By signing defensive end Jared Allen, arguably the NFL's premier pass rusher, the Bears clearly upgraded their defense on Wednesday over last season's record-setting disaster.
After two weeks of rearranging pieces on the defensive line through free agency, Bears general manager Phil Emery made his boldest move by adding a key component from the NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings.
In the first two weeks of free agency, which began on Mach 11, the Bears lost three defensive linemen and added three. But their four-year, $32 million deal with Allen could do more to reverse last season's downward defensive trend than any of the previous moves. Allen's deal contains $15.5 million in guaranteed money.
Allen had 11 sacks for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013, his 10th season in the NFL, and it marked the seventh straight season in which the 6-foot-6, 265-pounder has had at least 11 sacks.
The Bears tied for last in the NFL in 2013 in sacks, and they also were dead last in rushing yards and average gain per rushing play allowed. They permitted the most total yards, rushing yards and points in franchise history.
Allen, who turns 32 next week, was a fourth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, out of Idaho State in 2004. He had 22 sacks for the Vikings as recently as 2011, when he finished a half-sack shy of Michael Strahan's NFL record but led the league in sacks for the second time. He has had more than 14 sacks in four seasons. Since his rookie season, Allen's 128.5 sacks are the most in the NFL.
"We're really excited about adding Jared to our football team," Bears coach Marc Trestman told the team's website. "We know what his abilities bring to the table. We believe he's going to come in hungry and excited to be part of our football team, and we believe he'll fit right in.
Earlier in free agency, the Bears added three defensive ends. They signed former Oakland Raider Lamarr Houston to a five-year, $35 million deal and ex-Detroit Lion Willie Young to a three-year, $9 million deal. They also signed Israel Idonije (one year, $955,000) away from the Lions, where he played last season after nine years with the Bears.
But the Bears cut 34-year-old defensive end Julius Peppers, their leading sacker over the previous four years, and he signed with the Green Bay Packers. Defensive end/tackle Corey Wootton signed with the Vikings and defensive tackle Henry Melton left the Bears for the Dallas Cowboys.
Allen is two years younger than Peppers, who had 7.5 sacks last season, and his average yearly salary will be about half of what the Bears would have had to pay Peppers under his original contract.
"This is another important step in our continued efforts to build our team towards a championship level," Bears general manager Phil Emery told the team's website.
Last week it was assumed that Allen, who visited the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys, would make his choice between those two teams, but the Bears moved in while Allen was mulling his decision.
The 10-year veteran has been voted to five Pro Bowls and was named All-Pro four times. Allen played in all 16 games last year for the sixth straight season. In his six years with the Vikings, Allen never missed a game and played a ridiculous 93 percent of the snaps, far more than any Bears defensive linemen over that span.
Allen was traded to the Vikings before the 2008 season for a first-round pick and two third-round picks. In addition to his 11.5 sacks last season, Allen had 52 tackles and 13 tackles for loss, numbers that would have led all Bears linemen in each category.
All the off-season transactions will make for an interesting 2014 season in the NFC North with five defensive linemen with five defensive linemen changing teams but staying in the same division.
The Bears are expected to introduce Allen to the media Monday afternoon at Halas Hall.
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