The Chicago Bears took a measured approach after the initial big-money first wave of free agency, and the club's patience may have actually paid off Tuesday with the expected additions of defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald.
After spending approximately $31 million guaranteed to land outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle and receiver Eddie Royal, the Bears continued into the second wave of free agency looking to land bargains as they attempt to fill out the defense for the switch to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
With plenty of options at outside linebacker, including McPhee, Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, the Bears needed to add a couple of interior defenders to play defensive end. The Bears appear to have filled the void at those spots with a couple of steady performers in Jenkins and McDonald.
Jenkins played the run solidly last season at Washington, but has posted just two career sacks. Jenkins told ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim he plans "this offseason to do 100 pass rushes every day on a lineman. I have to work on it if I want to be a dominant player in this league. It's obvious my downfall [is] sacks. [Redskins coach Jay] Gruden explained it to me and said guys like you that are athletic, you're supposed to have sacks. This is a sack league. It will be the main thing I work on, to get my sacks up."
In Fangio's 3-4 scheme, that really won't be necessary, as outside linebackers are charged mostly with the responsibility of netting sacks, while defensive ends serve primarily as run defenders.
That brings us to McDonald, an acquisition sure to stir up some controversy given his recent past. The 49ers released McDonald back in December for what they called a "pattern of poor decision-making" after learning police were investigating the defensive end on suspicion of sexual assault. McDonald was never charged in that case, and the defensive end is suing the woman who accused him of the assault.
McDonald was also implicated in a domestic abuse case involving his fiancée last August, but it was announced in November he wouldn't be facing charges in that case with authorities citing insufficient evidence as the alleged victim declined to cooperate with investigators.
"I feel like what I am doing is the right thing because I know that I am not this bad person that people are making me out to be," McDonald told ESPN last week. "I've been fired from my job. I know some teams don't even want to talk to me because of this past accusation. All I am trying to do is clear my name and move on with my life."
There's a good chance that won't be easy in Chicago, at least not initially. According to a source, the Bears, internally, are bracing for the potential backlash likely to accompany the signing of McDonald. But while the accusations concerning McDonald are certainly serious, he hasn't been formally charged in either of the investigations, and according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "the matter is under review" with regard to the defensive end potentially facing league discipline.
Ultimately, though, it's unlikely McDonald would have landed on Chicago's radar anyway without a strong recommendation from Fangio, the defensive end's former coordinator in San Francisco. McDonald played for Fangio from 2011 to 2014, having joined the 49ers in 2007 as a third-round pick out of Florida.
McDonald became a starter in 2011 under Fangio, and developed into a strong run-stopper capable of providing an added dimension as a pass-rusher. McDonald started 14 games for San Francisco in 2014, finishing fifth on the team in tackles. Pro Football Focus rated McDonald No. 12 among 3-4 defensive ends.
So on the surface it appears the Bears landed a couple of solid potential contributors as they look to restore the club's reputation for annually fielding one of the league's toughest defenses.
If Jenkins and McDonald pan out, along with new general manager Ryan Pace's other recent additions, the Bears could be well on their way to turning around last season's 5-11 mark without having to break the bank to make it happen.