The money doesn’t matter. Playing time for outside linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young will remain scant until they’re playing better.
Or playing elsewhere.
Houston and Young combined to play just 11 of the Bears’ 58 defensive snaps against the Vikings at Soldier Field. That type of inactivity only increases doubts about whether they’ll still be with the team at the NFL’s trade deadline at 3 p.m. Tuesday. It’s no secret that the Bears are willing to hear offers.
This Bears regime didn’t sign didn’t Houston or Young, whose playing time and production in the new 3-4 defense doesn’t come close to justifying the financial commitments to them.
Houston signed a five-year, $35 million deal last year and has nearly a $7 million cap hit for this season. Young, meanwhile, is in the second year of a three-year contract that would be more feasible for any trade partner since it comes with a $3.17 million cap hit for this season and next.
Starting with offseason conditioning, this year has been a process for Houston and Young after their respective injuries last season — a torn anterior cruciate ligament and a torn Achilles tendon. Being an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense has been particularly troublesome for Young, a prototypical 4-3 end who was a healthy scratch in Week 3 against the Seahawks.
Coach John Fox suggested Monday their limited playing time was probably frustrating for them.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to play guys that we think give us the best chance,” Fox said. “Obviously, we like them. They’re on our football team. They have uniforms on Sunday.
“I think Willie Young played 39 plays a week ago. Sometimes the scheme, ours or the opponent’s, has a little bit to do with it.”
That’s true. Young and Houston did play more two weeks ago — 40 and 29 snaps, respectively — against the Lions in Detroit. But it also was a long, crazy game that went to overtime and included 80 defensive snaps for the Bears.
With running back Adrian Peterson to deal with on Sunday, the Bears were in their base defense more against the Vikings. Outside linebacker Sam Acho played a season-high 55 snaps (95 percent). But the Bears’ nickel backs, Bryce Callahan and Sherrick McManis, also were on the field for a total of 32 snaps.
The Bears were seemingly happy to have Houston and Young sitting — a curious move with the trade deadline approaching, though Jared Allen played plenty against the Seahawks before being traded a day later to the Panthers.
The Bears’ pass rush – one sack and two quarterback hits, according to press-box statisticians – was lacking against the Vikings. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee remains the Bears’ only consistent threat, and opponents are starting to scheme around him.
Pass-rush help from Houston and especially Young, who had career-best 10 sacks last season, is a must, even if they’re still learning the nuisances of outside linebacker in coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense. They each have one sack this season.
“It’s executing their position,” Fox said.
Trading Houston, Young or both would leave the Bears very thin at outside linebacker. There are only four of them on the roster and none on the practice squad.
Speaking recently with the Sun-Times, neither Houston nor Young said much to dissuade trade rumblings. In October, Young declined to refute a report that he requested a trade after Allen was moved. On Sunday, Houston shrugged of trade questions, saying, “If I don’t play here, I’ll play somewhere else, simple as that.”
If he and Young stays the focus will be getting more from both players.
“Right now, 2-5, that’s kind of what we are, where we are,” Fox said. “Whether it’s evaluating the coaches, evaluating the players, that’s what we are, and we’re trying to get better than that. We’re doing everything in our power to get back better than that.”
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