Stephen Paea has a lot to play for over the next month, and lot of people to play for, too — four children, including a set of 16-month-old triplets.
“The contract is always on my mind,” the Bears defensive tackle said Sunday at Halas Hall. “I got to take care of my family, you know?”
He’s picked the perfect time to have his best season — once it ends, he’ll become a free agent for the first time in his NFL career. His six sacks this year matched his career total to that point, and his rush defense is ranked sixth-best at his position by Pro Football Focus.
The 26-year-old wants to stay with the Bears, citing new position coach Paul Pasqualoni, veteran teammates and some technique tweaks as the reason for his success.
Whether the Bears’ want him back — and for how much — will be one of their most pressing questions over the next four games.
“The team is going to do what is good for the team,” Paea said. “And whoever (else) is after me …. Whoever loves me, takes me under their wing or whatever, offers me a nice contract.”
He cited the Bears’ infrastructure as a reason for his growth. He feels “smarter” before the game because of his preparation, and that makes him faster to react during it. Pasqualoni preaches “contact balance,” which keeps Paea off the ground and free of injury.
“I feel like this is the best I’ve ever seen, as far as coaches and our scheme,” he said. “For me, if I go to another scheme, I have to re-learn it. I’ve got get chemistry with players, things like that.”
Defensive end Jared Allen said Paea has “huge upside,” and has improved greatly from what he saw on film last year.
“A guy with low center of gravity, very coachable,” he said. “Obviously, he has that pass-rush ability from the middle. …
“And once he gets more comfortable in those rubbed elbows and stuff like that, and learning techniques, he’s going to be really, really good.
“He’s already doing great things for us.”
Whether the Bears agree is another question. Paea has one more month left to state his case, and then, who knows?
“It takes me back to my senior year in college, and I don’t know where I’m going to be drafted,” he said. “But at the same time — just finish strong.”