The Bears acquired free-agent defensive end Lamarr Houston with a $35 million offer over five years on the same day they cut defensive end Julius Peppers because his $18.2 million salary cap number didn't fit in their budget.
But Houston was not brought in as a replacement for Peppers. He's not the same guy.
"I don't feel like I'm filling big shoes," Houston said. "I feel like I'm just doing my job. (The Bears) believe in what I can do, they have a use for my skill set, and that's only going to help me get better and improve my game."
If he does his job the way the Bears envision, Houston will be a cornerstone for general manager Phil Emery's defensive reconstruction job.
"Lamarr has matured into a very versatile, powerful, tough, physical, productive player," said Emery, who first scouted Houston when he played at Texas. "I went through (Austin) that fall, and they had this guy at under tackle (3-technique), who had been at D-end. And it was going to be interesting to see how he handled that. When you go from the outside to the inside, the definition of toughness reaches a new level."
Houston handled it well enough that the Raiders drafted him in the second round (44th overall) in 2010. He hasn't missed a game and started all but four.
In addition to the money, a chance to play with a contender drew Houston to the Bears. The Raiders didn't make the postseason in any of Houston's four seasons in Oakland.
The Bears value Houston's versatility and his all-around talents. He played left end and right end in Oakland, lining up in a three-point stance and standing up at times in both spots. He can also play the 3-technique tackle spot. Houston has just 16 career sacks, including a career-high 6 last season.
But among defensive ends, he's one of the best run defenders in the game.
"That type of versatility really fits into where we're trying to go with our defense," Emery said. "This is a strong, tough, physical long-armed player who can play multiple positions, which helps you in terms of disguising what you're going to do. You don't have to substitute for him."
Ryan Mundy, the Bears' other prominent signing on Tuesday's opening of free agency, would seem to be the logical choice to succeed free-agent strong safety Major Wright. But Mundy, a five-year veteran, isn't assuming anything.
"I feel like I'm coming in here to compete for a starting opportunity, and that's all I can ask for," said Mundy, who started nine games for the Giants last season and had 70 tackles. "I don't shy away from competition. Nothing's set in stone, and I don't take anything for granted."
Mundy's size, 6-foot-1 and 209 pounds, plus his mindset seem geared more toward strong safety, which usually involves more physical play as a run stopper near the line of scrimmage than free safety, which has traditionally been more of a pass-coverage position.
"I bring a physical nature to the defense," he said. "That's been my M.O. for as long as I can remember; since I started playing football. I'm not a guy who's going to shy away from contact.
"I like to get down there, mix it up with tight ends, running backs; I might even run into a few linemen here and there. I think that's the No. 1 attribute I bring to the game. I like to use my size and my strength and combine that with my athletic ability to get guys on the ground and get some third- down stops for our defense."
Like, Houston, Mundy's versatility appealed to Emery, who characterized the Bears' safety position as a "wide-open opportunity."
"Ryan exemplifies what we're looking for in defensive players: tough, hard-nosed, physical, smart, instinctive and good athletes," Emery said. "You can have all of those qualities and, if you're not a good football athlete, you don't have a lot to build upon your base. Ryan has that.
"When we were going through our process of evaluation and looking for safeties to enhance our roster, Ryan's name kept coming up. He showed good upside production when he had the opportunity, had excelled on (special) teams and had played high (deep), low (near the line of scrimmage), and knew how to cover people.
"He had instincts, and he could help others line up. He looked like a guy we wanted to target."
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