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Best and Worst Moves the Bears Made in Free Agency

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IOctober 21, 2016

Best and Worst Moves the Bears Made in Free Agency

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    While a lot of fans may have been looking for Seattle's Michael Bennett, the Bears got a very good and versatile defensive end a bit cheaper.

    With Lamarr Houston, the Bears get a player who is a beast against the run and can play anywhere along their defensive line, depending on the situation.

    Houston is likely to stay at defensive end, but he could also move inside—at least on passing downs—so the Bears can continue to add the best players available going forward. He brings a rare combination of strength and athleticism that makes him a nearly ideal starting point for the Bears rebuilding process.

    Known mostly for his run defense, Houston is an underrated pass-rusher. His sack numbers aren't huge, but he ranked 19th in pass-rush productivity at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He managed to pressure the quarterback 63 times in 2013, 23 more than did Julius Pepper.

    Houston won't turn 27 until June so his best years should still be ahead of him...and in a Bears uniform.

Best: Signing Lamarr Houston

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    While a lot of fans may have been looking for Seattle's Michael Bennett, the Bears got a very good and versatile defensive end a bit cheaper.

    With Lamarr Houston, the Bears get a player who is a beast against the run and can play anywhere along their defensive line, depending on the situation.

    Houston is likely to stay at defensive end, but he could also move inside—at least on passing downs—so the Bears can continue to add the best players available going forward. He brings a rare combination of strength and athleticism that makes him a nearly ideal starting point for the Bears rebuilding process.

    Known mostly for his run defense, Houston is an underrated pass-rusher. His sack numbers aren't huge, but he ranked 19th in pass-rush productivity at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He managed to pressure the quarterback 63 times in 2013, 23 more than did Julius Pepper.

    Houston won't turn 27 until June so his best years should still be ahead of him...and in a Bears uniform.

Worst: Signing Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis over Zackary Bowman

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    David Banks/Getty Images

    Zack Bowman wasn't a great cornerback for the Bears last season and certainly not an ideal starter, but he did an admirable job filling in for Charles Tillman and is a standout on special teams.

    His ability to contribute on defense and play special teams is certainly a valuable asset, but the Bears chose to bring back two players without such flexibility instead.

    Neither Kelvin Hayden nor Sherrick McManis will make much this season. They're both scheduled for a cap hit of just over $500,000, according to Over The Cap, but that money could've been used to bring back Bowman.

    As of this writing, Bowman still hadn't signed with another team, although he was rumored to be close to joining the New York Giants. It's hard to envision him getting much more than $1 million per season, which is why I don't understand why the Bears chose to keep Hayden and McManus instead.

    Hayden missed all of last season with a hamstring injury. He'll be 31 years old when training camp begins, has a long injury history and wasn't that good to begin with. He was the nickel corner for the Bears in 2012 and looked like the worst member of the secondary. He also has not—and likely will not—play special teams.

    McManis is an excellent special teams player, but it's debatable that he's better than Bowman. Even with the Bears injury issues on defense a year ago, he didn't play much and hasn't seen a lot of action outside special teams in his career.

    With Tillman, Tim Jennings and Isaiah Frey as their top three corners, the Bears are still likely going to draft a player relatively early. If Hayden doesn't beat out Frey or a rookie for the job at slot corner, he likely won't make the team.

    McManis will likely stick because of his ability in the kicking game. Had they kept Bowman, the Bears would get similar production there as well as someone who can play in the base defense, should a starter suffer an injury. 

    Bowman would have cost more than Hayden and McManus, but his versatility would have been worth it. Had the Bears retained him instead, they also wouldn't have as much of a need to spend a high draft pick on a cornerback.

Best: Bringing Israel Idonije Back

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    USA TODAY Sports

    The Bears signing of Israel Idonije after his one-year hiatus in Detroit could end up being their most cost-effective move of the offseason.

    Idonije gives the Bears quality depth at both defensive end and defensive tackle and is a leader in the locker room.

    There are a few reasons why Idonije struggled with the Detroit Lions.

    The 6'6", 275-pound veteran was not a good fit as a defensive end in their Wide 9 scheme. The players who typically excel in that system are ends who use their speed and quickness to get around the edge. Idonije has always been more of a power-rusher.

    Before joining Detroit, he had spent his entire career with the Bears, switching between end and tackle. With the Lions, he was primarily an end in a scheme that didn't play to his strengths. The fact that he didn't get there until nearly July of last year didn't help matters.

    That said, he didn't struggle as much as the raw statistics lead one to believe.

    He still had 26 quarterback disruptions, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That's just six fewer than Corey Wootton had last season, even though Idonije played 265 fewer snaps. He's also a far superior run defender than Wootton.

    If the Bears can get Idonije to play anywhere near the level he played at in 2012, they're going to have a valuable rotation player for under $1 million.

    At 33, he's a short-term fix for Chicago's depth, but he can be a very good one. He'll give the Bears a lot of flexibility on draft day.

Worst: No Proven Safety

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    In a decision between quality and quantity, the Bears appear to have chosen the latter.

    Although Ryan Mundy, M.D. Jennings and Craig Steltz all have starting experience, none of them have ever really been standouts or are ideal starters.

    If you combine the 2014 salary cap hits from all three of those players, it is less than the hit the Denver Broncos will have for star safety T.J. Ward or the New Orleans Saints will have for Jairus Byrd, players many felt the Bears would pursue.

    In fact, the Bears could have still signed Ward and Mundy, then released incumbent starter Chris Conte, and had more salary cap room for 2014.

    Of course, the cap hits for both Byrd and Ward will drastically increase in future seasons as their overall contracts are far larger than what the Bears are paying their safeties.

    The other issue with signing a big name comes with depth. Would you rather have decent depth or top-line talent? Personally, I'd choose the latter and hope for good luck.

    To be fair, the Bears may not have ever had a shot at Ward or Byrd. Having spent their entire careers playing for losing franchise's they likely wanted guaranteed winning seasons. By signing where they did, Ward and Byrd essentially did that.

    The Bears didn't come out empty-handed and both Jennings and Mundy have the talent to be good starters, as does Conte. Potential is a scary thing to rely on, especially for the back end of the defense.

    Ultimately, it's debatable if any safety is worth a lot of money since his impact on the overall performance of a defense is relatively limited. Still, the Bears—and their fans—would have to feel better about the position if they had even one top-notch player under contract.

     

Best: Signing Willie Young

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    When the Bears signed Willie Young, they got an upgrade. By getting him for an average of $3 million per season, they got a steal.

    By adding Young, the Bears gog a player very similar to their other big free-agent signing, Lamarr Houston. Both players are exceptional athletes who are still able to hold their own in the run game.

    Young isn't nearly as big as Houston, but he has learned how to use his length to fight off blockers and make plays in the backfield. Despite his noticeable length, former Chicago defensive end Corey Wootton never really learned how to use that trait to his advantage.

    Young is considered to be a far superior run defender than Wootton. Over the last three seasons, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave Young a grade of positive-9.1 in run defense, while Wootton has received a negative-0.6 in that time span.

    Wootton did have more sacks in 2012 than Young has had in his entire career, but sacks don't tell the entire story. Wootton benefited from playing with defensive linemen who funneled the quarterback his way. In Detroit, Young lined up in the nine-gap of their Wide 9 defense. That helped him get pressure from the outside, but made it easier for the quarterback to step up in the pocket, where the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were waiting.

    Over the last three seasons, Young has averaged one quarterback disruption every 8.5 snaps according to Pro Football Focus, while Wootton has gotten one every 13.7 snaps. Young's 60 disruptions in 2013 were just three fewer than Wootton managed in the last three seasons combined.

    While Young may be a little older than Wootton, he doesn't have nearly the injury history. Injuries kept Wootton off the field for most of his first two seasons, and he underwent hip surgery following the 2013 season.

    What the Bears get in Young is a good starter who will be a key piece in what they do defensively for the next three seasons. The fact that they got that for the price they did is a major bonus.

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