The Chicago Bears had an eye on helping their defensive squad as the NFL’s free-agency season got underway Tuesday afternoon. The biggest news happened on the defensive line, where the Bears picked up one star and waived another.
Lamarr Houston, a free-agent defensive end who played with the Oakland Raiders last year, signed a five-year deal with the Bears on Tuesday estimated at $35 million over five years, with a reported $15 million guaranteed. The 26-year old Houston spent 4 years with the Raiders and tallied 16 ½ sacks, six of them during the 2013 season. He was tops among Oakland defensive linemen with 77 tackles (55 solo) and had two forced fumbles.
The Bears will have a slot open right away for Houston, as the team released Pro-Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers on Tuesday. The release saves the team a reported $9.8 million under the salary cap. Peppers turned 34 in January and recorded 7 sacks last season—his lowest total since joining the Bears 4 years ago. For his career, he ranks 17th all-time in the NFL with 119 sacks. Peppers never missed a game in his 4 seasons with the Bears.
In another move to help on the defensive side of the ball, Chicago looked no further than their own practice facility, re-signing linebacker D.J. Williams. Williams was coming off of a one-year $1.2 million contract that he signed last April in an effort by the Bears to replace legendary middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. He tore a pectoral muscle in October and played only 6 games last season. During that stretch, however, the defense performed well, and Chicago management craves Williams’ leadership skills in order to bring back the vaunted Bears defense.
The Bears’ defensive secondary got a shot in the arm on Tuesday also, with the arrival of free-agent safety Ryan Mundy from the New York Giants. Chicago was in need of help at that position because of the expected departure of Major Wright through free-agency. Two more of the Bears safeties, Craig Steltz and Anthony Walters, are restricted free-agents this year. Mundy played in 16 games for the Giants last season, starting in nine of them. At 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, he had 70 tackles (a career high) in 2013 with one interception and a sack. Before coming to the Giants, Mundy spent 4 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who drafted him in the sixth round of the draft in 2008.
There is good reason the Chicago Bears have an eye on defensive help through free-agency this year. Once referred to as the “Monsters of the Midway,” the Bears defense, crippled by injuries to key players, was ranked 30th in the NFL in three key categories. They allowed 29.9 points, 394.6 total yards and 161.4 rushing yards per game. In the other major defensive category, they ranked 15th in passing yards allowed, giving up over 233 yards per game. The return of defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea will certainly help, but the addition on Tuesday of Houston and the re-signing of Williams is showing Chicago fans a commitment by the front office to return the Bears’ defense to a level worthy of their “Monsters” moniker.