The Bears took three solid steps toward returning to playoff contention with the acquisitions of free agent defensive end Julius Peppers, running back Chester Taylor, and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. The three pricey transactions clearly demonstrated how committed to winning the franchise is and at what lengths they’ll go to avoid a fourth-straight season without the playoffs.
Without a first- or second-round pick in April’s draft, the Bears knew they’d have to rely on free agency to fill some holes on their roster, and they didn’t disappoint their fans. Peppers was widely considered the top free agent on the market and is a sack machine. Given his freakish athleticism, he should fit in nicely with Lovie Smith’s playmaking defensive system.
Taylor arrived in Minnesota in 2006 after spending four years as a backup running back in Baltimore. In his first season as a starter, he racked up 1,216 yards and 6 touchdowns on 303 carries. The following season, the Vikings drafted Adrian Peterson and Taylor has played second fiddle ever since. He’s a great receiving back who was seeking a bigger role and just may get that with the Bears, especially if he beats out Matt Forte for the starting role.
Manumaleuna was targeted by new offensive coordinator Mike Martz after his success playing the tight end position in St. Louis. He’s built like an offensive tackle and his first responsibility will be to help protect Jay Cutler. While Manumaleuna is a good blocker, he’s not without skill at catching the ball. In San Diego, he was a backup to Antonio Gates, and with the Rams — as Manumaleuna pointed out at Friday’s press conference — the reason he didn’t catch many passes is because he was surrounded by Pro Bowlers and future Hall of Famers at wide receiver and running back.
Skeptics have been calling the Bears’ moves “desperate,” but I hardly see the validity of such claims. The Bears lost two defensive ends this off-season, Gaines Adams and Adewale Ogunleye, and they needed to acquire a good one to fit Smith’s defense. Nobody was calling the Bears’ acquisition of Ogunleye in 2004 a desperate move. In both situations, the Bears recognized a need and filled it aggressively. The only difference is that one move was a trade and the other was a free agent signing.
As for Taylor and Manumaleuna, the moves were hardly made in panic. With a new offense comes the responsibility to add the proper pieces. You can’t fit square pegs into round holes and the Bears — mainly Martz — knew they had to get a blocking tight end and upgrade the depth at running back.
Two areas of concern remain at offensive line and free safety. The former will probably be addressed through the draft while the latter could still be solved through free agency. Former Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle appears to be out of the mix because he’s asking for a lot of money and is receiving greater interest from other teams, mainly the Dolphins and Giants. Still, there could be other options available that would be an improvement over the converted strong safeties currently on the Bears’ roster.
How much the Bears improved Friday afternoon remains to be seen, but it’s clear they’re in a lot better position to make the playoffs this year than they were just 24 hours ago.