Tackling the Bears' defensive line

Peppers update

Bears defensive end Julius Peppers sacks Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune / December 1, 2013)

The question isn’t who will replace Julius Peppers.

No, the question is who couldn’t.

You there, reading this piece on your laptop, get in there at right defensive end for the next snap. You couldn’t lose outside contain much worse than the guy with a cap hit of $18 million next season.

Who couldn’t give the Bears a game once a month? The Bears, in fact, had a lot of guys who did just that.

Who couldn’t be single-blocked and stay single-blocked? The Bears, in fact, led the league in that, I believe.

Who couldn’t disrupt fewer pass plays than Shea McClellin? Only everybody on the roster.

According to general manager Phil Emery, Bears stats show that McClellin was the Bears’ best disruptor, which means everybody else was worse, which includes the expensive Peppers, which explains why the Bears had the fewest sacks in the league.

If they can finish that low with Peppers, they can certainly finish that low without him and do it a lot cheaper.

Paying Peppers $9 million not to play is a bargain compared to paying him $14 million to waste time on game day.

Truth is, the question isn't who will repalce Peppers, it’s who will replace everybody.

The Bears know they need to reconstruct their defensive line. Peppers has to leave. Thanks for your time. Drive home safely. McClellin already has been moved to linebacker, making the value of Emery’s pass disruption stat a joke. Corey Wooton is on the market. So, the Bears have no starting defensive ends, which is what last season looked like.

Our Bears Yoda, Brad Biggs, looked at the top three right defensive ends available when free agency starts: Seattle’s Michael Bennett, Oakland’s Lamarr Johnson and Cincinnati’s Michael Johnson.

The Giants’ Justin Tuck and Vikings’ Jared Allen also will be available. They’ll be 31 and 32, respectively, but they can still rush the passer off the end, and anyone who can rush the passer is better than what the Bears had.

But here’s the thing: The Bears haven’t earned the right to rush the passer. That’s not where they should start. Defensive tackle is where they should start.

More embarrassing than the Bears’ finishing tied for the fewest sacks in the league is that they were far and away the worst against the run. They were historically bad.

They allowed an average of 5.3 yards per carry; no other team was over 5.0.

The Bears allowed nearly 2,600 rushing yards; no other team allowed as many as 2,200.

Thank goodness Mel Tucker has been recruited to be the new defensive coordinator -- no, wait, forget it. The point is, so much of the rushing yardage the Bears allowed came up the middle -- around and over the defensive tackles --- and that’s where I believe the Bears need to start in free agency.

Why bother to pass against the Bears when it’s so easy to run? Pound the Bears until they show you they can stop it, and they never did.

The Bears have a lot of surgery and questions marks at defensive tackle with the likes of Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Jeremiah Ratliff and Stephen Paea. This whole thing is like a bad bingo card.

Emery has some Jerry Angelo in him when it comes to injured players. Emery drafted Brandon Hardin, who missed a full season because of injury, and as soon as Hardin played for the Bears -- ta-da! -- he got injured.

Emery sounds like he’s talking up Melton, who is coming off knee surgery and might not be ready until after a contract is signed, and doesn’t that sound stupid?

Maybe I’m misreading the timing, but signing the injured Melton because he’s cheap doesn’t make him less injured or a bargain if he can’t play. It would just be a different waste of money, which is a salary cap crime.

Whatever hybrid style of defense the Bears will play, one-gap and two-gap, they need bodies who can push the pocket and clog the running lanes between the tackles.

And there are those bodies to be had: Jason Hatcher had 11 1/2 sacks for the Cowboys, Linval Joseph is 323 pounds of stout on the Giants’ line, Randy Starks has played every game the last six seasons, so he’ll at least be there for you on game day, which is not something the Bears are used to.

All the money is going to start with the defensive ends. The safeties, such as Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, will be near the front of the line, as well. Defensive tackles might be a comparative bargain early, but even if they aren’t, it’s what the Bears need. The Bears haven’t earned the right to shop for pass-rushing defensive ends.

CHICAGO

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