Back in March, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace gave part time player Pernell McPhee a 5 year, $38,750,000 contract with $15,500,000 guaranteed. In four years with the Baltimore Ravens, McPhee appeared in 60 games with only 6 starts, and all of those came during the 2012 season.
The Bears weren't McPhee's only suitors, as he was one of the top free agent edge rushers on the market, but the Bears are hoping the flashes of brilliance McPhee has shown backing up on one of the best defenses in the NFL will pay off.
Even though it's a well calculated gamble, it's still a gamble.
McPhee was signed to be the centerpiece of Chicago's brand new 3-4 defense and anything less than a Pro Bowl appearance will be a disappointment in some fans' eyes. Especially after last offseason's big free agent splash.
Last year the Bears, or to be more specific previous Chicago GM Phil Emery, gave Lamarr Houston a 5 year, $35 million deal with $15 million guaranteed. Houston's 1st year as a Bear was underwhelming to say the least. For that kind of money you'd like more than just solid play against the run and the only memorable play he made was his last one: the sack on a backup QB and subsequent ACL-tearing celebration.
McPhee will not only need to play lights out for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, he'll need to become one of the faces of the franchise. He definitely has the attitude down to become a fan favorite, but must produce on the field.
Versatility is the biggest thing McPhee brings to the table, and Fangio is set to employ his new chess piece much like he was used in Baltimore last year. In 2014 the Ravens had Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumerville rushing the passer from the edges on many pass rush situations, so McPhee literally lined up all over the front seven. But, the kicker here is that he was productive at all those spots.
Pro Football Focus had a fantastic write up spotlighting all the different ways he was used last year. McPhee may start out at outside linebacker in Chicago's base D, but he'll move all over the place.
In a recent NFC North beat writer Q&A with ESPN, with the topic being, pick the top newcomer to the division, the Bears received mention from all 4 writers. Pernell McPhee was the choice from Michael Rothstein, who covers the Lions.
In April, I wrote Chicago linebacker Pernell McPhee was the best newcomer in the division, and the draft and more free agency hasn't changed that stance at all. With the Bears' scheme-switching to a 3-4 defense, they needed a player like McPhee who can be versatile and be young enough to still grow within the system. He was the No. 2 outside linebacker in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus and he'll fill an obvious need for the Bears.
Speaking of that PFF ranking, they gave McPhee a +28.4 grade in 616 regular and post season snaps in 2014. In fact, PFF has always graded McPhee in the positive for each of his 4 years. As a rookie in 2011, PFF gave him a +20.8 in just 389 snaps while mostly playing defensive tackle. In 2012 he was moved out to defensive end a bit more and he managed a +4.1 in 543 total snaps. In 2013 he started to get more linebacker reps and PFF graded his 313 snaps with a +4.3.
The signing of McPhee is widely lauded around NFL circles and analysts expect big things from him in 2015. Former player and current NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson, is expecting McPhee to play at a Pro Bowl level in Fangio's scheme and he calls him the steal of free agency.
"You talk about what [Bears defensive coordinator] Vic Fangio can do with this guy," said Robinson, "In nickel situations when they have three down linemen, this guy walks around in the box. He confuses running backs. He confuses offensive linemen.
"Vic Fangio will find the mismatches he needs to make this guy a Pro Bowl player this year."
Fangio already has the 26 year old McPhee doing some stuff he didn't do in Baltimore and that's fine with him.
McPhee has high expectations for himself and he is primed for a breakout year for the Bears.
What are your expectation for McPhee this year?