Michael Bennett re-signed with the Seahawks and Michael Johnson joined Lovie Smith and the Buccaneers, but the Bears were not going to be left out of the race to sign a defensive end.
At the start of free agency, the Bears signed former Raider Lamarr Houston to a five-year contract worth a reported $35 million with up to $15 million guaranteed.
With the addition of a younger option at the position, the Bears felt comfortable using Tuesday to part ways with Julius Peppers.
Houston, who turns 27 in June, played in all 64 games for the Raiders from 2010 to ’13. He has 228 career tackles and 16 sacks, including a career-high six last season. He also had two forced fumbles in 2013.
Although he is not known for his pass-rush prowess, Houston made 54 “stops” in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus, which is a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure. That led all 4-3 defensive ends.
Bennett and Johnson have more sacks on their résumés, and they signed bigger contracts. Houston is sure to be the Bears’ big splash of the 2014 offseason, and they got some extra cash to do so by cutting Peppers.
The Bears cleared $9.8 million in cap space for 2014 with the move, although they eat more than $8.3 million in dead money for Peppers’ signing bonus. In his four seasons with the Bears, Peppers started every game and led the team each year. He had only seven sacks in 2013, and at 33, was set to count more than $18 million against the Bears’ cap for 2014.
D.J. Williams returns: Amid bringing in new players, the Bears were able to re-sign another priority, middle linebacker D.J. Williams.
The one-year contract is reportedly worth up to $1.5 million for 2014. Williams had 27 tackles, two sacks and four tackles for loss before tearing his pectoral muscle against the Giants in Week Six.
Williams is the 12th Bears player who had an expiring contract to re-sign with the club. He will enter 2014 as the starter at middle linebacker, as Jon Bostic will compete with Shea McClellin on the strong side.
New safety: It wasn’t Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, but the Bears signed a safety Tuesday, agreeing to terms with Ryan Mundy on a two-year contract.
Mundy started a career-high nine games for the Giants in 2013 and had 70 tackles, four tackles for a loss and one interception. He was Pro Football Focus’ 37th-ranked safety and has not missed a game in five NFL seasons.
With Major Wright not expected to return and Craig Steltz a free agent, Mundy is – right now – the top option to start at safety. Chris Conte will have to compete to keep his starting job, and the Bears certainly aren’t done adding at the position.
Special teams addition: The Bears may have found Blake Costanzo’s replacement on special teams, signing former Panthers linebacker Jordan Senn. A seven-year NFL veteran, Senn was Carolina’s captain on special teams in 2012.