Last season, the Bears started the year with the following starting lineup.
Now go through that list and start crossing off names. You'll be crossing off Wright, Peppers, Melton, Wootton, and Anderson through departures, and there could be as many as seven new starters depending on how Paea and Williams hold their positions in minicamps and training camp.
However, let's look at the possibility of these new starters. Of the five "for sure" replacements, at least three (and potentially all five) will be NFL veterans (Jared Allen, Lamaar Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff, Ryan Mundy/MD Jennings and Jon Bostic/Shea McClellin). McClellin will be in his first year at linebacker; Bostic is in his second year as a Bears' draft pick, and one of the possible safety replacements is a rookie fourth-round draft pick (Brock Vereen). Not to mention behind Paea and Ratliff sit two brand new defensive tackle draft picks (Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton).
The Bears knew they had to put together something to dismantle and rebuild last year's terrible defense, and while they went out and got some players who have performed well in the past, one of the things the Bears also have and will try to do is put in youth behind the starters, or put youth in a position to succeed with veterans.
Lamaar Houston and Jared Allen are both under contract long-term (Houston for 5, Allen for 4). What that allows for a couple of veteran players is the opportunity to play now while the Bears attempt to draft youth behind them and/or develop new third-end Willie Young to eventually take Allen's role. Or perhaps last year's sixth round pick Cornelius Washington or David Bass take steps forward in 2014.
Allen's contract is key to this rebuild - according to Over the Cap, Allen carries an 11.5 million roster bonus in 2015, but no dead money on his contract after that season. He's under contract for 8.5 million and 8.0 million after 2015, with no guaranteed money, and as the cap rises, that contract could look pretty good if the Bears can't develop a suitable replacement in time, or is very cuttable if Allen falls off a cliff. And Houston's cap penalties aren't too significant if he's cut in three or four years (about 2 million in 2017 and a million in 2018).
So far, Phil Emery's draft results have been mixed. But who would you currently rather see starting at end - Jared Allen or Cornelius Washington? Stephen Paea or Ego Ferguson? Charles Tillman or Kyle Fuller? Lance Briggs or Khaseem Greene? Chris Conte or Brock Vereen-- Wait, I think I know that answer to that one.
It attempts to create a win-win for the now as well as the future - players come in to try to succeed now, and draft picks and youth build in behind to create the foundation for the team's future. It's not a new concept and it's something we've spoken about plenty of times (and I'm pretty sure many times even this year). But it's refreshing to note the Bears have a front office and coaching staff have a plan in place for the franchise and its future, especially having to rebuild an entire side of the football field.
The youth is starting to fall into place. But right now, the veterans are there to right the ship.