Chicago Bears: NFC North

Bears waive DE Ozougwu

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
4:35
PM ET
The Chicago Bears announced on Tuesday they waived defensive end Cheta Ozougwu.

A third-year veteran, Ozougwu played in nine games for the Bears from 2012-13, producing four tackles, including a sack and one stop for lost yardage, and one forced fumble. Ozougwu also contributed five tackles on special teams.

Ozougwu was originally drafted by the Houston Texans in 2011 out of Rice, but it appears a logjam at the defensive end position might have led to his release. The Bears signed defensive ends Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Israel Idonije in Jared Allen during free agency. Those additions would have significantly impacted Ozougwu's chances of making the team for the 2014 season.
Neil Hornsby over at Pro Football Focus put together a piece Wednesday identifying five teams that could push themselves into the playoffs Insider by identifying and addressing one specific positional need in the upcoming NFL draft.

Conrath
Conte
He pointed to Carolina in 2013 as an example. Headed into last year’s draft, the Panthers needed to fix issues at defensive tackle. They did so by drafting interior linemen Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short with their first two selections, turning what had been identified as a glaring weakness into a major strength.

For the Chicago Bears, the significant weakness, according to Hornsby, is the safety position.

Horsby writes: “It would be far from unfair to say the worst position group in football last year was the Bears' collection of safeties. Both regular starters were listed in the worst five of our 86 ranked players at the position. Major Wright and Chris Conte combined to give up more than 1,000 yards in the air, and if anything, were worse as run defenders. Both missed more than 10 tackles in that phase alone, and were both in the top 10 for missed tackles overall.”

Obviously, the Bears tried to upgrade the safety position in free agency by acquiring Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings, and Danny McCray. But at this point, those players appear to be depth signings, capable of starting games in a pinch. The club needs to raise the talent level, especially now that Conte might end up missing some training camp coming off a shoulder surgery.

Though it’s unclear whether the Bears will address safety immediately with the No. 14 pick, it’s pretty much guaranteed that at some point in the draft the team will take one, possibly even two.

By Hornsby’s rationale, that could be the difference in the Bears earning their first trip to the playoffs since the 2010 season.
The NFL released the 2014 preseason schedule on Wednesday, and while the precise dates haven’t yet been set, the Chicago Bears host the Philadelphia Eagles in their exhibition opener (weekend of Aug. 7-10), followed by another home outing on Aug. 14 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Chicago plays its next two opponents on the road: Seattle (Aug. 21-24), followed by the traditional preseason finale at Cleveland on Aug. 28 or Aug. 29.

What should be interesting is that Chicago plays preseason game No. 3 -- which is often when the starters receive their most significant action of the exhibition season -- against the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks.

While it’s only the preseason, the opener against Philadelphia is also somewhat of a compelling matchup given that the Eagles smashed the Bears 54-11 at Lincoln Financial Field on Dec. 22 last season. If the Bears had won, they would’ve advanced to the postseason.

The club's Aug. 14 matchup against the Jaguars will be nationally televised on ESPN at 7 p.m. CT.

The exact dates and times for the other three matchups will be announced at a later date.
ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson put together a list ranking the league’s true No. 1 receivers , and what’s interesting is the Chicago Bears are the only team considered to have two top targets with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Here is a list of Williamson’s criteria for a true No. 1 receiver:
  • They need to have the ability to separate from man coverage, understand how to find the soft spots in zones and have very strong athletic traits.
  • They need to be strong, fast and play big, which often -- but not always -- can eliminate shorter wide receivers from this equation.
  • They must be productive, even when opposing defenses are scheming to take them out of the equation; No. 1 receivers can be uncoverable and never come off the field.
  • They must display the above traits with consistency.

Certainly Marshall and Jeffery possess all the above attributes, which is why Chicago should finish among the top 10 in offense in 2014.

Williamson lists Jeffery in the category of "Freaks of nature, but a step below Calvin Johnson" and ranks him No. 9, below A.J. Green at No. 4, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas.
Williamson writes: Jeffery didn't eclipse 51 receiving yards in Chicago's first three games and also had three other outings in which he had fewer than 60 yards receiving, but he was utterly dominant against the Saints and Vikings. Still a little up-and-down, the 24-year-old has rare size and body control for such a big man. He also has very strong hands.

Only Gordon and Calvin Johnson averaged more yards per catch than Jeffery in 2013. Jeffrey was the Bears' most feared receiver by the end of his second NFL season.

As for Marshall, Williamson lists him among the “Oldies but still very goodies” at No. 10 on the list.
Williamson writes: Drops were a problem for Marshall in 2013, which has been a recurring theme throughout his career, but he caught 100 passes (for the fifth time in his career) and scored 12 touchdowns. Marshall attacks the football in the air and is a very aggressive ball carrier once it is secured.

Marshall just turned 30 years old, but his style of game should translate for some time, and he is showing zero signs of slowing down.

What’s even more encouraging about Marshall is he’s participating fully in a conditioning program right now after finishing the season pretty much injury free. If you remember last offseason, Marshall was recovering from arthroscopic hip surgery. Without the hip being a hindrance to training now, Marshall should come back an even better player in 2014.
Charles TillmanGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman and the Bears' defense should benefit from some key additions in 2014.
The Chicago Bears' front office grunted through one of the league's busiest offseason of signings to put the team in position to draft the best player available in May while also minimizing the burden of the potential first-round pick to carry the savior label.

So while the workload won't lighten as the Bears prepare for the NFL draft and the April 22 start of the offseason program, they've unwittingly utilized a core motto of former NFL coach Dennis Green: Plan your work and work your plan. That has led to the Bears signing 30 players since the final week of December, a group that includes 17 returners, 10 unrestricted free agents and three street free agents to drastically improve -- at least on paper -- one of the NFL's worst defenses of 2013.

"I think we'll slow down a tad," Bears general manager Phil Emery said on March 31. "But we have a lot of work to do. We have some positions we want to make more competitive. The draft's around the corner."

Not to diminish the work to be done over the next few weeks, but Chicago's activity up to this point should make things easier moving forward. Headed into the offseason, the Bears needed to address a defensive line that played a major role in 2013 in the defense allowing 5.34 yards per rushing attempt (the league average was 4.10), and did so by signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Israel Idonije, in addition to bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

The club also re-signed starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, while adding to the safety position by acquiring M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

So is the defense better now than it was in 2013?

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier [than in 2013] because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, I think we've added some guys at key points in their career. Jared adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr and Willie add some youth, speed and [physicality]. Really excited about Jeremiah Ratliff this year. He's excited about playing. He wants to finish here. He added so much the last few weeks [of 2013] in terms of leadership; unbelievably mentally tough player. So yeah, I think the collective group, we've gotten stronger and we're headed in the right direction as far as we want to establish as a defensive football team."

Given the financial commitments to Houston, Allen and Young -- all defensive ends -- it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds ways to get them on the field at the same time. Allen is the bona fide starter at right end, and Houston will play on the left side. But it's likely the Bears will take advantage of Houston's versatility and kick him inside to defensive tackle on passing downs while playing Young opposite Allen at end.

Even without the benefit of the upcoming draft, Chicago's defensive line appears to be a more dynamic group than it was in 2013.

"It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or different personnel groupings or groupings against personnel," Emery said.

Depending on the direction the Bears take in May in the draft, that task could become more difficult for Tucker. Despite the Bears adding Jennings, McCray and Mundy in free agency, the club could stand to acquire another safety in the draft capable of competing for a starting job; especially with the possibility Chris Conte might miss time at camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.

But the club might see more value in using its first-round pick on one of the talented interior defensive line prospects such as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, as picking a safety at No. 14 might be a little too high for the team's tastes. Surely, the Bears will address safety in the first three rounds, in addition to adding depth at some point at corner and at linebacker.

Emery declined to say whether the signing of Allen or all the work done to revamp the defensive line will change the club's draft plans -- only that "it's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships. To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team."

The Bears certainly added some. In the process, they made the possibility of a defensive renaissance similar to what was experienced on the other side of the ball in 2013 a potentially easier undertaking.

They've planned their work and are working their plan.
The NFL released the offseason calendars Thursday for all its teams, and the Chicago Bears are just 18 days away from the start of their offseason conditioning program.

The first day of the club's program is April 22, but organized team activities won't begin until May 27.

Here's how it breaks down:

OTA workouts: May 27-28, May 30, June 2-3, June 9-12.

Mandatory minicamp: June 17-19.

None of the workouts listed above will be open to the public. The club hasn't yet announced the start of training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., but that typically takes place near the end of July at Olivet Nazarene University.
The Chicago Bears hold the No. 14 pick in the 2014 NFL draft after putting together an 8-8 record under head coach Marc Trestman and missing the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons, in part because of a traditionally strong defense finally realizing its mortality.

So, similar to the way the club retooled the offense going into 2013, the Bears plan to work diligently on the defense, with the draft most likely focusing on cornerback, defensive tackle, safety and perhaps even linebacker additions.


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Jay CutlerRob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJay Cutler has thrown 101 TD passes and 75 interceptions in his five seasons with the Chicago Bears.
The fifth-year anniversary of the trade between the Chicago Bears and Denver Broncos that brought Jay Cutler to Chicago arrived on Wednesday, and for a variety of reasons, the verdict is somewhat still out regarding the effectiveness of the transaction, which was arguably the most significant in franchise history.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, who initiated the move, told The Game 87.7 FM on Wednesday that he’d "absolutely" do the deal all over again because, “You’ll never see a situation like that ever come about again. It never did before, and it certainly won’t (in the future)."

Most likely, Angelo is correct.

“You don’t let a quarterback in his prime who went to a Pro Bowl, where the arrow is going up, out of the building,” Angelo said. “There were some circumstances mostly due to egos that created that. So you seize the moment. There were a lot of teams in line trying to trade for Jay, and if the Bears didn’t sign Jay, I said this: 'There would be four or five teams standing at his doorstep waiting to sign him.'”

The Bears surrendered two first-round picks, a third-round selection, and their starting quarterback in Kyle Orton at the time in a trade on Apr. 2, 2009 that many thought could reverse Chicago’s fortunes, given its need for a bona fide signal caller. But several circumstances have conspired to prevent Cutler from leading the Bears to a Super Bowl. We’ll get into those later, but let’s first look a little more deeply into the trade.

With the first-round picks the Broncos acquired, they traded one in the 2010 draft to San Francisco, which selected offensive tackle Anthony Davis No. 11 overall. Denver used the other in 2009 to acquire defensive end Robert Ayers. Denver traded the third-round pick acquired from the Bears to Pittsburgh, which snatched up receiver Mike Wallace.

Ultimately, Denver traded away two of the three picks received from the Bears and eventually parlayed those into the acquisitions of receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who recently joined the New York Jets via free agency.

The Bears, meanwhile, used the Denver’s fifth-round pick in 2009 to select receiver Johnny Knox, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie return specialist.

Since the trade, Cutler has led the Bears to the playoffs just once over five seasons, and the Broncos have advanced to the postseason three times, and appeared in Super Bowl XLVIII. ESPNChicago.com colleague Jeff Dickerson made a salient point during a Jan. 31 Four Downs feature when mentioning that “when a team surrenders two first-round picks, a third-rounder and its starting quarterback to acquire a supposed franchise quarterback, and then reaches the postseason just one time in the five years after the deal from a team that ends up reaching the playoffs three times and playing in the Super Bowl over the exact same time period, the winner is obvious: the second team. Spin it any way you want, the Broncos crushed the Bears on that trade five years ago.”

Maybe they did, but it’s still worth mentioning some of the challenges Cutler has faced throughout his tenure in Chicago. The man who made the trade, Angelo, was fired by the club, and former coach Lovie Smith suffered the same fate last offseason. Further chipping away at any sense of stability for Cutler is the fact he’s played for four different offensive coordinators -- and four different offenses -- in five years with the Bears.

And after four years of horrid protection (Cutler has played only one full 16-game season since joining Chicago), a lack of offensive weaponry, and outdated schemes, it appears new general manager Phil Emery has finally fixed those issues. Cutler almost immediately responded with his best year as a pro, which in turn led the Bears to signing him to a seven-year extension.

Here’s what ESPNChicago.com colleague Jon Greenberg wrote about the trade back on Jan. 31: “The Bears traded picks for a franchise quarterback, and that is what they have in Cutler. It hasn't been easy, but after a few stops and starts, it looks like Cutler is finally poised to live up to the expectations brought about with that trade. If he had been traded to a team with big receivers and an offensive-minded coaching staff, this wouldn't even be a question. It's a testament to the Broncos that they wisely used the picks to get Super Bowl contributors in Ayers and (through trades) Thomas and Decker. When you trade a star to get draft picks, that's how it should work, a win-win for both sides. But the real key, of course, is Peyton Manning being available. Otherwise, this isn't even a debate.”

Both Dickerson and Greenberg make strong points, and on the surface, it certainly appears Denver came out the winner in the trade. But my thought is that even after five years, it’s absolutely fair to reserve complete judgment until after the 2014 season, with Cutler in the second year of a real offensive system, surrounded by competent weapons and strong protection.

If Cutler falters, then Denver won big in the trade. If he shines, depending on how bright, perhaps we might be able to one day call it a draw.

“The position speaks for itself. It’s the value of what (Cutler) does,” Angelo explained. “He’s very, very talented. We all know that. The Bears have won a lot of games with Jay. If Jay stays healthy, particularly in this kind of an offense with the weapons he has, I think the sky’s the limit.”
A remark during the introductory press conference Monday at Hallas Hall for Jared Allen brought back a conversation from nearly a month ago regarding defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.

Ratliff
Allen
Back on March 5 when Ratliff re-signed with the Bears, an NFL assistant familiar with the defensive tackle's abilities called him "a soldier if healthy." Allen said pretty much the same thing Monday when asked what he liked about Chicago's defense.

"One of the people that excites me the most is Jay Ratliff," Allen said. "I've gotten to know Jay over the years at the Pro Bowl. I've seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he's healthy, he's an absolute beast in the middle. I've had the fortune to play with Pat and Kevin Williams, and he's up there on that level with them. What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the three-technique spot, not only in the run game, but in the pass game: That's huge. To have a guy that can consistently get 3 or 4 yards deep, a quarterback's got one way to go -- me or him. That, I'm really excited about."

So obviously, the expectations for Ratliff in 2014 grow beyond the team's initial cautious optimism regarding the defensive tackle last season when the club signed him as a stopgap measure for a depleted front four. The Bears looked realistically at Ratliff's acquisition last November, realizing internally there was a legitimate chance he might not pan out.

The Bears figured that if Ratliff turned out to be a wasted signing, the move was well worth the risk because they hadn't given up any picks and spent little on a one-year deal for a player with Pro Bowl pedigree rehabbing from an injury.

Ratliff participated in just five games in 2013, contributing 14.5 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks but showed enough for the Bears to sign him to a two-year deal in March worth $4 million.

Pairing Allen next to Ratliff next season could turn out to be a bargain. During his tenure in Minnesota, Allen developed uncanny chemistry with defensive tackle Kevin Williams over a six-year period and expects similar results alongside Ratliff, provided the duo puts in the work on the practice field.

"It's getting those reps in practice with the guy to understand, 'OK, what's his countermove?' I'll need to know what Jay's countermove is so when I'm rushing up the field and I see him up that he's gonna counter," Allen said. "And he also needs to understand like, 'Hey, I need you to make a decision by two or three steps here.' That's how you start falling off with things naturally with each other. I could literally look at Kevin and if we had a set that we saw, I could look at him and we just knew that 'OK here, you're gonna go up and I'm gonna come under or vice versa. So it just comes down to reps and communication and talking about it. It comes down to obviously the philosophy of the d-linemen, of what Coach is gonna allow us to flow in and out of. If everybody knows what each other knows then you can play off each other well."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Jared Allen easily passed the first test administered by Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery.

Now it’s time Allen proves it on the field.

Allen
Having worked against Allen for several years in Atlanta, Kansas City and Chicago, Emery said he’s seen plenty of game tape of the new Bears defensive end. But just before Emery came out on Monday to introduce Allen, he wanted to take one last look; a “buyer’s remorse check,” the general manager joked. After all, the club had just signed Allen to a four-year, $32 million contract, which includes $15.5 million guaranteed over the first two seasons.

“I always watch one more tape after [a new player is acquired] to make sure that I had all the ducks aligned, and that we are getting the person and the player that we thought we were,” Emery explained.

So the general manager decided to pull tape of Allen from near the end of last season, when a depleted Minnesota Vikings team blasted Philadelphia 48-30, which coincidentally came just a week before the Eagles routed the Bears 54-11 at Lincoln Financial Field. Emery wanted to see how Allen would perform toward the end of the year against Jason Peters, a six-time Pro Bowler.

“I randomly went through his games and I looked and said, ‘I need something at the end of the season,’ to see where his motor was at that part of the year, and I need something against a good opponent; somebody that was in the playoffs,” Emery said. “So I grabbed the Eagles tape. [Allen had] two sacks, tackle for loss, two hits on the quarterback, two pressures. [I ] felt pretty good. So you passed the test Jared.”

Now Allen needs to do that again for a Bears defense looking in 2014 to regain form. Emery has certainly done his part thus far in bringing in new coaches and personnel to help defensive coordinator Mel Tucker put out the best product possible next season. According to Emery, the work isn’t yet done as the club would like to ramp up the competition at a few more spots on defense; a goal the club will likely accomplish with a defense-heavy draft in May.

"Talking with the coaches and the talent that they’ve brought here and after talking to Coach Tucker and [defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni], the philosophy and the menality that they have, everybody thinks that defensive ends, all we want to do is rush the passer. Well, I come from a long line of thinking that you have to earn the right to rush the passer," Allen said. "So we’re going to get after it in the run game. We’re going to be a vaunted Bears defense again and it’s going to start with us up front.”
Here's the third part of our look at some of Chicago's best and worst free-agent acquisitions over the past five years. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section:

Good: Martellus Bennett
Position: Tight end
Contract: Four years, $20.4 million, $9.215 million guaranteed
Years of service with Bears: 2013-present

Bennett
Recap: The Bears set out last year in free agency to find a dynamic middle-of-the-field threat and landed the affable Bennett, who quickly fit in with quarterback Jay Cutler, receiver Brandon Marshall and the other offensive players. Bennett also established a relationship with head coach Marc Trestman, who played catch with the tight end almost every day after practice. Bennett set career highs last season in receptions (65) and receiving yardage (759). Bennett also tied a career high in receiving touchdowns (five). Bennett ranked eighth among tight ends in receptions, tied for ninth in yards and tied for 12th in TDs. He is now one of eight tight ends in the league to gain more than 1,000 receiving yards (1,385) and catch 10 TD passes over the last two years. Bennett's 65 catches ranked second in franchise history for a tight end, behind Hall of Famer Mike Ditka (75 catches in 1964).

"I feel like I'm the most attractive person on anybody's offense, no matter what team I'm on," Bennett said. "When you look this good, how could you not want to be around? I'm the GQ of football. I just want to have a better season. I just want to be the best possible Martellus. I'm excited about the future and the things that I'm doing here."

Bad: Chilo Rachal
Position: Left guard
Contract: One year, $700,000
Years of service with Bears: 2012

Recap: Rachal supplanted Chris Spencer as the starter after the second game of the 2012 season and started in eight consecutive contests before a horrid outing at San Francisco cost him his job. With Jay Cutler out due to a concussion, backup Jason Campbell started at quarterback and took a beating during a 32-7 loss. Campbell absorbed six sacks. Soon after, former offensive coordinator Mike Tice announced he was benching Rachal and fellow offensive lineman Gabe Carimi during a team meeting. Rachal didn't take the demotion well and ended up leaving Halas Hall after meeting with former coach Lovie Smith. Rachal was expected to attend a team meeting the next day but missed it. The club felt that Rachal handled the demotion unprofessionally but expressed concerned about his mental state. Eventually, the Bears put Rachal on the reserve/left team list, making him ineligible to play for the rest of the season, which was interesting considering Lance Louis was lost for the year in the team's next game against the Minnesota Vikings. Rachal never played another down for the Chicago Bears. The Arizona Cardinals signed Rachal last April to a one-year deal worth $715,000, but the team released him at the end of training camp. Rachal hasn't played a regular-season snap since the fiasco at San Francisco on Nov. 19, 2012.
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. Here’s the second part of five installments. Feel free to add some of your own in the comments section:

GOOD

Matt Slauson
Position: Left guard
Contract: One year, $820,600
Years of service with Bears: 2013-present

[+] EnlargeMatt Slauson
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsThe Bears recently gave Matt Slauson a four-year deal worth almost $13 million.
Recap: Slauson left the New York Jets to join Chicago on basically a one-year, prove-it deal, and quickly became one of four new starters along the Bears’ offensive line in 2013. According to Pro Football Focus, Slauson finished the 2013 season with the sixth-highest grade among guards in the NFL. Bears general manager Phil Emery rewarded Slauson for his play in January, signing the veteran to a four-year deal worth $12.8 million. In addition to Slauson's contributions on the field, teammates said he played a key role in helping some of the club's younger players such as Kyle Long transition into the pro game.

Quarterback Jay Cutler said that Slauson provided "toughness, a nastiness, a veteran leadership which was needed for the younger guys. He's constant. Every single day he's grinding. He was able to show Kyle [Long] what it takes to be a successful guard in the NFL. I was really excited to hear that he's going to be here four more years protecting me."

BAD

Marion Barber
Position: Running back
Contract: Two years, $5 million
Years of service with Bears: 2011

Recap: From the backflip fail during a win at Carolina, to two late-game mishaps that played huge roles during a Chicago overtime loss at Denver, former running back Marion Barber had a somewhat rocky tenure in one season in Chicago after a fairly successful six-year stint with the Dallas Cowboys. Barber rushed for 422 yards and six touchdowns on 114 carries with the Bears in 2011, but the Bears opted to add Michael Bush the very next offseason to serve as the primary backup to starter Matt Forte. Maybe Barber saw the writing on the wall, but in March of 2012 the running back, then 28, decided to retire. Barber was due a base salary of $1.9 million for 2012.

"I want to thank everyone who gave me the opportunity to play, and I'm very thankful to have had the chance to suit up for two of the NFL's most storied organizations," Barber told the team’s official website.

With that, he was gone. Barber reported to training camp for the Bears out of shape and dealt with a variety of nagging injuries. With the Bears still fighting for a spot in the postseason, Barber ran out of bounds late in regulation during a 13-10 overtime loss to Denver with his team leading and needing to run out the clock. Then in overtime, he fumbled for the first time all season, which led to Denver’s game-winning field goal.

Barber finished his NFL career with 4,780 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns.

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.


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Four days ago, in light of news that Henry Melton was the subject of a civil suit, we wrote that regardless of what might take place in a courtroom, the potential return of the defensive tackle was uncertain because of Chicago's unwillingness to overspend.

With Melton posting on Twitter on Tuesday that he's signing with the Dallas Cowboys, let's put it out there right now: The Chicago Bears made the right move despite the fact they'll lose a talented player.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012 but played in just three games last season.
Provided Melton makes a successful return from left ACL surgery, he appears destined to return to the Pro Bowl -- possibly on multiple occasions. But in addition to Melton's small body of work regarding consistency on the field, the Bears held some trepidation regarding his inconsistency off it. Bears general manager Phil Emery mentioned on Jan. 2 concern about Melton's “passion” for the game of football.

It's also why the organization, after gifting Melton $8.45 million last season in the form of the franchise tag, made the conscious decision to not risk wasting money again. Melton was certainly deserving of a major payday considering he was coming off a 2012 season in which he posted six sacks on the way to making his first Pro Bowl. But the Bears got just three games worth of production the last time they invested heavily in Melton, and those three outings likely won't go down as the defensive tackle's strongest performances.

Make no mistake about it: The Bears wanted to bring back Melton, because in Chicago's defensive system, he's the player who makes it all go. But the Bears stuck to their plan of bringing back Melton only at their own price, which is part of the reason he's headed to Dallas.

"Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said back on Jan. 2. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. There was a reason for that investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the engine that drives the defense. When he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

The Bears made it clear from the beginning that they would not spend frivolously to bring back Melton, with Emery saying he “pretty much left it with [agent] Jordan [Woy] that [Melton] was gonna go through [the free-agent] process, and when he got through it, and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time.”

But that time never came because Melton hit the market without the Bears ever making a contract offer, according to an NFL source who said “if you want to sign someone badly enough, you make offers and don't wait.”

Apparently, the Cowboys jumped in quickly with a suitable deal for Melton, who is originally from Grapevine, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, after the defensive tackle also visited with the Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. In Dallas, Melton will be reunited with Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who served in the same capacity with the Bears from 2010-12, and has called the defensive tackle one of the most natural pass-rushers he's ever coached.

Will Marinelli again coax the best out of Melton in Dallas? That's certainly likely.

But the question marks concerning Melton in Chicago were too significant for the cap-strapped Bears to comfortably make a significant investment in him.
Perhaps the body bite allegedly made by Chicago Bears free-agent defensive tackle Henry Melton truly did inflict psychological damage on Donald Payne, owner of Chill Sports Bar & Grill in Grapevine, Texas, as his attorney Darren Wolf says in a lawsuit filed seeking "a sum greater than $1 million," according to WFAA-TV in Dallas.

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears aren't as interested about Henry Melton's off-the-field issues as they are about his price tag, but the former does give an idea over how much the team is willing to pay to keep him.
But rest assured, Chicago's brass is thinking clearly regarding the possibility of the defensive tackle re-signing with the club. And what's quite apparent at this point is the Bears do want to bring back Melton for the 2014 season regardless of this civil suit, viewed as frivolous from this vantage point. But that's only going to take place if it's at the right price (translation: cheap) for the organization.

Why else would the Bears let Melton take multiple visits to other teams -- including one to the division rival Minnesota Vikings -- when they could've snatched him up before the start of free agency?

If you remember, Grapevine police arrested Melton in December with the club on the road preparing to face the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was charged with assault and public intoxication stemming from an altercation with a bartender. Payne, the owner of that establishment, is suing Melton, which is interesting considering the defensive tackle's legal representation was also planning to file a lawsuit.

Asked about the civil suit Thursday filed in Texas against Melton, Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted he was just hearing for the first time about the latest development.

"If that's related to the situation down in Texas, I think that's been an ongoing issue in terms of that issue coming to conclusion and that's all I can talk about it," Emery said. "In terms of evaluating Henry the player, that's separate from that. His on-the-field is one thing in terms of evaluation. The off-the-field is the other. It is a part of it, but that's a legal issue, and that's all I need to say about that."

Will that affect the club's desire to re-sign Melton? Absolutely not, but it does give the Bears ammunition when forming a position about the level of compensation at which they'd feel comfortable paying Melton, not to mention the fact he's coming off a torn ACL. That's not a surprise.

Emery had already been planting the seeds for what's transpiring this very minute back on Jan. 2, and rightfully so, given the cap situation.

"Henry, in particular, he has got to fully dedicate himself to rehab. He has to fully dedicate his mind and his focus to football, which is extremely important," Emery said then. "And as I have sat down and talked to him, there was a reason we franchise-tagged him [last season]. There was a reason for that investment. The under-tackle position in the scheme that we're in is the engine that drives the defense. When he was in the game, even though from a statistical standpoint he wasn't off to a fast start, it was very evident on tape that he was a very important part of the defense. So he knows, and that has been related to him that we signed you for a reason. Now let's focus in on getting healthy, and obviously he has some off-the-field issues that he needs to make sure he's focused in on football and having a passion for football."

Emery makes several valid points. But let's keep it real here: If the Bears wanted to sign Melton badly enough, they would've made a concrete offer (they haven't, by the way) instead of waiting for his agent, Jordan Woy, to first find the defensive tackle's value on the open market. You can't fault the team for taking that position, though. At the same time, the fact is the Bears want to bring back Melton as cheaply as possible.

It's not happenstance that Emery on Wednesday mentioned that teams are "very interested in [Melton's] medical status."

Starting with the Minnesota Vikings, Melton is taking several free-agent trips according to a source.

"We pretty much left it with Jordan that he was going to go through this process, and when he got through it and he had a pretty good idea of what his market is, we could talk at that time," Emery said. "Of course, the clock is ticking. So our resources or what we have at the time may have changed. But we'll see where we're at when that's all finished."

If somehow it all gets 'finished' as Emery says with Melton winding up in Chicago, you can bet the defensive tackle won't receive anything remotely close to the $8.45 million the club paid in 2013, when it tagged the defensive tackle as its franchise player.

But given the club's recent signings of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, in addition to Jeremiah Ratliff, the truth is Melton could prove to be the missing piece that completes the puzzle.

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