Sep 22, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (90) returns a fumble for a forty two yard touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Bears won 40-23. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Updated Chicago Bears Blueprint To Rebuild Defense


Using the draft and free agency to tag team their roster issues is a strategy the Chicago Bears worked to perfect in rebuilding their offense.  Based on new information, how could they go about that process for the defense over the next few months?

Cuts

Julius Peppers

This rates as the toughest decision for the Bears to make.  Defensive end is already thin for them, so cutting Julius Peppers seems counterproductive.  However, he’s turning 34 and becoming too expensive.  Better to save the $9.8 million in cap space and repair other areas.

Michael Bush

Marc Trestman insisted the down season Michael Bush had was less to do with his own ability and more about the coaches not giving him enough opportunities.  True or not, Bush is approaching 30 and getting paid too much as a backup for an offense he’s not a good fit for.

Earl Bennett

Finishing with career-worst numbers even after taking a pay cut is not a good sign for receiver Earl Bennett.  He made a few plays here and there but failed to command more attention in the offense.

Adam Podlesh

There is really no sugarcoating it.  Adam Podlesh ended the 2013 season dead last in average yards per punt.  That won’t cut it for a team that needs good field position based on new philosophies.  Podlesh doesn’t have the leg, and thus shouldn’t have the roster spot.  This final cut could land the Bears with upwards of $24 million in cap space.

Re-sign

Jeremiah Ratliff

One thing that is clear about the Bears is that they want top names like Charles Tillman and Henry Melton back, but only at their price.  If Melton does go the team will want to make sure they lock up veteran and former Pro Bowler Jeremiah Ratliff to anchor the three-technique tackle position.

Corey Wootton

Conversely, if Peppers is indeed cut then re-signing defensive end Corey Wootton becomes equally imperative.  He should be easier to bring back given his limited market value after a quiet statistical season but the Bears know he is a trustworthy starter.

D.J. Williams

The last key free agent to retain is D.J. Williams.  Jon Bostic was a nice experiment at middle linebacker but he has proven more of an athlete than a thinker.  His future lay on the outside.  Williams played well in the middle before getting hurt and should return at a fair price.

Free Agency

The thing to remember is free agency isn’t about getting the best talent, it’s about filling positions and depth that are not as available when the draft roles around.  The 2014 free agent period looks like it will have a number of solid defensive ends and safeties available.  Based on their current salary cap and what they gained, here are the names I would sign.

Justin Tuck – DE

Even with their new-found cap space the Chicago front office must be careful not to get overextended on the open market.  They will want to target quality players but ones that won’t cost too much.  Justin Tuck is a perfect example.  At 30-years old he won’t command a huge contract but his 11.5 sacks last season proves he has enough gas in the tank for a few more years of solid pass rush ability.

Thomas DeCoud – FS

He was predicted as a salary cap casualty given his rough 2013 season but Thomas DeCoud proved himself as a playmaker in coverage at free safety when he made the Pro Bowl in 2012.  The key will be protecting him with pass rush, something the Atlanta Falcons didn’t do.  His instincts and aggressive nature will give Chris Conte serious competition.

Mike Neal – DE

The Green Bay Packers have a lot of free agents to sift through and not all of them could return.  Among those names is 26-year old Mike Neal.  What is impressive about him is he was forced to outside linebacker during the season, slimming down to 280 lbs.  He wound up with five sacks.  That size would translate well to defensive end, and the Bears need depth at that position badly.

NFL Draft

With free agency taking some of the edge off, by this point the Chicago Bears brass will then be allowed to go after the best defensive player available.  Here are the players that should be taken based on current projections for the NFL draft in May.

Round 1 – Justin Gilbert – CB – Oklahoma State

Charles Tillman is likely on his way out, which will leave a rather large hole to fill at cornerback.  Few had a better college season or a better combine than Justin Gilbert.  The Oklahoma state corner is fast, agile, physical and showed the instinct to not only cover but play the football.  He’s the athletic playmaker Phil Emery wants.

Round 2 – Kelcy Quarles – DT – South Carolina

One lesson Emery said he learned in his first two drafts is that when it comes to defensive linemen, length and size matter a lot.  Kelcy Quarles brings plenty of both out of South Carolina, along with a good motor and clear pass rush potential after posting 9.5 sacks for the Gamecocks last season.

Round 3 – Craig Loston – SS – LSU

One other thing the Chicago Bears defense lacked was a voice on the field.  Sure, Lance Briggs, Williams and Tillman probably took turns in that endeavor but never enough to make a true difference.  Craig Loston is lauded by scouts for his tough, physical nature but also his clear leadership intangibles coming out of LSU.  He would make a fine addition at strong safety.

Conclusion

Obviously there would be more players to consider in free agency and the later rounds of the draft but as follows the Bears would have added Justin Tuck to pair with Wootton at defensive end with a proven rusher Mike Neal also joining the rotation.  Jeremiah Ratliff would anchor at tackle with Kelcy Quarles to learn behind him.  Craig Loston could step in right away at strong safety with a possible rangy former Pro Bowler next to him in Thomas DeCoud.  Then there is Justin Gilbert bringing his potential shutdown corner ability across from Tim Jennings.  Above all it is a unit much higher in athleticism than a year ago, something that will serve the Bears well.

Tags: Chicago Bears Featured Julius Peppers Justin Gilbert Justin Tuck Popular Thomas Decoud

  • Issac Clarke’s bro

    Not trying to be rude…. but the D-Line the Bears finished with last season was
    Peppers-Paea-Raliff-Wooton/Mclellin…. and they gave up boat-loads of rushing yards in the last 2 games…. so how is a projected line of Tuck-Paea-Ratliff-Wooton/Neal any better? You didn’t fix a serious flaw with your moves.

    • Erik Lambert

      It wasn’t just the line that was the problem, Issac. The safeties and linebackers were constantly not filling their gaps. By retaining D.J. Williams in the middle, adding the bigger Mike Neal at end with Loston at strong safety while allowing McClellin or Bostic who are great athletes and tacklers to kick to the outside should improve the run defense considerably. Besides, finding a big run plugger between the 4th and 6th round in the draft shouldn’t be hard.

  • Andy

    I like where you are going here, but I still think the Bears would be better served restructuring Cutler’s contract to free up money to re-sign Tillman or another free agent corner. I do not think Dennard or Gilbert will be there at 14, so the Bears will either trade down or draft Jernigan/Donald or Nix. They could then draft a corner in the 4th or 5th round to allow them to develop into a starter to replace Jennings after 2015. In the second round they would be free to look at another DE or a Center or a CB. But this is one of the better plans I have seen.

    • Erik Lambert

      I understand your thinking but I believe the Bears want to hold off on restructuring Cutler until there is an absolute can’t miss opportunity in free agency. Tillman is not that opportunity. I personally think either Dennard or Gilbert will be there at #14. A lot will depend on what the Lions do.

      I’m a big fan of them trading down but I can’t operate under that assumption. I believe if Gilbert is there he’s too athletic and looked too good on tape and at the combine to pass up. I’m all for draft two corners in this class. Besides, finding a run plugger at D-tackle shouldn’t be too hard in the middle rounds, which is why I grabbed Quarles in the 2nd since I think Melton is gone.

      I believe center will be shelved this year since they just re-signed Garza and Boggs. My guess would be if they were to target a position on offense it’s a tight race between running back, quarterback and offensive tackle.

      Glad you approve, Andy. Keep commenting!