In an alternate NFL timeline, losing the likes of Henry Melton, Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton in one offseason would be cause for alarm. Not here. Not for the Bears, who Wednesday signed veteran ex-Viking Jared Allen to a four-year deal, adding the pass-rush extraordinaire to earlier newcomers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young up front.
Allen's contract will be worth $32 million over four years, but with an out for the Bears after three seasons and just $15.5 million guaranteed.
Chicago's defensive line suddenly looks like a handful again (veteran Israel Idonije also signed with the Bears), perhaps even more so than last season when Peppers struggled and Melton missed 13 games to injury. Peppers already has moved on to Green Bay this offseason, so with Allen now leaping from Minnesota to Chicago, the NFC North is playing musical chairs with its defensive ends.
Allen, 32 next week, reportedly came very close to signing with the Seahawks just a few days ago -- that move obviously would have fulfilled his goal of landing on a contender. A jump to the Windy City could fit the bill, too. Chicago had a shot at the NFC North title after a 6-4 start to 2013, before flopping to a 2-4 finish, thus helping Green Bay to grab the crown at 8-7-1. The 2014 Bears again will feature a potentially explosive offense led by Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and the receiver duo of Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall.
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It was the defense that caused headaches last season, as the Bears allowed the third-most points in all of football. The issues were especially noticeable against the run: Chicago allowed 2,583 yards on the ground, more than any other team. Allen's addition could help there.
He will be more certain to pitch in against the pass -- Houston, Young and Allen figure to work as a rotation off the edge, with Houston and Young possibly handling more of the duties on early downs. All three could be on the field against the pass, if the Bears opt to drop Houston down to a tackle spot.
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Regardless of the plans, the Bears' defensive line is markedly better than it was even 24 hours ago. Allen has seen a drop-off in production over the past two seasons, from a whopping 22 sacks in 2011 down to 11 in '13. The Bears will be hoping for an effort that falls somewhere in between, though even that 11-sack showing easily would have led the team last season; Peppers held the honor at just 7.5.
Grade: A-minus. Can the Bears cover everyone in a division that includes the big-play passing games of Detroit and Green Bay plus a young, improving offense in Minnesota? Maybe not at the moment, which points toward additional upgrades in the secondary via the draft.
One way to counter those back-end issues, though, is to stock up on defensive linemen and disrupt offenses from the snap. Allen could provide an upgrade on Peppers in that aspect. Teamed with Houston and Young, the longtime Minnesota star has a shot to do some serious damage.
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