Allow me to borrow some automobile imagery from Bears general manager Phil Emery, who said of his team’s struggles last season: ‘‘We’ve definitely got some dust on the car. We’ve got to clean it up. We’ve stepped in an oil patch or two.’’
What Emery pulled off Wednesday wasn’t a free-agent signing; it was a trade-in. Julius Peppers for Jared Allen. Defensive end for defensive end. Both of them used cars, but one newer, shinier and with less rust.
That would be Allen, and that would be a big Bears victory.
Zoom-zoom? I think so.
With the Allen signing, the Bears are headed in the right direction — and at interstate speeds. A poor defense should be significantly better in 2014, provided the soon-to-be-32 former Vikings star still cares and provided defensive end Lamarr Houston is worth all the money the Bears just gave him. Give Emery credit. He identified the Bears’ weaknesses and did something about them. Go ahead and say a blindfolded man could have identified their problems, but we’ve seen past management teams not address weaknesses.
Emery likes to do things stealthily, and he certainly did so here, letting the Seahawks and Cowboys make very public pursuits of Allen before emerging from the shadows to get him. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how the getting happened. All that matters is whether it pays off.
You might recall the fanfare surrounding Peppers’ arrival in Chicago in 2010. He was going to make everything right for the Bears. Except he didn’t. He played well at times, just not nearly as well as his six-year, $91.5 million contract demanded he should.
Everything about Allen was better than Peppers the last four seasons. Sacks. Tackles. Pressures. But you pay players for what you think they can do in the future, not for what they’ve done in the past. The Bears gave Allen a four-year, $32 million contract because he still can get an edge on a pass rush and be disruptive. Now they just might have a defense about which their offense doesn’t have to be mortified.
Is this another example of a team falling in love with an older player from its own division? I don’t think so. Allen still can play, but the proviso has to be reiterated — assuming he still wants to. It’s a legitimate question for any player in his 30s and especially appropriate after the departure of Peppers, who came to Chicago with a reputation of taking plays off during games. ‘‘Only’’ $15.5 million of Allen’s contract is guaranteed, so the enterprise isn’t overly risky for the Bears.
Peppers, 34, is with the Packers now. He didn’t seem to have much left in his tank last season, but the Allen signing surely will motivate him. Everyone will compare the two next season. Which team made the right move? Today, the Bears win that competition.
The Allen signing frees the Bears up for the draft. The defensive line becomes less of a pressing need. If the Bears can find a quality safety, there ought to be a parade, considering what we were forced to watch last season. A cornerback would be a nice addition, too; Charles Tillman isn’t going to be around much longer.
We also will get a better idea of what kind of coach Mel Tucker really is. The defensive coordinator took a lot of abuse last season for a group lacking in talent. He should have more to work with in 2014.
But let’s be clear: The Bears don’t have a great defense, at least not yet. They finished 30th out of 32 teams in total defense last season, giving up a whopping 394.6 yards per game. It will be nice to see how an offense featuring Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte fares without worrying about how the defense is going to mess things up. That’s not asking much, is it?
But that’s for later. For now, enjoy the signing of a five-time Pro Bowl selection. And enjoy knowing the Bears have made up some ground on the Packers, who have won the NFC North the last three seasons. It would be the Bears’ luck that Peppers has a big season, but I just don’t see it happening. The more likely scenario is that Allen gives them 12 to 15 sacks and Peppers gives the Packers seven or eight.
The only question left is how Brian Urlacher turns this into a loss for the Bears.