The acquisitions of Lamarr Houston and Jared Allen bookended a busy two weeks of free agency for the Bears and give the club a pair of talented edge defenders to fortify one of the worst defenses in franchise history a season ago.
Jeremiah Ratliff, re-signed to a two-year deal before free agency began, appears entrenched in the starting lineup after showing signs of his former Pro Bowl form in a five-game audition in 2013 and earning the praise of Allen and general manager Phil Emery on Monday.
That’s three new faces, none on the roster Week 1 last season, who should be in the starting lineup when the 2014 campaign gets underway. Emery signed four other unrestricted free agent defensive ends to bolster competition for what is likely to be six remaining linemen openings. The competition will be even fiercer after the draft, but here’s how the rest of the current options rank.
4. DE Willie Young – After Emery lured him away from the rival Lions with a three-year deal, Young appeared poised for a starting job opposite Houston. Instead, the athletic but at times undisciplined pass rusher will have to force his way onto the field. The best route could be if and when Houston kicks inside in sub packages.
5. DT Stephen Paea – Paea has shown flashes while starting 24 games over the past two seasons, but the former second-round pick has yet to live up to his draft status. Entering a contract year, he’s penciled in as the starter opposite Ratliff, but a strong showing is needed to lock that position up.
6. DT Nate Collins – Collins was outperforming former franchise player Henry Melton before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 5. He’s a favorite of coordinator Mel Tucker and brings a blue-collar approach and some disruptiveness to the interior.
7. DE David Bass – Bass came up with one of Chicago’s defensive highlights a season ago, an impressive pick-six of Joe Flacco in Week 11 that helped the Bears to a victory. Claimed off waivers from the Raiders shortly before the season began, he quickly surpassed Chicago’s 2013 sixth-rounder Cornelius Washington on the depth chart.
8. DE Cornelius Washington – Washington is a fantastic physical specimen whose stock fell in last year’s draft because of off-field concerns. Though he stayed on the straight and narrow as a rookie, Washington wasn’t ready to contribute as a rookie.
9. DE Trevor Scott – Since tallying 12 combined sacks in his first two seasons, Scott, 29, has managed just 4½ sacks the past four seasons while spending time with New England and Tampa Bay.
10. DE Israel Idonije – Idonije’s performance fell off in Detroit last season after a solid eight-year run with the Bears. At 33, it will be an uphill battle to earn a roster spot.
11. DE Austen Lane – Lane is just 26, and offers intriguing size and athleticism. But his inability to carve out a roster spot for a Jaguars club that sorely lacked defensive talent is troubling.
12. DT Tracy Robertson – Robertson, who went undrafted in 2012, is a career journeyman who was scooped off waivers last October amid Chicago’s crippling injury situation. He appeared in just one game with the Bears.
13. DE Cheta Ozougwu – A college linebacker and “Mr. Irrelevant” of the 2011 draft, Ozougwu has upside, but he doesn’t have a natural position or much of an NFL track record.