2014 NFL Free Agency: Bears smart about Tillman, Peppers and Idonije

2014 NFL Free Agency: Bears smart about Tillman, Peppers and Idonije
( Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune / November 7, 2010 ) Charles Tillman, Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije and Brian Urlacher celebrate blocked extra point in 3rd quarter of Bears' 22-19 win over Buffalo.

The Bears re-signed a key veteran last week, saw one head to an NFC North rival and another one return after spending last season with a different division rival.

33-year-old cornerback Charles Tillman re-upped with the Bears on a one-year, $3.5 million deal last Friday, while 34-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers signed a three-year, $26 million deal with the hated Green Bay Packers on Saturday.

Longtime Bear Israel Idonije officially returned to Chicago on Tuesday after spending 2013 in Detroit. The 33-year-old signed a one-year deal to play a 10th season with the Bears after visiting Halas Hall and taking a physical this afternoon.

Idonije appeared in 15 games last season with the Lions after deciding not to re-sign with the Bears, who said they had a “standing offer” on the table for him. Idonije played on only 330 snaps and 149 special teams snaps in 2013. He finished the season with 11 tackles and half a sack.

From 2004-2012, Idonije made 50 starts in nine seasons recording 196 tackles, 28.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. 20.5 of his sacks have come at the defensive end position. He started 11 games in 2012, racking up 7.5 sacks and 51 quarterback hurries on 711 defensive snaps.

Idonije will come in and provide versatility as an outside pass rusher and inside run stuffer. The 6-foot-6, 275-pound Manitoba product was underused in Detroit and his return will help ease the loss of defensive tackle Henry Melton, who signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night. Idonije will also be a nice veteran leader on the line, something that was clearly lacking last season.

Got Him For Peanuts

Bringing back Tillman was smart. It gives the Bears another year to find another true No. 1 corner. They could opt to draft one in the later rounds this year or wait to next year’s draft or free agency period.

Either way it was a solid move to bring back the 12-year-pro. In eight starts in 2013 before suffering a season ending torn triceps, Tillman had 41 tackles, three interceptions and three fumbles.

Peanut proved he was still very effective, despite battling through multiple injuries. The deal is very fair for both sides as Tillman wanted to stay in Chicago with his Cornerstone Foundation and family in place and the Bears wanted to keep him and Tim Jennings together.

Considering 30-year-old corner Cortland Finnegan landed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Miami Dolphins last week, Tillman’s deal is very reasonable. Finnegan struggled mightily last season with the Rams starting only five games, reeling in one interception.

Tillman should be relieved the whole stressful free agency period is over for him. Lance Briggs is certainly thrilled to have his longtime teammate back on his side.

“I actually sent him a text that I wished him well and tell Lovie I say hi. I thought it was over,” Briggs said on ESPN 1000 on Monday. “Then the next day I wake up and I get texts on my phone that Peanut re-signed. I’m over here screaming and then I called him and we had a long talk about stuff. I’m just happy he’s back.”

Packers Overpaid For Peppers?

Despite playing on 724 snaps in 2013, Peppers had only seven sacks, his lowest amount as a Bear and lowest since the 2007 season.

Peppers added 45 tackles, three pass deflections, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery as well, but the Bears had to let the aging veteran go due to such a high salary number in 2014 and 2015.

No one knows how effective Peppers will be in Green Bay, where he will be playing in the 3-4 scheme for the first time in his 12-year-career. But for the Packers to dish out a three-year deal with $7.5 million in guaranteed money that seems like a bit much.

Peppers still has talent, but he isn’t worth that much, even if the deal is a back-ended much like the one the Bears handed him during the 2010 off-season. He’s very smart for jumping on this offer, even if it is with the Bears’ biggest rival across the way. The Bears will carry $8.366 million in dead money from Peppers’ release.

The Bears made up for his loss with the signings of Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and now the re-signing of Israel Idonije. Don’t forget second-year man David Bass will be part of the rotation and the Bears will likely add a pass-rusher in the early rounds of the draft.

Corey Wootton, who is recovering from off-season hip surgery could be on the outside looking in. Wooton even admitted on Twitter on Tuesday that “he is absolutely going to be elsewhere.”

I can see why he is saying that with the off-season acquisitions they Bears have made and now that Idonije is back. Wootton was used the same way that Idonije was, both at defensive end and at tackle.

Melton is off to Big D after the Bears found themselves with very little cap space, but Wootton would be a nice pickup for any team once he proves he is 100 percent healthy, which might not be until June or July.

The Bears clearly didn’t like how he played in 2013, but then again he was playing out of position inside more often than not.

News & Notes

Wide receiver Earl Bennett has declined a pay cut and is expected to be released, per ESPN Chicago. Bennett, who is entering his seventh season in the NFL, caught 32 balls for 243 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. He was targeted 43 times and averaged only 4.3 yards per catch on 511 offensive snaps.

Despite being Jay Cutler’s buddy dating back to their Vanderbilt days, Bennett clearly thinks he is worthy of more money and a larger role. Releasing Bennett would save $2.45 million against the cap. The 26-year-old could be destined for Tampa Bay since Lovie Smith used Bennett as a starter from 2009-2010.

Last year’s seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson will get a legitimate chance to fill the No. 3 receiver role in 2014. He caught two passes for 13 yards on 35 offensive snaps in 2013. The Bears will likely add competition through the draft at the position.

The Bears are very high on Wilson and rightfully so, he’s a guy to watch out for. He’s been training down in Florida with Cutler, Jermon Bushrod and the rest of the Bears selfie crew.

In other news, Devin Hester is visiting with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday. It could be a nice landing spot for the soon to be 32-year-old. The turf could help Hester bring back a couple more in 2014 if he’s signed by Atlanta.

Also, special teamer Eric Weems was asked to pay cut or he will be released. His 2014 salary counts $1.6 million against the cap and if released the Bears would free up $1.1 million.

The soon-to-be releases of Bennett and Weems will free up some other much-needed defensive depth moves, which would be big for a revamped unit looking to forget about a dreadful 2013 season.


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