 118.5 career sacks, which ranks second in the NFL since his entry (2002). Four days after Peppers' exit from Chicago, the Green Bay Packers signed him to a three-year contract. Although his production waned toward the end of his tenure in Chicago, Peppers is expected to be a productive contributor for the Packers in 2014.

Bad: Sam Hurd

Position: Wide receiver

Contract: Three years, $5.1 million

Years of service with Bears: 2011

Hurd
Hurd
Recap: It's not that Chicago expected significant contributions when it signed Hurd to a three-year deal in July of 2011. After all, he was just expected to contribute on special teams and as a backup receiver. But it's probably fair to say that Hurd's arrest on federal drug charges in December of 2011 played at least a small role in the club's decision to fire former general manager Jerry Angelo. Hurd caught eight passes for 109 yards, and returned one kickoff for 24 yards in his one season with the Bears. The embarrassment to the organization and the circus atmosphere created with Hurd's arrest far outweighed his insignificant on-field contributions. Team president Ted Philips at the time said the Hurd situation didn't play into Angelo's firing, but the receiver was certainly viewed as one of if not the worst of Bears acquisitions made during the former GM's watch. Last November, Hurd was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for his involvement in marijuana and cocaine trafficking.


On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
We’ve covered the fact that Chicago’s decision to release Julius Peppers on Tuesday was more about his $13.9 million base salary for 2014 and $18.183 million salary-cap hit than issues with production.

But surely the club never expected the defensive end to land with the division rival Green Bay Packers.

Peppers signed a three-year deal with the Packers on Saturday worth up to $30 million, including $7.5 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. Financially, the deal makes sense for the Packers, which begs the question of whether such a contract could've been done with the Bears.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsJulius Peppers was a Pro Bowler in three of his four seasons with the Bears.
We’ll probably never know.

According to a source familiar with the situation, that possibility was never explored between Peppers and the Bears.

Why? Well, one league source said the Bears simply didn't want to bring back Peppers. In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), generated 37.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in all but one season (2013). In all, Peppers generated 118.5 sacks throughout his career, which puts him at No. 2 in the NFL since coming into the league in 2002, and 17th in NFL history since 1982, when the league began to tally sacks as an official statistic.

But in 2013, Peppers’ effort wasn't up to snuff enough for the Chicago Bears to feel comfortable about bringing him back for 2014 on what’s expected to be a youth-infused defense with a hard-nosed, physical mentality. Make no mistake about it: Peppers’ salary played perhaps the largest role in his release. But a league source said Peppers gave the Bears only six to eight solid snaps per game, and the belief was the defense could consistently get better effort from less accomplished players.

That perception shouldn't be seen as foreshadowing for what the Packers will get in 2014 from Peppers.

Although some scouts said Peppers “didn't seem like he was into it” for a good portion of 2013, some of that could be attributed to playing on a horrid Bears defense riddled by injury, in addition to losing former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who is known to be a strong motivator.

After all, in 12 seasons in the NFL, Peppers has finished with fewer than eight sacks in a season just three times (2003, 2007 and 2013).

Besides that, it’s likely the Packers will get a highly motivated Peppers in 2014, caught up in the rivalry between the clubs and eager to prove Chicago made a mistake in cutting him loose.

We also shouldn't underestimate the potential power in a Peppers reunion with defensive line coach Mike Trgovac, who worked with the defensive end in Carolina during his prime (2002-08) or the fact he’ll be a complement opposite Clay Matthews instead of the focal point in opponents’ protection schemes.

Shortly after releasing Peppers on Tuesday, Bears general manager Phil Emery said, “We wish him the best.”

Perhaps the sentiment changes now that Peppers has joined Chicago’s hated rivals up north.

Bears steal Willie Young from Lions

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
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Lamarr Houston's five-year, $35 million contract was a start, but the Bears had been sending out clear signals the organization intended to further address defensive end via free agency.

Twenty-eight-year-old Willie Young fit the mold of what the Bears were searching for.

While the Bears never had serious interest in former Minnesota Vikings star pass-rusher Jared Allen, Young’s three-year, $9 million signing allows general manager Phil Emery to continue his mission of getting younger on defense, while at the same time stealing a productive player from the division rival Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeWillie Young
AP Photo/Richard LipskiWillie Young posted 47 tackles and three sacks last season for the Detroit Lions.
Young started 15 games for the Lions last year and recorded 47 tackles and three sacks. But the 6-foot-4, 251-pound edge rusher has a reputation for being extremely disruptive when asked to pressure the opposing quarterback.

Young also has ties to Bears coach Marc Trestman from their time spent together at NC State.

To add some perspective, Julius Peppers was scheduled to earn $14 million in 2014 and eat up $18,183,333 worth of cap space. Young lands in Chicago at a fraction of the cost, and at six years younger than Peppers, figures to have a much greater impact on the Bears’ defense for the next several seasons.

Young probably isn’t a household name in the NFL, but the deal looks solid on the surface.

For all the criticism directed toward the Bears’ secondary in 2013, notably the safeties, the front four needed the most work in the offseason. Houston and Young represent a significant upgrade over what the Bears lined up last year at defensive end when the club barely managed to muster a pass rush or effectively stop the run.

The Bears simply weren’t in a position to wait and see when Corey Wootton recovered from offseason hip surgery to make their second move at defensive end in free agency. Maybe Wootton is back in the mix when healthy (June or July), but with a thin crop of defensive ends expected to be available in May’s NFL draft, the Bears knew they had to be aggressive in free agency in regards to the position.

The respective contracts of Houston and Young speaks to the dire situation the Bears found themselves in on the defensive line. In total, the Bears awarded deals totaling eight years, $44 million to defensive ends, while safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings, linebackers D.J. Williams and Jordan Senn and wide receiver Domenik Hixon all received modest deals by comparison.

Instead of rolling the dice on older and somewhat more established defensive ends on the market, the Bears secured the bookends of their defensive line for the future.

In free agency, it isn’t always about reeling in the biggest names. It’s about making the moves that make the most sense for the health of the franchise.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- As free agency moves along, more and more teams will continue to release starting-caliber players, which is why the Chicago Bears are keeping a close eye on what is transpiring for the precise moment at which they could pounce.

General manager Phil Emery believes the Bears could still find another starter in the coming days. Entering free agency, the belief among many was that several bargains could be found if teams were willing to wait. That scenario now seems to be playing out around the league.

Tillman
Melton
“We may [sign a starter],” Emery said. “It depends on how the market settles out. We could have a signing today. We could have a signing three weeks from now that we would consider a starter. It continues to be fluid.

Why? Because the landscape continues to change daily as teams decide to release players in order to create cap room to bring aboard other players. As the first wave of free agency wanes, the high dollars commanded by some of the players hitting the market will gradually decrease.

“This thing goes in waves,” Emery explained. “There is a first wave; that goes with signing your own players, which we did. Now comes the next wave where players maybe felt they were going to get a higher amount, then just found out that maybe their market wasn’t there and they’re a little more willing to listen.”

That could take place with players such as cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Tillman is visiting with Tampa Bay, but the Bears remain committed to re-signing him, as Emery on Wednesday said that “with Charles, it’s an ongoing conversation.” Melton, meanwhile, is to visit to the Minnesota Vikings, according to a source, which added the defensive tackle is set to take numerous other undisclosed visits.

If their free-agent trips fail to yield anything fruitful, the Bears could re-sign them to cap-friendly deals.

Should the Bears wait out free agency even a little longer, they could still possibly find potential starters like they did last offseason with linebackers D.J. Williams and James Anderson. Williams signed last season near the end of March, and the team signed Anderson just two days later.

“There’s a third wave [of free agency] where players know they’re either going for the veteran minimum or a little bit above that and they’re just looking for an opportunity,” Emery said. “It’s kind of what happens after the college draft [of undrafted players], where players are just looking for the right opportunity.”

Could recently the released Julius Peppers return to Chicago in such a fashion? It’s a hypothetical question, but Emery won’t rule it out if it could take place at the right price.

“That could occur for a number of players in terms of coming to the Bears depending on what their market is once that’s been determined,” Emery said. “So we’re open. We’re always open to getting better at every level of our team and our roster. So any player, including Julius, if they want to have an opportunity to come back, and we can provide that opportunity -- meaning we have the cap space -- we're always open to it.”

Sign a guy coming off a career-high six sacks in 2013 in Lamarr Houston, only to cut a player in Julius Peppers coming off a down year in which he contributed 7.5 sacks after back-to-back seasons of 11-plus sacks.

On the surface, it doesn’t make a ton of sense.

But this move wasn’t about production as much as it was about the money. Carrying Peppers into the 2014 season would have cost the Chicago Bears a base salary of $13.9 million, and a salary-cap hit of $18.183 million. The decision to terminate Peppers’ contract clears $9.8 million in cap space for 2014.

What that means is the Bears plan to spend some more in a free-agent market that could pay off big in terms of bargains for teams that exercise some patience.

Peppers
As it stands now, the Bears would like to bring back defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Charles Tillman and backup quarterback Josh McCown. The Bears spent $5.775 million during free agency for 2013 last offseason in bringing in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett. So the cap space cleared by parting ways with Peppers should be more than sufficient to bring back Tillman, McCown and Melton if the club so chooses.

If that trio opts to play elsewhere in 2014, the Bears now have enough cap space to fill those holes with legitimate players capable of contributing just as quickly as the club’s free-agent haul from a year ago did.

Chicago parting ways with Peppers certainly didn’t come as a surprise given his age (34), salary and the perception that his production is declining (that typically happens when you’re surrounded by below-average players because of injuries to starters), and he’s falling off athletically. Throughout the offseason, Bears coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery didn’t even try to hint at possibly bringing back Peppers.

Asked at the NFL combine in February whether Peppers had played his last game for the Bears, Trestman said, “Julius Peppers is under contract. He’s been very important to our football team, and I don’t think anything more needs to be said in that regard at this point in time.”

Translation: You’re outta here.

That same day at the combine, knowing the question ultimately referred to Peppers, Emery used a Trestman remark to explain the process of trying to free a player from his contractual obligations with enough time for him to find work with another team.

“To quote Marc,” Emery said, “decisions are made when they have to be made.”

In four years playing for the Bears, Peppers started in every game (64), racked up 37.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in every season with the team except for 2013. In all, Peppers has posted 119 sacks, which ranks as the 17th-most in NFL history since 1982, when the league first started recording sacks as an official statistic.

Since coming into the league in 2002, Peppers ranks only second to Jared Allen (128.5 sacks), who coincidentally is currently without a team, too.

So Peppers shouldn’t have trouble finding work in 2014.

But the Bears better find a way to replace his production on defense, or they could be in for a season similar to what they experienced in 2013. Based on what Chicago has acquired through free agency thus far, there is still plenty of work to do on that front.
Joseph
Houston
The Chicago Bears acquired versatility along the front four Tuesday when they agreed to terms with former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston on a five-year deal worth $35 million, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, which includes $15 million guaranteed, according to NFL sources.

Because of Houston’s size (6-feet-3, 302 pounds), he can line up as an interior pass-rusher but his natural position is out on the edge at end where he should be stout against the run. Houston's talents would be a definite plus for a Bears' defense that allowed the most total yards in franchise history, in addition to surrendering 10 100-yard rushing performances, as well as a 211-yard outing by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson.

After failing to entice Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett with a strong offer on Monday, the Bears focused in on Houston, who is coming off a career-high six sacks in 2013, to go with 56 tackles and two forced fumbles. Houston won’t necessarily wow observers with big sack numbers. He's produced seasons of 5, 1, 4 and 6 sacks over his first four seasons in the NFL, while also producing 41 quarterback hurries.

Still, Houston’s lack of gaudy statistics mask the flexibility he gives the Bears not only schematically, but also in what the club does moving forward in free agency and the NFL draft.

If Chicago needs Houston to line up as a three-technique in a pressure package on third down, he’s capable of doing that and being disruptive. On regular downs, Houston is capable of playing out on the end and snuffing out the run with consistency.

The question now is what the Houston signing means for the future of defensive end Julius Peppers. The club is trying to shop Peppers in a trade that won’t ever materialize because of the fact he’ll count $18.183 million against the cap in 2014. So eventually, the Bears will be forced to cut Peppers if they decide (which is likely what will happen) to move forward without him.

But as it stands now, Houston appears to be the only proven starter at defensive end if Peppers isn’t around in 2014. Remember, Corey Wootton, who is normally the starter opposite Peppers is a free agent, who isn’t expected to return next season.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in dead money of $4.183 million in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but considering his cap figures over the next two years, the dead money still represents a respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million over two years.

So if moving on without Peppers is truly the plan, the Bears still need to do more work along that front four. Remember, the Bears still haven’t re-signed defensive tackle Henry Melton, and it’s unknown whether they’ll be able to because he’s generating interest among multiple teams.

Bears general manager Phil Emery said that some of the defense’s problems up front last season could be attributed to the club being one defensive lineman short due to injuries.

So while Houston represents a promising start to free agency for Chicago, there’s still plenty left to do to fill in holes along that defensive front.
Disappointment over a potential deal that never materialized with Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett on Monday didn’t prevent the Chicago Bears from making a couple of cap-saving moves, in addition to shopping Julius Peppers around the league in advance of Tuesday’s start to free agency.

The Bears whiffed -- but not for lack of trying hard -- on Plan A with Bennett, offering more money than the Seahawks, who eventually retained Bennett with somewhat of a hometown discount. But the Bears under the direction of general manager Phil Emery typically devise alternate strategies for adding the players they want in free agency. So while Plan B, C and the other options aren’t fully known at this point, it’s likely Chicago expects to make a flurry of moves in the first wave of free agency and be active all the way through the process.

That’s why the team cut running back Michael Bush -- freeing up $1.85 million in cap space -- released tight end Dante Rosario, and put out calls around the league, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, for a potential trade for Peppers, which likely won’t ever take place. With Peppers counting $18.183 million against Chicago’s cap in 2014, no team wants to take in that salary via a trade. So when a team starts shopping a player, it often results in the club eventually cutting him.

Cutting Peppers with the post-June 1 designation would result in $4.183 million worth of dead money in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015, but given his astronomical cap figures over the next two years, that would still represent respective savings of $14 million and $16.5 million.

But at this point cutting Peppers doesn’t appear to be imminent.

What does seem to be on the way is the re-signing of middle linebacker D.J. Williams. The sides had been in discussion since last week, and negotiations were expected to continue through the weekend. As of Monday evening, the sides -- although still talking -- hadn't come to an agreement, according to a league source who expected a deal to take place late Monday night or early Tuesday.

Chicago also remains interested in re-signing other free agents such as cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and backup quarterback Josh McCown. Little information has emerged regarding Tillman’s situation, although he’s been linked to Tampa Bay because of his history with former Bears head coach Lovie Smith. The Bears have worked diligently to bring back Tillman, and it’s likely the effort will continue as the cornerback’s prospects with other teams could be limited by his age.

Melton, meanwhile, has generated interest from multiple teams, including the Dallas Cowboys, according to a league source, which would make sense given the defensive tackle’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. That doesn’t mean the Bears won’t be able to re-sign Melton. After all, the Cowboys are tight against their cap, and it’s unknown what kind of money another team might offer Melton, whose value could be diminished since he is coming off an ACL surgery.

As for McCown, as of right now, the Buccaneers appear to be the front-runner to land the quarterback, according to multiple sources, unless another one of the interested teams steps up with a more enticing offer, as the career backup may receive an opportunity to compete for a starting job. According to ESPNChicago’s Jeff Dickerson, McCown’s camp has been in contact with the Bucs, Bears, New York Jets and Houston Texans.

Dickerson also reported the Bears reached out to Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson on Saturday, ostensibly as a secondary option to Bennett, when the negotiation window for unrestricted free agents opened around the league. Although the sides engaged in preliminary talks, as of Monday evening it was believed the Bears weren’t at the top of the list for Johnson, who is widely considered the best available defensive end remaining on the market.

The Bears are also targeting defensive end Lamarr Houston of the Raiders according to a report on the NFL Network.

It’s unknown at this point where that leaves the Bears in terms of addressing needs along the defensive line, but several potential lower-priced options exist, and the salary demands could drop depending on how the first wave of free agency goes.

Safety is another area of need the Bears hope to address in free agency. The San Francisco Chronicle reported Chicago has expressed interest in San Francisco’s Donte Whitner, who would give the Bears an intimidating presence on the back end. A source also confirmed the club’s interest in New York Giants safety Ryan Mundy, who finds Chicago an intriguing opportunity because he’d receive a chance to compete for a starting job.

The Bears ended the day Monday with nearly $10.2 million in cap space, and it’s worth noting the club spent $5.775 million during free agency for the 2013 season on three starters in Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson and Martellus Bennett.

So as the initial sting of losing out on Bennett wears off, Emery said back in January the Bears will still be plenty competitive in terms of putting together a solid team once free agency opens on Tuesday.

We all just have to wait and see.
CHICAGO -- Cincinnati Bengals' free agent defensive end Michael Johnson is on the Chicago Bears' radar.

The Bears were one of the teams to inquire about Johnson on Saturday on the opening day of the NFL's legal tampering period leading up the official start of free agency on Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT, according to a source familiar with the situation.

ESPN.com's Minnesota Vikings NFL Nation beat reporter Ben Goessling had reported that seven teams had contacted Johnson's representatives by Saturday evening, including the division rival Vikings.

The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Johnson recorded only 3.5 sacks last season to go along with 56 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles.

However, Johnson, 27, had a career-high 11.5 sacks in 2012.

In five years with the Bengals, Johnson has 26.5 sacks, three interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The Bears are in dire need of help at defensive end. Veteran Julius Peppers' future with the Bears is cloudy at best considering the eight-time Pro Bowl pass-rusher is scheduled to count $18,183,333 million against the club's 2014 salary cap.

Further complicating matters is that former first-round draft choice Shea McClellin is moving to linebacker next season, and Corey Wootton is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Wootton is currently recovering from offseason hip surgery and not expected to return until the summer.

The Chicago Tribune reported on Saturday the Bears are believed to have expressed interest in free agent defensive end Michael Bennett, whose brother Martellus is the team’s starting tight end.

Addressing the defensive end position is clearly a priority for the Bears in the coming days.
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Bears sign DE Trevor Scott

March, 6, 2014
Mar 6
5:00
PM ET
The Chicago Bears signed veteran defensive end Trevor Scott to a one-year contract, the team announced on Thursday.

Scott has appeared in 76 games with 18 starts over six seasons with the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 6-foot-5, 260 pound defensive end played in just four games and recorded three tackles for the Bucs last season.

Oakland’s six-round choice (No. 168 overall) in the 2008 NFL draft out of the University of Buffalo, Scott had five sacks for the Raiders his rookie, then registered a career-high seven sacks, 37 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss and 12 quarterback hits in 2009.

Scott also has 20 lifetime tackles on special teams.

The Bears view upgrading the defensive line as one of their top offseason priorities after the unit struggled last season due to injuries and inconsistent play.

Veteran defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff agreed to terms on a new two-year deal on Wednesday, while fellow defensive linemen Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Corey Wootton and Landon Cohen are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the NFL’s new league year begins on March 11. The Bears signed former Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions defensive end Austen Lane to a one-year deal in February.

Another decision looming for the Bears on the defensive line is the roster status of eight-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers, 34 years old, is scheduled to count $18,183,333 against the Bears’ 2014 salary structure under the terms of his current contract and is fresh off a mediocre 2013 season.

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