The Bears, as expected, parted ways with eight-year defensive end Alex Brown on Thursday. Talks of the Bears shopping Brown spread quickly last week and after not finding a trade partner, the team released him.
After signing free agent Julius Peppers to the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history, the Bears were clearly in a position where they needed to dump some salary. Rumors of the Bears making a choice between cutting Brown or defensive tackle Tommie Harris were probably untrue. Brown was the clear fall guy because he plays the same position as Peppers, and the Bears still believe Harris can be an impact defensive tackle, particularly with Peppers likely to command double teams while drawing attention away from Harris.
The loss of a popular player is a tough thing for fans to deal with, especially when it’s a player as grounded as and who works as hard as Brown. Consistency has been one of the most frustrating things about the Bears during Lovie Smith’s tenure as head coach, and it was a rare treat to know what you were getting from Brown. Brown has not missed a game since his rookie season and you knew what to expect from him every year. While he never posted great numbers, he was always an impact player in that he put himself in the proper position and gave consistent effort.
It’s difficult to lose one of those strong-character, high-effort guys, but it’s possible the Bears may not skip a beat without him. It’s natural to feel skeptical about getting rid of a known commodity for one that is relatively unknown, but the move could pan out.
Whether Mark Anderson or Israel Idonije starts in Brown’s place is something that will be debated all summer and may not be resolved until sometime in the middle of training camp. But I like the prospect of Idonije filling Brown’s role. He’s very similar to Brown in many ways. Idonije has been one of the most valuable players on the Bears for years and is an unheralded player.
Aside from his contributions on special teams — which included several blocked field goals over the years as well as kick coverage and time on the kick return team — the Bears have also kept him in the rotation along the defensive line. Due to the depth at defensive end, the Bears have moved him back and forth from end to tackle for a couple years now not because he wasn’t good enough at either position (like Danieal Manning in the secondary), but because he’s so versatile, can maintain a high level of play no matter how much weight he’s carrying on his body, and they were trying to find ways to get him on the field where he could make plays.
Idonije is a high-motor guy who gives consistent effort and, if given enough regular playing time as it appears he may now get, he could post numbers similar to Brown’s. Regardless of who starts in place of Brown, the fact that he will be playing opposite Peppers will most likely benefit his production, or at worst, prevent any glaring mistakes.
Releasing Brown may have been a mistake, but will anybody even notice the difference in production?