This is the second part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the top Chicago Bears free agents. The defense will be the focus in this second part.
The Bears have 26 free agents, including 22 unrestricted free agents this off-season.
On Friday, we took a look at defensive tackle Nate Collins' future in Chicago. Today, we examine the status of defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff moving forward.
Who: Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, 32-year-old, Auburn
2013 contract: one-year deal, $840,000
Ratliff latched on with the Bears on Nov. 2 after recovering from groin and pelvic injuries. He made his Bears debut in Week 13 against the Minnesota Vikings.
He appeared in five games, making four starts playing 210 snaps adding 14.5 tackles, five quarterback pressures, 1.5 sacks.
Prior to joining the Bears, Ratliff appeared 104 games, making 85 starts making 158 tackles, 27 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries and four forced fumbles.
The four-time Pro Bowler made a solid impact on the Bears defensive line that saw three defensive tackles lost to injuries for a serious amount of time. Henry Melton and Nate Collins each were lost to ACL injuries in the first half of the season, while Stephen Paea missed substantial time with a turf toe injury.
Bears general manager Phil Emery has already expressed interest in bringing back a handful of veteran players, Ratliff being included in that conversation.
‘‘He’s a big-time pro,’’ defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ‘‘He’s very serious about what he’s doing. He’s on time. He studies. He’s always talking football. He’s a lead-by-example guy. He’s always working with the younger players.’’
The respect for Ratliff was noticeable on and off the field. He made things easier for everyone on defense including aging Julius Peppers and out-of-position Corey Wootton at tackle.
‘‘He brings a different demeanor,’’ said tight end Martellus Bennett, who played with Ratliff in Dallas from 2008 to 2011. ‘‘He’s always a nitty-gritty, old-school football player, the ‘I wanna put my hands on you’-type player. I think that rugged edge he plays with and the intensity he brings up front, it’s a little bit different.’’
Ratliff is ranked as the 29th best free agent defensive tackle by Pro Football Focus.
He likely won't demand a larger contract than about $2-3 million a season and the Bears and Ratliff have a mutual interest with one another.
Emery is looking for talent at every position, especially at defensive tackle. Ratliff would be a nice influence at defensive tackle for the newcomers this upcoming season
Why will he be back?
Ratliff proved he still had plenty of talent left in the tank late last season. He would be a nice guy to have around the locker room and for the players around him it would make it easier. With a full off-season to get back to full strength, Ratliff could be even more efficient next season. The interest is mutual between Emery and Ratliff like mentioned above, but it comes down to the number crunch involved with the next batch of contracts. Melton and Collins are also key free agents at tackle that the Bears will have to make decisions on.
Why won't he be back?
Ratliff will be 33 in August and the Bears have plenty of decisions to make on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive tackle is a tough spot for the Bears to figure out right now. Other teams need solid talent at defensive tackle and Ratliff had suitors well before he signed with the Bears during mid-season in 2013. March 11 is the first day of free agency and Ratliff might be a player that will be part of the second batch of free agents because many teams might not give him the money he deserves. Last off-season proved that the market for aging defensive linemen is very limited.
Up Next: Defensive tackle Henry Melton
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