Last week we finished up the offense, and hit on the specialists, so this week it's all about the defensive side of the ball for the Chicago Bears. If you've missed any of the story-stream so far, click here.
Julius Peppers - Signed through 2015 - We've already discussed whether or not the Bears should cut Julius Peppers, and the discussion wasn't as one sided as I thought. The Bears need to have a plan to replace Peppers if they release him, otherwise they may as well keep him around another season. The Bears would save about $10 million on the cap if they cut him, but then they'll still need to find a starting defensive end. And please don't come at me with any David Bass nonsense. He's not ready to step in as a starter.
Peppers had his worst ever Pro Football Focus grade at -4.4 in 2013. He was their 36th ranked 4-3 DE, but his snap count of 865 placed him 13th. I still say that less snaps would equal a more productive Peppers.
Take PFF's #1 graded defensive end Robert Quinn of the St. Louis Rams. He had less snaps than Peppers at 849, but he was able to maximize his production with a +77.2. Yeah, that number is ridiculous and Quinn is clearly the better player at this point in their careers, but my point remains. If the Rams can find a way to limit the snaps of their best DE, why can't the Bears limit Pep's plays?
Corey Wootton - Free agent - Wootton was forced to play inside during his contract year, and he did so without a public gripe. I think he would be wise to explore the open market, but I also think the Bears should think about bringing him back. He's not an elite player, but he gives the Bears some flexibility along their defensive front.
As a DE, PFF had Wootton at -9.6, but as a DT they had him at +4,2. But don't let the grades fool you. His best position is end, with the occasional move inside on passing downs. His highest graded game came against the New York Giants when he had a +4.2 playing DT. The Giant o-line wasn't that great in 2013, but they did help a near washed up Brandon Jacobs rush for 106 of his 238 season total yards against the Bears that week. No doubt Wootton's 6 hurries and QB hit aided his high grade against the Giants.
David Bass - Signed through 2016 - I thought Bass played well for a rookie, but he needs a good off season of work to ready himself for a bigger role. I don't think he plays the run well enough to be a starter, but with some better pass rush technique he could fill a 3rd down role.
PFF had him at -7.9, with 319 snaps in 2013, and I think that's a good snap count to keep him at in year two. If Bass is forced into a bigger role, I fear the overall defense would be mirroring the '13 season.
Cheta Ozougwu - Exclusive rights free agent - Cheta is a guy. He might be brought back, but I don't have high expectations for him. He has some athleticism, but it hasn't translated in three NFL seasons. PFF had him down for 63 snaps on the season with a neutral -0.2 grade. Bottom of the depth chart guys need to make a special teams impact, and last year he didn't stand out in the 3rd phase.
Cornelius Washington - Signed through 2016 - Washington has more pure athleticism than Ozougwu or Bass, but he's lacking in experience. He shifted between OLB and DE at Georgia's 3-4 defense, but he spent his rookie year exclusively at end with the Bears. I wonder if a shift back to OLB is in his future?
Tracy Robertson - signed a reserve/futures contract - Robertson is listed as a defensive end, but in his very brief 2013 action he played defensive tackle. Maybe the Bears plan to use the 6'4" 300 pounder at the 5 Tech DE in a 3-4 scheme!!!
2014 OUTLOOK - Even if the Bears sign Wootton and keep Peppers, I think they still need to add some talent to the position. If they decide to let them both go, they need to find two starters, because I don't see starter talent on the current roster.
The draft is obviously an option, and many mocks have the Bears going d-line in the 1st round. I think the Bears have to address defensive end in the draft at some point, and my guess is it'll be in the first two rounds.
There will be plenty of free agents out there, but the Bears will have to decide how much and how young they want to go. Last year the Seattle Seahawks found two very cheap DEs and plugged them into a Super Bowl winning defense. The Bears could sit back and let the market work itself down, but that's a chancy proposition.
I think Michael Bennett will have to accept a family discount offer from the Bears to sign in Chicago. Will his desire to play with his brother Martellus outweigh his desire to stay on a championship team? Will another DE needy team drive his price up? Will the harsh Chicago winters be too much to deal with?
We run down the full list of free agent defensive ends right here, so go do some window shopping and let us know what you think.
One more thing; Since Shea McClellin is shifting positions, I'll look at him with the linebackers. Spoiler alert, PFF had him with an absolutely horrible DE grade.
What are your thoughts on the defensive end position for the Bears in 2014?