GM Phil Emery dives right into free agency

March, 12, 2014
3/12/14
6:30
PM ET
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- There are few people who can describe free agency as “wild” and “fun” (not counting the guys getting multimillion-dollar offers thrown at them) and be as believable as Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery was Wednesday.

[+] EnlargePhil Emery
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastBears general manager Phil Emery has been active early in the free-agent signing period.
When Emery spoke to the media about the Bears’ latest free-agent acquisitions -- defensive end Lamarr Houston and safeties Ryan Mundy and M.D. Jennings -- it was with the same passion he brought to his first offensive-minded signing period last year.

“You can’t be timid during the UFA process,” said Emery, who also signed linebacker D.J. Williams and special-teams linebacker Jordan Senn this week. “There’s a lot of moving parts. You have to stay in it, you have to swing hard and be willing to reload and swing again.”

Sure, it is fair to question whether Emery was being a bit impulsive when he grabbed Houston, who has never had more than six sacks in a season, and signed him to a five-year contract that averages $7 million per season, after cutting Julius Peppers, who had seven sacks in a bad year.

But in Houston, Emery gets a 26-year-old who can consistently tackle people, no small feat here lately and the Bears’ biggest problem last season, in case anyone forgot. Teams generally do not risk getting the ball intercepted and their quarterback stomped when they can run at will. In fact, opponents ran against the Bears nearly 50 percent of the time (over the league average of 42 percent), which also no doubt slanted the sack numbers for Peppers & Co.


“He’s rushed at the 3-technique and the nose, the right and left both up and down, so that versatility fits in where we want to go with our defense,” Emery said of Houston.

Yes, the Bears still have needs on defense, but they are improving their depth, and free agency is not over. Hearing Emery say they are going to “keep grinding on the roster” makes it hard to be too hard on him.

“Whether you find out about it or not,” he told reporters, “there will be a number of workouts run through this building between now and before the start of the season. We’re going to keep looking at this roster, and if we find a skill or trait in a player at a position that is better than what we currently have, we’re going to sign him and we’ll release another player. We’re going to keep working the roster to improve the level of competition so we get better as a team.”

Reacting in the first hours of free agency is what good teams do, teams with a firm plan and not teams waiting to see how the market shakes out. We already know Emery is not afraid to make tough decisions, beginning with the dismissal of Lovie Smith, the same guy who looks as if he’s either building a team in Tampa Bay or organizing a 2010 Bears reunion.

Enough said? It should be for a few more hours, at least.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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