The problem I keep coming back to with this off-season is that the Bears need a DE. Even if Peppers is restructured and Wootton is re-signed, the Bears need a starting calibre DE. The failure of the McClellin pick has left them with very little pass rush in the cupboard.
This is where the problem begins as this offseason does not appear to have a DE group, in free agency or the draft, that excites me at all. There are some players, but all come with serious price tags, or question marks.
1. Greg Hardy [Carolina]
Hardy will more than likely be franchise tagged by the Panthers, if not re-signed, and even if he was not I doubt the Bears could afford the massive price tag for a 25 year old pass rusher with well over 20 sacks in the last 2 seasons.
2. Brian Orakpo [Washington]
Again major questions remain whether he is going to even hit the market, but if he does he is one of the few guys who I really like if he can stay healthy. The price point is going to be big when it comes to Orakpo.
3. Michael Bennett [Seattle]
Yes he wants to play with his brother, but he has made it clear that he wants to be paid. Bennett is a nice player who is disruptive and versatile, but he is an 8 sack a year guy and that has to be reflected in his price point, which I do not think it will be.
4. Michael Johnson [Cincinnati]
Love the physical tools, but the production has been inconsistent and while he is a disruptive player he is not a dominant player so again I think he will be over paid based on what he can do.
5. Jason Worilds [Pittsburgh]
I include him in the DE list because I think he is stout enough to play with his hand on the ground, but again we have a player that has produced in spurts and may be a better run defender than pass rusher at this point.
This is where things get sparse as we are looking at 1 superstar prospect, 1 solid 1st round guy, and then a ton of tweeners or 5 techniques. This draft class does not have a lot of DE depth so does that drive the free agent market up even more?
1. Jadaveon Clowney [South Carolina]
He is a stud, freak, and a superstar in the waiting and there is a 0% chance outside of an arrest or a serious drug test failure that he finds his way to the Bears.
2. Kony Ealy [Missouri]
He does not have the burst of Clowney, but he does have size, power, and enough speed to be a consistent threat of the edge. He is a bully end like Justin Tuck who will power his way to the QB, he has even shown that he can rush from the DT spot.
3. Stephon Tuitt [Notre Dame]
He is 6’6′ which is great, but he played this season at 320lbs., has little burst for the DE spot, and looks more like a 5 technique or a DT.
4. Dee Ford [Auburn]
Love the first step and the closing burst, and he dominated the Senior Bowl, but at 6’2′ 243lbs. he is tiny and the Bears just got done getting burned by spending a 1st round pick on an undersized DE.
5. Scott Crichton [Oregon St]
Another slightly undersized effort rusher without elite burst or explosion that does not profile as an impact player at the NFL level.
Do the Bears look at OLBs, like Mack, Barr, Attoachu, and dare to make the conversion again? Can those players play full time at DE?
This has left me with a ton of questions about what the Bears will do at the DE position and I have come to a couple of conclusions.
1. I would be shocked if the Bears out right released Peppers. With the uncertainty about the free agent class and the lack of true draft depth I think they need him to take the pay cut, or to release him once they have signed his replacement.
2. I think the Bears will re-sign Corey Wootton who can start at LE. This will not force their hand at DE and give them a competent starter if they cannot find an upgrade. The hip surgery could not have come at a better time to reduce his value.
3. If Clowney, not going to happen, or Ealy, could very well happen, hit 14 I think the Bears will probably pick them as they seem like the best options out of any of the 10 listed. Ealy could be a Justin Tuck type LE for the Bears and could even play the 5 technique if they went to a hybrid defense.
4. God I hope David Bass gets bigger, stronger, and contributes this season. He would be the darkhorse that could really help out.
5. I would target the free agent DT class as there are far more players in that group that I like Linval Joseph, Clinton McDonald, Arthur Jones, Tyson Jackson, and Randy Stark. This group should also come with a more reasonable price tag.