The Bears are rebuilding.
If it wasn’t obvious when the team cut veteran Tim Jennings, or started a rookie in place of shelved safety Ryan Mundy, or moved Kyle Long to tackle, or devoted the starting inside linebacker positions to two men who’d never played the spot before, it was put in bright lights Monday.
The Bears traded Jared Allen to the Panthers for a sixth-round 2016 pick, freeing the future Hall of Fame defensive end from his new outside linebacker position that, despite him starting the first three games this season, never quite stuck. Hours later, they dealt a former second-round pick, inside linebacker Jon Bostic, to the Patriots for another sixth-rounder.
They cut their losses — and there were a lot, including Allen’s $11.5 million roster bonus the Bears already paid for this season — for a late-round lottery ticket.
Whomever that may be has a better chance of being on the Bears’ next good team than Allen, who was likely to be let go after this season anyway.
“I think it’s a win-win for both sides,” Bears coach John Fox said Monday night on the “Bears Coaches Show” on WBBM-AM. “Jared did everything we asked. He was all-in as far as learning outside linebacker. But truth be told, I think his experience in a very, very good career has been with his hand in the dirt in a 4-3. This was an opportunity for us to get a sixth-round draft pick as well as give him an opportunity to finish his career as a defensive end.”
Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young are candidates to replace Allen in the starting lineup. Young, who led the Bears in sacks in 2014, was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s 26-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Fox said the timing was right for this trade.
“Not very many times do you actually have the opportunity to get a draft pick [for] a guy this far along in his career and also on the [contract] we had him on,” Fox said. “It’s a great opportunity and something he’s excited about and something we’re excited about and gives us a chance to get Willie Young on the field.”
Trading one of the team’s most famous players while the team reeled from an 0-3 start is a public relations nightmare, but it was the proper move.
It was fair to Allen, who gets a chance to try to continue a spectacular career — he is the active sacks leader, with 134 — as a Panthers defensive end. The 33-year-old was a willing learner here from Day 1, moving to outside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s system after refusing to consider a similar decision earlier in his career.
And it was good trade for the Bears, who hoped Allen’s play at outside linebacker would have increased his trade value, and got what they could when it did not.
“Whether it is acquiring additional picks or signing players, we will continue to be aggressive in finding ways to improve our football team,” GM Ryan Pace said in a statement.
The numbers will strike fans cold. Allen made $14.7 million in 18 games with the Bears. He recorded 5 ½ sacks. The team won five games.
Allen — who, for the first time, was not in the locker room when media were allowed in it Sunday — might look back at his tenure as his lost period. Allen contracted pneumonia during his first Bears training camp, in 2014, lost 15 pounds and never seemed the same all year.
His second season brought about a forced fit, as the previous regime had guaranteed his 2015 salary at signing before the next one hired Fangio to run the new scheme.
By making the trade, though, Pace issued a rebuke of a signing he did not make.
It won’t be the last.
When Phil Emery snuck out of the 2014 league meetings to meet Allen at a tapas bar and strike a creative deal — hence, the 2015 guarantee — he was seen as a missing piece on a defense that needed the talent, and a veteran on a team with playoff aspirations.
Now, the Allen signing looks about as bad Emery’s seven-year, $126.7 million extension for quarterback Jay Cutler — OK, maybe not that bad — and Jennings’ four-year, $22.4 million contract. Houston hasn’t been worth the five-year, $35 million deal Emery gave him. Young (three years, $9 million) was a healthy scratch Sunday.
Pace will try to eke the best value out of them, be it on the field or trade market.
If teams show interest in Matt Forte or Alshon Jeffery, both in the final years of their contracts, Pace must listen. If someone can give Martellus Bennett the restructured deal he craves, the Bears should talk.
He knows what was apparent long before Monday’s trade: if the Bears didn’t need to rebuild — to overhaul the front office and scouting department and coaching staff and roster — they wouldn’t have hired him to do just that.
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