By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Bears general manager Phil Emery is a sneaky, aggressive man.
I wanted a motivated, aging pass rusher with something to prove on these 2014 Chicago Bears. Yes, I know that sounds like Julius Peppers. It also sounded like DeMarcus Ware or Justin Tuck or perhaps Shaun Phillips. There were options.
But as Emery signed Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, two interesting and worthy free agents in their mid-20s athletic prime, it seemed he was going a different way. He found gamers with potential at reasonable prices.
Israel Idonije came back. Jeremiah Ratliff re-signed. Nate Collins is here. Henry Melton went away. Corey Wootton went to Minnesota, where he will play on the same field on which he ended Brett Favre’s career.
With the draft looming, the revamped defensive line looked better, if not thrilling. A defensive tackle or pass rusher in the early rounds might have completed the transformation.
Then Emery blew Bears fans away Wednesday. Jared Allen is a Bear, signing a four-year deal worth a reported $32 million that voids to three years and $24 million with a guarantee of around $15.5 million dollars, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Emery just equipped the team that ranked 31st last year in sacks with the the best pass rusher on the open market. He essentially traded Peppers for Allen, who is two years younger and will cost far less against the salary cap.
Suddenly, several pieces slot into far better places.
The newly signed Houston can be “the other” defensive end, facing single blockers while Allen gets the predominant focus of extra tight ends or running backs. Young can be a rotational pass rusher, spelling Allen and/or Houston while both the young ends learn from a savvy veteran.
And on passing downs, the versatile Houston could move inside, so the team’s best three pass rushers are all on the defensive line at the same time. With Idonije’s flexibility to move around and Ratliff’s ability to play either tackle slot, the Bears line is full of usable options.
Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, any excuses for a lack of production will not be available from this position group in 2014.
Allen is not as fast off the edge as he once was, but he’s incredibly smart with his hands and leverage. He has a full arsenal of moves and still plays with what has always been hailed as an incredible motor. The Jay Cutler money that was freed up with a contract restructuring last week has found a really good home.
Consider this as well: When Emery took the job, he said there would bee no information leaks. How surprised is everyone in the NFL by this move this morning? Cutler probably knew about it, as his money was used. As I type this, many players are together in Florida, working out and mingling. But no one said a word.
Now, draft options in the first round come into a bit more focus. The best two safeties may be there at No. 14, as could the best two or three defensive tackles and the best cornerback. Or, it’s now would seem more reasonable for the Bears to trade down for more assets and bodies.
Kenny Williams has moved upstairs with the White Sox, but the void has been filled.
Phil Emery is Chicago’s stealthy team building sniper.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show. Follow him on Twitter @MattSpiegel670.