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Stephen Paea - Signed through 2014 - The Chicago Bears have one defensive tackle under contract, Stephen Paea. He had an injury plagued season, but he managed to appear in 13 games. He spent most of his Bears career at the nose tackle, but he has a quick enough burst to play the 3 Tech DT if pressed into duty. He's a very strong player, as evidenced by his combine bench press record, but isn't able to anchor himself enough to be a 2 gap player.
He graded out with a -2.5 from Pro Football Focus, with five games in the red (negative), five games in the green (positive), and three neutral. I think the injuries hurt his overall play, and if he can remain healthy in 2014 I expect him to have his best year as a pro.
Jeremiah Ratliff - Free agent - I thought Ratliff played well enough to warrant a second look in 2014, but a lot will depend on the market. The Bears will have a number in mind for all their DT free agents, and I doubt they'll budge. Ratliff is attractive because he has 3-4 nose tackle experience, so a front with some hybrid schemes wouldn't overwhelm him.
PFF graded his five games at a -2.5, with their lowest grade coming in week 17 at -3.3. He will be 33 years old this year, and Phil Emery has vowed to get younger on defense. If the market is slow enough I think a one year deal could be agreed upon.
Henry Melton - Free agent - One things for certain, Melton's knee injury will cost him a lot of money. Whether he re-signs with the Bears or is allowed to walk, he certainly won't get the type of contract he was looking for last off season. Melton only played two and a half games, but his PFF grade was -6.4. Even with such a bad grade, the Bears run D wasn't quite as bad in those first three games, so the tape may tell the Bears something else.
I can see him returning to the Bears if the price is right. He has defensive end experience, and if healthy, he could be a key part of a hybrid front.
Nate Collins - Free agent - Collins had a solid preseason, followed by a solid start to his 2013 season, but then the injury bug got him too. Of the three DTs above, I think Collins could come the cheapest, and he's also the youngest.
PFF had him as the Bears' best defensive tackle behind the DT work from Corey Wooton, at a neutral 0.3. Collins is another guy that is best served by a 1 gap scheme, so once the Bears decide on their front, we'll know more about his prospect for returning.
Landon Cohen - Free agent - If Cohen is on the Bears next year, he better be the last DT option on the roster, and he better be making a special teams impact. Cohen was drafted in 2008 and last year was his most playing time since 2009. He had a -5.8 for the Lions that year, and a -11.8 for the Bears in 2013.
On second thought, I hope the Bears allow him to walk, there has to be an undrafted free agent out there that can give you what Cohen gives you.
2014 OUTLOOK - I think the Bears will bring back one or two of their free agents, but it will depend on price. It will also depend on scheme. If the Bears decide to do some 2 gap stuff up front, they may need to find a large space eating type DT. I don't think a 3-4 shift is in the cards, rather I can see them varying their looks with more hybrid stuff.
There are a few young DTs on the free agent market, but they all will be looking for a big payday. I'd expect the Bears to draft a DT, and look to bring in a cheaper veteran with something to prove.
It wasn't talent that doomed the Bears productivity on their interior last season, it was health. I'd have no problem if the Bears brought back Ratliff, Collins and Melton, and if the price is right, the Bears just might do that.
Between a rookie and the free agent market, I think they'll be OK at defensive tackle.
What are your thoughts on the defensive tackle position for the Bears in 2014?
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