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Jared Allen's signing made it all legit.
So much of the optimism rushing through the veins of Bears fans as training camp kicked into high gear over the weekend goes back to that free agent acquisition in particular.
Allen may be at the tail end of his career but he had 11.5 sacks last year and has totaled 128.5 during a stellar, decade-long defensive end career just about evenly split between the Vikings and the Chiefs before them. He is the guy most capable of giving the Bears exactly what they need - consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the edge.
Those worrying about the back-up quarterback or depth at linebacker or who the heck is this team's second tight end have to remember that by not signing Josh McCown to back up Jay Cutler again and not adding more linebackers or tight ends, the Bears put themselves in position to squeeze Allen's deal under the cap late in free agency.
That deal was reported as $32 million over four years but only $15.5 million is guaranteed and a bunch of the money is due in a bonus before next season that might have to be re-worked, and perhaps we shouldn't even report on the terms of NFL contracts that are always more complex than they originally seem to be.
The Bears laid the groundwork a few months prior by carefully constructing Cutler's contract in an innovative way. That deal contained a clause that enabled them to convert some compensation from salary to signing bonus in any given year. By making more of the quarterback's pay a bonus this year, the Bears could pro-rate (spread out) that money over a couple years in terms of the way it counts against the cap.
The credit goes to Bears vice president of football administration and general counsel Cliff Stein, who with this deal alone confirmed his reputation as a cap guru.
So while the training camp narrative so far has been about who looks good in practices without pads (so many hackneyed stories with so many canned quotes written about so little that actually matters - and I'm reading every one of them!), the most important stuff is still the off-season deals. That and injury reports, of course, and so far so good on that front.
Draft & Defense
Now this is the point where the usual offseason survey notes that of course free agency is fascinating but the only way to build a winner in the NFL is through the draft. They also then seek to answer questions about the offense and the defense but for the Bears, all of the questions are on D.
This Bears preseason is more about the 2013 draft than the one in 2014. The Bears did use their decent first-round selection this year to do exactly what they should have - draft a physical and fast cornerback in Kyle Fuller who will shore up the secondary now and in the future. But the other marquee guys are project defensive tackles - Ego Ferguson and Will Fuller - who hopefully will spend most of this season on the bench learning from veterans like Stephen Paea, Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.
It is a couple centerpieces from the 2013 draft, linebackers John Bostic (second round) and Khaseem Greene (fifth), who will be counted on to step up the most in the next few months. Two of the starters in that unit - Lance Briggs (33 years old) and D.J. Williams (32) - are veterans who the Bears know can perform on Sundays in the fall. The question is whether they can stay healthy after both missed big chunks off the 2013 campaign.
The strong side linebacking job is wide open for the taking. Bostic is apparently in the mix to start there along with 2012 first-round draft bust Shea McClellin. McClellin was drafted as a defensive end and it took the last two seasons to show he was over-matched at that position. He will try to make the shift to a spot behind the line of scrimmage but even if he becomes a decent linebacker, he won't justify having been taken in the first round.
The bottom line is, unless they totally bomb in the preseason, all three will break camp with the team and will be counted on to make big contributions in 2014 and beyond. It is hard to be optimistic that they will all prove able to do so, but two out of three certainly wouldn't be bad.
Jim "Coach" Coffman is our man on Mondays. He welcomes your comments.
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