For the second straight year the Bears again struck quickly in free agency, reaching a five-year, $35 million deal with ex-Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston that leaked just minutes after Tuesday's 3 p.m. start of the league year.
Houston, who had a career-high 6 sacks last season with Oakland, reportedly will be paid $21 million over the first three years of the deal, with $15 million guaranteed.
A year ago the Bears added Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett just after the start of free agency.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound Houston is a four-year veteran out of Texas who played there with Bears defensive tackle Henry Melton, who is currently a free agent. Houston has not missed a game in four years and had 4 sacks in 2012.
Though far from the elite pass rusher the Bears are seeking, Houston is more than adequate against the pass and a strong run defender.
The Bears tied for last in the NFL last season with just 31 sacks, and Tuesday night they terminated the contract of defensive end Julius Peppers, who was their top pass rusher last season with 7C sacks.
Houston, who will be 27 in June, had 41 quarterback hurries last season, according to Pro Football Focus, although STATS credited him with 29½ hurries. Houston led all 4-3 defensive ends in 2013 with 54 "stops," which according to PFF is a tackle that constitutes an offensive failure.
"I'm honored to be joining an organization that has such rich football history," Houston told the Bears' website. "The things that they've already accomplished are something that when you join this organization you hope you can live up to. You know that you're expected to reach certain levels and standards while you're playing for the Bears."
The Raiders were interested in re-signing Houston, but he was swayed by the Bears' playoff possibilities and their defensive tradition, which was tarnished last season.
"What set the Bears apart for me, besides having a team that's in a position to win, is the attitude of the players who have played there before; guys like Dick Butkus, with that nasty, in-your-face, tough football," he said. "That's what I love to play, and being in an organization that embraces that I think it's a good fit for me."
While Houston's body type isn't similar to the classic pass-rushing defensive ends, he does bring some versatility to the D-line with the ability to move inside to tackle in passing situations.
The Bears also announced another move to help shore up one of the worst defenses in franchise history when they agreed to a one-year deal with D.J. Williams, last year's starting middle linebacker until he suffered a season-ending torn chest muscle in Week 6.
The Bears had the NFL's worst run defense last season as injuries piled up. At the time of his injury last season, Williams was second on the Bears with 39 tackles, including 2 sacks.
Williams' deal is worth a maximum of $1.5 million and includes a $955,000 base salary, $100,000 signing bonus, $75,000 workout bonus and $23,125 per game roster bonus.
Also in the opening minutes of Tuesday's frenzied market, with safeties flying off the shelves -- Malcolm Jenkins to Philadelphia, T.J. Ward to Denver (average of $5.5 million a year), Donte Whitner to Cleveland ($7 million per) -- the Bears made much less of a splash with Ryan Mundy, who started nine games for the New York Giants last year. Mundy agreed a two-year contract.
The 6-foot-1, 209-pound Mundy appears to be the logical replacement for strong safety Major Wright, who is a free agent and not expected to return. Mundy, 29, had 77 tackles and 1 interception last season. He played the previous five seasons with Pittsburgh, which drafted him in the sixth round.
The Bears also agreed to a one-year deal with linebacker Jordan Senn, who has been primarily a special-teams player but does not figure in the base defense. Senn has started seven games in seven NFL seasons, all of them in 2011. He was a special-teams captain for Carolina in 2012.
Meanwhile Bears backup quarterback Josh McCown, whose 109.0 passer rating last season was third best in the NFL, has free-agent visits scheduled with, in order, the Tampa Bay Bucs and their new head coach Lovie Smith, the Houston Texans and the New York Jets.
In addition to McCown, the Bucs and Smith also have expressed interest in three other Bears free agents -- cornerback Charles Tillman, return specialist Devin Hester and Melton. All three went to the Pro Bowl while playing for Smith during his nine-year reign as Bears head coach. McCown and Tillman both visited One Buc Place on Tuesday.
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