A busy off-season continued Tuesday as the Bears added three more players and parted ways with veteran wide receiver Earl Bennett.
The rebuilding of last season's injury-ravaged defensive line continued with the return of Israel Idonije on a one-year, $955,000 deal.
The 33-year-old Idonije played nine seasons for the Bears before signing with the Detroit Lions last year as a free agent. But Idonije, who started 42 games for the Bears at end and tackle from 2010-12 and had 20½ sacks, rarely played last season and had just 11 tackles and a half sack for Detroit.
Idonije could provide depth behind defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, who both were signed as unrestricted free agents last week. Idonije should also add depth at tackle, where the Bears have re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins and have nose tackle Stephen Paea under contract for one more season.
A 6-foot-6, 275-pound native of Nigeria, Idonije moved with his family to Canada as a 4-year old and did not play football until his senior year of high school. He was undrafted in 2003 out of the University of Manitoba but signed with the Cleveland Browns and spent part of the 2003 season on their practice squad. After being released, he was signed to the Bears practice squad late in the season.
Earl Bennett gone:
The Bears cleared $2.45 in salary cap space when Earl Bennett was released after refusing a pay cut from his scheduled $2.35 million base salary (plus $100,000 workout bonus).
Bennett took a $1 million pay cut from an identical base salary last season, when he caught 32 passes for 243 yards and a career-best 4 touchdowns, earning half of the pay reduction back by meeting performance levels.
Bennett's release elevates last year's seventh-round pick, Marquess Wilson, to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. As a rookie, the 6-foot-4, 184-pound Wilson caught 2 passes for 13 yards but saw increased playing time after being inactive in the first four games.
Wilson could be challenged by unrestricted free agent Domenik Hixon, who signed last week for $830,000, including up to $100,000 in roster bonuses ($6,250 per game). But Hixon's primary contributions are expected to come on special teams.
Bennett, who was drafted by the Bears in the third round in 2008 out of Vanderbilt, has career totals of 185 receptions, 2,277 yards (12.3-yard average) and 12 touchdowns. In 2009-10 the 6-foot, 206-pound Bennett caught a combined 100 passes for 1,278 yards and 5 touchdowns.
His original contract extension, signed late in the 2011 season, was for $18.55 million over five years and included a $6 million signing bonus.
Stocking up on safeties:
More competition was added at the safety position, which was a well-documented sore spot last season.
Six-year veteran Craig Steltz, a key contributor on special teams, will be back after agreeing to terms on a one-year, $730,000 contract. Steltz can earn an additional $65,000 in roster bonuses. The Bears also agreed to terms with former Cowboys safety Danny McCray. Last week unrestricted free agents Ryan Mundy (Jets) and M.D. Jennings (Packers) were added to a roster that includes last year's starting free safety Chris Conte and Sean Cattouse.
Major Wright, who started 15 games last season and 42 over the past three seasons, and Anthony Walters remain unrestricted free agents. Wright is not expected back.
Steltz, the Bears' fourth-round pick out of LSU in 2008, has started eight games and played in 77 in his career. He was third on the Bears last season with 14 special teams tackles.
McCray, who is also an LSU product, has 10 starts in four seasons, all in 2012. His first NFL start came vs. the Bears. The 6-foot, 214-pounder also has contributed on special teams, where he played under current Bears special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis from 2010-12. As an undrafted rookie in 2010, McCray had 28 special teams tackles, the third most on the Cowboys since 1988. He also led the team the following season with 19 special teams tackles.
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