More important signing: Safety or defensive line?

Rick Stewart

As the eve of free agency nears and rumors really begin to ramp up, it's worth exploring which position should be priority number one for the Bears: defensive lineman or safety?

It's no secret that the Bears have plenty of needs on the defensive side of the ball. Any number of free agents would fit in well with the team and fill a hole on that defense.

The Bears need at least one each of cornerback, defensive end, defensive tackle and safety. The Bears likely still have a couple of roster moves to make, both adding their own players and cutting others but there is still enough cap space for them to make a free agent splash should they chose to do so.

The focus of almost every commenter, pundit, expert and beat reporter seems to be on defensive line. However, there is a need in the defensive backfield so they could focus on safety. This leads to a chicken-or-egg-type questions: what makes the defense?

On the one hand, the Bears could go out and throw money at a defensive end like Michael Bennett or Lamarr Houston and get a dynamic pass rusher who is well-rounded and can help give the Bears a presence up front that they were sorely lacking in 2013. In today's pass-centric, quarterback-driven NFL landscape, it's never been more important to have players that can get after the quarterback, disrupt his timing and break down the pocket.

These pass rushers come with a premium price. The Bears have cap space but not so much to break the bank with multiple top-tier contracts.

The other option the Bears have is going after one of the top free-agent safeties like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward. These guys are great playmaking ballhawks who can play centerfield and hold coverage deep downfield and prevent the big plays. They are serious hitters who can intimidate opponents and defend the big pass plays and break-away runs the Bears gave up with so much regularity last season.

But, the question is, would a player like Byrd or Ward be as effective without a good defensive line in front of them? It's been pointed out that the flaws of Major Wright and Chris Conte were exposed this year when they had a much less effective line playing in front of them.

However, would a player of Byrd or Ward's caliber make the players in front of them better that it would not matter as much if the Bears weren't playing a top-flight free agent DL or even if they were playing two rookies on the line?

Should the Bears target a safety in the draft or in free agency?

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