- Kevin Seifert, NFL Nation
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When sports teams encounter disaster, the most predictable solution is a 180-degree turn. Players' coaches are replaced by disciplinarians. Defensive gurus give way to offensive geniuses. Unassuming players are replaced by fiery personalities.
That's how I view the Chicago Bears' decision to pursue and acquire veteran defensive end Jared Allen, who essentially replaces Julius Peppers as their designated pass-rusher. Both are Hall of Fame candidates, and I'm not sure we could credibly settle a debate comparing their effectiveness, but there is no doubt about their polar personalities. Peppers is as quiet as Allen is boisterous, and because Peppers was part of the worst defense in Bears history last season, it's not surprising to see Allen now standing in his place.
The Bears allowed a franchise-record 478 points last season, and general manager Phil Emery has responded with a personnel shake-up that promises a different look if nothing else in 2014. Based on a contract that guarantees $15.5 million over the next two seasons, Allen -- who turns 32 next month -- is the centerpiece of Emery's plan.
It has been awhile since the Bears had a player with Allen's brand of energy, one who will play to, and interact with, the home crowd while playing "through the whistle" in a way that gives him an edge that Peppers didn't have. Allen is a natural leader and locker-room pillar, and I imagine he will be more effective filling the gaps left behind by Brian Urlacher -- and Olin Kreutz before that -- than anyone who tried to do it last season.
As with Peppers, Allen's best days as a pass-rusher are behind him. Bears fans might remember him as the player whose blindside block in 2012 ended the tenure of guard Lance Louis. But there are many ways for a free agent to impact his new team, and more than anything, Allen's arrival in Chicago serves as a wake-up call for those who remain.
Last season's debacle ended the tenures of two Pro Bowl players, Peppers and Henry Melton. Thus far, it has prevented the return of free-agent safety Major Wright, who has presumably been replaced by newcomer Ryan Mundy. The Bears declined to elevate young linebacker Jon Bostic to a starting role, instead re-signing veteran D.J. Williams, and 2012 first-round draft pick Shea McClellin is headed toward a new position after the signings of Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
If the sight of a former division rival in a Bears uniform isn't enough to shake things up, I'm not sure what is. If he maintains his career path, Allen will be a rock in the Bears' lineup -- he started 96 consecutive games for the Vikings while playing 93 percent of their defensive snaps over six years -- and thus bring inherent accountability to a group that has reached a point of reckoning.
To be clear, signing Allen is a transition move in a larger task the Bears are still very much struggling to complete. They have been unable to backfill behind an aging core of defensive players, forcing Chicago into free agency at a time when it should have been promoting young players into more prominent roles.
At the moment, the defense projects as many as six starters who are at least 30 years old. That statistic leaves the long-term future a work in progress. In the short term, however, the Bears have done their best to shake out the malaise of 2013. If it works, Jared Allen will have provided the spark.
4hEric D. Williams