Talk about a leap of faith. The Bears spent $35 million for a right defensive end with 16 sacks in four seasons and a career best of six in 2013. Only two of those sacks came over the past nine games.
To be fair, Lamarr Houston has been ranked by a number of scouts as one of the top defensive ends available in free agency this year. But when you add just four career forced fumbles, five passes defensed and one interception to that meager sack total, it is reasonable to ask why.
Part of the answer is that Houston is more than just a right end. His unique size, at 6-foot-3, 302 pounds, has allowed him to play outside or inside, much like Michael Bennett did in Seattle last year and Julius Peppers has done on occasion for the Bears.
Did the Bears overpay for an end or get a steal of potentially the best three-technique tackle in the league?
Houston is strong against the run and shoring up the Bears’ run defense is priority No. 1. In that regard, he can help the Bears at end or tackle.
But if he is coming to town to replace Julius Peppers, and that would appear to be the case, this could very well prove to be general manager Phil Emery’s biggest gamble yet.
Houston is seven years younger than Peppers, so he fits a stated goal of Emery’s and coach Marc Trestman’s of making the defense younger.
But consider this comparison. In his first four seasons, Peppers notched 40 1/2 sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 23 passes defensed and three interceptions. The least of those four years produced seven sacks and as disappointing as Peppers was last year he still managed 7 1/2 sacks and forced two fumbles.
The rumored trade of Peppers was a joke from the get-go. It never could have happened with his contract as part of the deal.
Now that he’s gone, is Houston here to replace him? A huge stretch to say the least. Or is there another big move coming?
Although we still don’t know for sure what Emery is thinking with Houston, his plan at linebacker is now crystal clear. The D.J. Williams signing is a great move by the Bears.
Williams was looking like a really nice fit with Lance Briggs before he got hurt last year, and even though he’ll turn 32 in July, he has played less than half a season each of the past two years and should have at least one more big push left in him.
The Williams and Jeremiah Ratliff signings may not make the Bears’ defense younger, but it definitely makes it better.
It also helps by freeing Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic from worrying about the middle spot to compete at strong-side linebacker.
The Williams deal is cap friendly for a starter in the middle and makes all the sense in the world.
The signing of Ryan Mundy at safety is a start, but not a gamechanger. I called two of his games with the Giants last year from the sideline and was impressed with his physicality, but he’s not overly athletic.
He earned a starting job because of injury to other players, not with his performance. Minimally, Mundy figures to be more assignment-savvy than Major Wright.
I would still expect the Bears to look long and hard at either Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft if either or both are available.
With Peppers gone, Emery still has a lot of work to do up front, but regardless, I’d say Day One of free agency was a nice start for the Bears.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears and the NFL for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]