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Bears Wed Mar 26 2014
The best defenses in the NFL come at you on every down with fresh players. In a league that keeps seeing offenses evolve by taking less time between snaps, depth is an integral part of an organization.
A week after rumors surfaced that Jared Allen had agreed to a deal with the Seattle Seahawks, the Bears meticulously moved their way into position to snag the 32-year-old from the grasp of the defending champs at a cost of $32 million over four years with $15.5 million guaranteed.
But as of last week, the Bears were basically out of money. After cutting Julius Peppers loose, while signing Lamarr Houston and Willie Young to man the defensive end spots, it seemed like they were set at defensive end too.
Then came the news on Monday (courtesy of Brian McIntyre) that late last week, the Bears re-structured Jay Cutler's contract (as they wrote in the right to do without needing his approval), taking $5 million of his base salary this year and turning it into a signing bonus. It lowered his cap hit by $4 million (adding $1 million apiece to the next four years) in 2014, and combined with the cuts of Earl Bennett and Eric Weems opened up nearly $11 million in cap space (about $5 million of which would be needed to sign all draft picks).
The move to re-structure Cutler was the hint. There's no reason for the Bears to touch his contract (and add potential burden to years four and five of his contract that were previously clean) unless they had a big name in the wings, and he was the only player left in free agency that was going to get a good chunk of change from someone. Who knew it would by Phil Emery's Bears.
Allen narrowly edged out Peppers in Pro Football Focus's rankings this season, but he also played 200 more snaps, or 91 percent of the snaps the Vikings defense faced last year. That number is far too high, and can easily be monitored now that he's in a solid rotation with Young and Houston. Allen never missed a game during his six year tenure in Minnesota either.
Allen can still get to the quarterback, and that will be his main focus in Chicago. He tied for seventh in the NFL in sacks last season, and ranked 10th among 4-3 defensive ends in total pressures (sacks, hits, and hurries combined). On passing downs, he'll surely line up at right defensive end (where he's played nearly his entire career), with Willie Young flanking from the other side, and Houston likely kicking inside to play the three technique spot. Toss in Jeremiah Ratliff inside too, and that's a scary looking line if you're an opposing quarterback.
Signing Allen also means the team has more freedom in the draft. Without a need at defensive end really at all, the Bears can focus on defensive tackle and safety in the first two rounds, and still have time to fill out wide receiver, tight end, and running back if they want to in later rounds.
There's no question the Bears got better today, and though the cost against the cap in future years isn't yet known, they have an incredibly clean spreadsheet in 2015 and beyond thanks to their cap guru, Cliff Stein. Brandon Marshall, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are the only impact players with a contract expiring next offseason, and the team will have at least $40 million in cap space to do what they'd like.