Three days in and things are becoming clearer and clearer for the Chicago Bears. What do the latest free agency moves say about their overall battle plan?
Willie Young rounds out defensive end position with Lamarr Houston
Defensive end was arguably the thinnest area on the roster for the Chicago Bears going into NFL free agency. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that the team made fortifying it a priority, especially with an equally thin draft class waiting in May. Adding Lamarr Houston was a solid first step but more moves were expected and after some patience Chicago landed another quality signing. Willie Young is a former starter for the division rival Detroit Lions. Like Houston his sack numbers aren’t flashy but he’s big, can be disruptive and excels at defending the run. That was the primary problem for the Bears in 2013. With two experienced ends with size on the roster now, that area of the defense should see marked improvement. Throw in their notable versatility and suddenly the entire Chicago front has become harder to predict. On top of that it allows their younger options like David Bass and Cornelius Washington to develop at a steadier pace as rotational pass rushers.
Domenik Hixon deal could mean end of line for Eric Weems or Earl Bennett
Julius Peppers, Adam Podlesh and Michael Bush were relatively expected salary cap casualties before free agency even began for the Chicago Bears. Two names included on that list that have survived so far is slot receiver Earl Bennett and reserve receiver Eric Weems. Dumping the two of them would save the team upwards of $3.5 million against the salary cap. That could explain why the team added veteran Dominik Hixon on a one-year deal. He’s just 29, has proven a capable reserve receiver in the past and is a notable special teams ace. Together with promising 2013 seventh round pick Marquess Wilson the Bears now seem to have adequate, cheaper replacements for Bennett and Weems.
Phil Emery gaining flexibility for NFL draft
While predicting who GM Phil Emery will pick in the NFL draft is always a challenge, one thing that is becoming clear is his approach. Each of the past two years he has used free agency to plug the gaps in his most problematic roster areas. Not only will this of course improve the overall quality of the Chicago Bears, but it frees Emery up to go after less needs and more talent in the draft. Everyone was convinced the team had to take a defensive lineman in the first round this coming May give the razor thin depth up front. After signing Young, Houston and bringing back Jay Ratliff and Nate Collins the group is in much better shape than a year ago. Obviously Emery could add a cherry to sundae by plucking up Timmy Jernigan or Aaron Donald but he now also has the leisure of perhaps taking a top corner like Justin Gilbert or a young safety like Calvin Pryor. It’s much easier to add talent to a roster when there are fewer holes to fill during the draft process.