It is the time to break down the Bears current roster and looks at needs moving into the off-season. The plan is to start with the biggest areas of concern that need to be addressed in 2014. No unit, except maybe safety, was a bigger disappointment this season than the defensive line. Crippled by age, injury, and ineffectiveness the Bears DL was terrible against the pass, dead last in sacks, and terrible against the run, they allowed more 100 yard rushers than the 0-16 Lions.
With so many free agents this position can be an area of renaissance for the Bears this offseason.
On the Roster
23 tackles, 1.5 sack
Paea had an inconsistent year due to injury and it was disappointing after he had a strong 2012 season. The only thing that Paea is missing is ideal size. His hand use is good, his burst is solid, and he has decent power. At times he gets too high in the run game and gets moved back or knocked to the ground. With shorter arms you always need to maintain good leverage. My biggest concern with Paea is his size and the injuries. I think his best role would be in a rotation coming off the bench. This would allow the Bears to monitor his reps and make sure he is being used in situations where he will be most effective. It should also keep him healthier as he will not be exposed to the double teams that he has in the past.
I do not have high hope for Washington from reading the tea leaves, because we saw so little of him during the season. Shortly before the beginning of the season Phil Emery stole David Bass off of the Raiders PR essentially creating a log jam at the developmental DE spot. Would he do that if he had faith in Washington to fill a role? David Bass promptly beat out Washington for the playing time. With all the injuries and ineffectiveness on our DL Washington could not get himself active, another huge red flag. With his athletic ability and size he had to be able to contribute something, but they did not even feel secure activating him. Washington looks like the perfect DE and he is far more impressive physically than Bass and McClellin, I just wonder if that is all he is, a good looking athlete who cannot play.
23 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT
Bass was one of the bright spots of the seasons and one of the few things to be really excited about moving into the future. Bass should have played more, but was stuck behind a 1st round bust, and when he did he consistently made plays. Bass is a disciplined player and he made the plays that were there to be made, specifically on the roll outs and reverses. Bass has a nice combination of speed and lateral movement skills that made him more than a bust rusher. He needs to get bigger and stronger. He looks so skinny on the field and he rarely went from speed to power, which is what a good rusher needs to do. I think if he can bulk up without affecting his movement skills he could be a player with a long term future. With the McClellin experiment
3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF
Ozougwo showed flashes as he has in limited time and camp over the last couple of season. He does not have ideal size, but he has a burst and looks to have enough strength in his upper body to threaten OTs in multiple ways. I do not know where he fits in with the Bears if Washington and Bass are going to be the young developmental players. I do not think we have seen enough from Ozougwo to give him the reps that a serious back up would warrant.
46 tackles, 7.5 sack, 2 FF, 1 INT
I include Peppers in the free agents because he is an obvious cut. If the numbers are not enough to convince you [almost 10 million in savings] the non-answer that Phil Emery gave at his press conference should be enough to show you Peppers is gone. At 18 million for multiple games where he is not on the stat sheet he may be one of the most over paid players in the league.
This is a tough evaluation because Melton played so little this season and did not have a fast start to the season. It is further complicated by the fact that Melton tore his ACL, not a great injury for a guy who relies on his explosion, and has since been called out by GM Phil Emery for his commitment to football and to his rehab. There is no doubting when healthy and motivated that Melton is a dominant player, but the question will be money. I do not know if with all the outside factors whether the Bears can bring him back for big money. Between Melton and Tillman the Bears had 19 million on I.R this season and they cannot afford to do that again.
Prediction: If he is willing to play for a 1 year prove it deal I can see him back, but I think a couple of teams will take the risk and pay him more than the Bears are willing to risk.
9 tackles, 1.5 sack
When he played he played really well. By the end of the year he looked strong and explosive and he made multiple plays against Green Bay. Rartliff has the size and power that the Bears were missing earlier in the season and he could be someone to keep around if the Bears can. He is hard to move off the line and uses his hands and power well to work the OLmen back and collapse the pocket. The major question mark will be health. He looked healthy at the end of the season, but at 32 with the severity of the groin injury I just do not know how much a team can count on or commit to him.
Prediction: If the cost is right I expect the Bears to bring Ratliff back in an effort to get bigger and more physical up front. I expect they will offer a 1-2 year deal with a lot of incentives and escalators. I just wonder if he will take it given his age and the fact that he may want to cash in again. Ratliff is a player where it is difficult to predict the market.
35 tackles, 3.5 sack, 1 FF, 5 PDEF
Wootton took one for the team this season by moving into the 3 technique where he is not bad, but nowhere near as well suited as he is at LE. Wootton has become Idonije, he can play multiple positions at a starters level and can produce 6-9 sacks in a season when given extended playing time. Wootton is a great player to have on your team as he is big, physical, works hard, and can play multiple positions. He did not have as good a season as 2012, no one did for that matter, but I think he was consistently our most disruptive player on the DL before Ratliff got healthy.
Prediction: If the Bears can afford him I think that the Bears will bring him back and Emery intimated the same thing in his press conference. In a perfect world he and Paea are the first guys off the bench and play heavy snaps. I do fear that some team in need of a hard working LE will pay more than the Bears can offer. Wootton’s value for me is incredibly hard to determine and I expect he tests the market so he can determine what he is worth.
14 tackles, 1 sack
Nate Collins at this point is what he is a penetrating 3 technique who is not good against the run, cannot play the NT spot, and who is probably never going to be able to handle starters reps. He is a decent backup with enough burst and flashes of pass rush to be valuable, but how he recovers from the ACL will be a huge question mark. What happens to Collins will possibly be linked to what happens with Melton as I doubt the Bears want 2 3 technique tackles coming back from serious knee injuries.
Prediction: He will be offered a vet minimum and brought to camp to see if he can rebound from the knee injury. I do not know if he can be counted on for much in 2014.