Sadly there isn’t much to do about the 2013 version of the Chicago Bears defense. GM Phil Emery set the roster up well but injuries and age have made short work of it. However, 2014 will offer multiple opportunities to get it back on track.
Julius Peppers and other veterans can make way for hefty cap space
Rock bottom are the two words that probably describe the Bears defense after surrendering 38 points against Washington in a game they knew they should’ve had won with under four minutes to go. The old Bears under Lovie Smith never would allow such a drive, but that unit is clearly gone. Age and injuries have done their work well. Henry Melton is out for the year. Charles Tillman can’t stay on the field and even the indomitable Lance Briggs had to bow out late in the contest. The time is fast approaching where GM Phil Emery must start thinking about which names won’t get consideration for a return. One rising up that list fast is safety Major Wright. He routinely found himself out of position against the Redskins and has struggled for most of the season in coverage. Defensive end Julius Peppers is not a free agent in 2014 but he may become one after Chicago chooses to cut him. With over $18 million in salary cap space devoted to his contract next season and just one sack in seven games this season, it is becoming less likely he will return. The time may be right for Emery to conduct a veteran purge since the defense can’t play much worse than they already are.
Free agency can give Mel Tucker badly needed depth
Besides, his heady forward-thinking has the Bears is awfully good position for next year. Aside from Jay Cutler and Matt Slauson on offense, Chicago’s primary free agent concerns are on defense next year with six starters holding expiring contracts. The good news is Emery will have upwards of $42 million in salary cap space to remake the unit as he sees fit. If he decides to cut ties with Peppers as expected, that number could rise above $50 million. Some players will get brought back for the sake of stability but by and large the Bears should have the green light to begin their defensive renovation with a couple strong signings on the open market. Mel Tucker may have designs on changing up the scheme but if he doesn’t then names like Greg Hardy and Michael Johnson could help at defensive end. Linval Joseph might fit right in at defensive tackle. Somebody who could really bring support is free safety Jairus Byrd, a two-time Pro Bowler known for his range and ball hawk ability.
2014 NFL draft offers best chance to land some next generation stalwarts
Where the Chicago Bears must really make bank in their rebuilding plan is the 2014 NFL draft. Based on their current trend with Cutler hurt and the defense reeling, they could very well end up with a top 15 pick. That will mark the first time Phil Emery has held a selection that high in a draft. While his top priority is the pass rush, the first round is shaping up to offer a better chance at a high quality cornerback.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu of Oregon may not have great height but he has the ability to stick to receivers like glue while playing the ball at the same time. He’s also a willing, strong tackler. Or there’s Loucheiz Purifoy of Florida who’s not only bigger but more athletically gifted. He plays man-to-man with the best but struggles at times in zone. His game isn’t there yet but the ceiling is ridiculously high. In the second round they can pinpoint help up front.
Defensive end Scott Crichton of OregonState is a high floor prospect with great intangibles, a relentless motor and plenty of pass rush potential. Ra’Shede Hageman is the exact opposite, an athletic marvel trapped in the second tier program at Minnesota that shapes up as an ideal three-technique defensive tackle.
The point is fans don’t have to panic about enduring years of this nightmare defensive play. Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears used clear thinking and foresight to map out the possibility of a regression and have both money and draft picks waiting in 2014 to fix it.