One of the more entertaining aspects expected this off-season is to see how the Chicago Bears plan to rebuild their defense. Here is an updated blueprint to consider.
Restructure/request pay cut Julius Peppers
A lot of fans are already calling for the dismissal of Julius Peppers. It’s understood with him turning 34 coming off his worst season in Chicago with an $18 million salary cap figure. The problem is the Bears don’t have the personnel to survive his departure. Their best bet until that changes is to ask him to take a pay cut or restructure his deal again. That should save them between $6-7 million.
Cut Michael Bush
The veteran running back turns 30 this year and regressed in 2013. He clearly doesn’t fit well with the Marc Trestman offense and his contract is much too bloated to warrant keeping him. That would save over $1.8 million.
Cut Adam Podlesh
He ranked dead last among punters in average yards per punt. It was a big reason why Chicago often struggled in the battle for field position. Coaches clearly weren’t happy with him since they brought in competition shortly after the season ended. Podlesh is likely out and with it the Bears get back $1 million.
Cut Earl Bennett
The great hands are hard to deny but Earl Bennett can’t continue to get paid like he does just because he make the occasional good catch. His production regressed badly in 2013 and he’s really not a dynamic enough option for the slot. Cutting him will save $2.45 million and open the door for promising youngster Marquess Wilson.
Even by keeping Peppers the Bears need to make sure they retain Corey Wootton. He’s the best young defensive end they have and vital to their stability with Shea McClellin likely on the move to outside linebacker.
The veteran and four-time Pro Bowler was a late arrival in 2013 but as the season progressed he started to resemble his former self. He should be relatively cheap to retain and will provide needed disruption on the interior.
Charles Tillman looks more and more like he’s ready to move one from Chicago, leaving a large hole at cornerback. Zack Bowman filled in admirably in his stead during the season and should be kept for stability reasons.
The defense held together relatively well early in the season, but soon injuries took their toll and losing D.J. Williams was a big one. The veteran middle linebacker showed he can still play and should return at a cheap price.
The Seattle Seahawks have no choice but to let some of their free agents walk in order to save cap space. Clinton McDonald will likely be one of them. The reserve defensive tackle was highly disruptive in his limited playing time with 5.5 sacks. He will be anxious to earn a starting job elsewhere.
Stephen Paea has not progressed enough since 2011 and the turf toe problem last season is cause for concern. Even when he played the Bears couldn’t stop the run. They need more beef up front. B.J. Raji could be on the way out in Green Bay. While not a pass rusher, his massive frame and quickness would be an excellent upgrade at nose tackle.
Smart, durable, experienced and talented yet constantly overlooked. That is the typical description of Antoine Bethea. The veteran safety is a two-time Pro Bowler who has played well in both 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, making him ideal for the supposed hybrid scheme the Bears are cooking up under Mel Tucker.
Round 1 – Darqueze Dennard – CB – Michigan State
If the Chicago Bears coaches do plan to implement parts of the 3-4 into their scheme, it means they will need more reliable coverage from the secondary. Darqueze Dennard may not have the ideal measurements but he has the speed, fluidity, athleticism and tireless work ethic to become a shutdown corner as he was for MichiganState.
Round 2 – Deone Bucannon – SS – Washington State
Having added Bethea to replace Chris Conte, the Bears should look early to get a replacement for Major Wright at strong safety. Deone Bucannon can bring the wood, causing receivers to think twice about catching a ball in his area. However, he’s also equally adept in coverage, finding ways to take the ball away.
Round 3 – Kareem Martin – DE – North Carolina
Going through cold stretches in 2013 really hurt the NFL draft stock for Kareem Martin, but when the North Carolina defensive end got the motor running, he was unblockable. He’s got the size and strength for the position along with the versatile ability to rush either from the up position or with his hand in the dirt.