Most significant signing: The Bears made Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston their most expensive acquisition ($15 million guaranteed), but the price could actually turn out to be a bargain if he can replace some of the production lost with the release of Julius Peppers. Houston is a young, ascending player who has a reputation for physicality, which is exactly what Chicago wanted. Houston also provides the Bears versatility in the scheme because of his ability to be impactful as a pass-rusher from defensive end or defensive tackle. As well as Houston played in Oakland, it’s expected he’ll play his best ball in Chicago.
Most significant loss: Even though Josh McCown was serving as the backup quarterback, his departure to Tampa Bay was significant because of all he did behind the scenes with starter Jay Cutler and the team’s skill-position players. It’s also worth noting that Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2009. So the chances of the Bears needing the backup to play in 2014 would seem fairly reasonable. The Bears have expressed confidence in Jordan Palmer’s ability to fill McCown’s shoes as the No. 2 quarterback, but they’ll continue to see if they can upgrade at that position.
Biggest surprise: Chicago’s judicious handling of free agency to this point is somewhat of a surprise. Despite several needs on defense, the Bears have resisted the temptation to overspend just for the sake of filling spots. The front office has identified the types of players it would like to add to the defense, and it hasn’t waffled. The club is also staying patient, knowing there are still bargains to be had in the later stages of free agency.
What’s next? It’s difficult at this point to say how free agency will affect Chicago’s draft because free agency for the Bears will likely go all the way until May as the team continues to exercise restraint in its search for impact players. The Bears will still be active in the second and third wave of free agency, and it’s likely the club will land at least one more defensive starter. Even with that, Chicago’s draft will still be focused on defense because it’s time to start looking toward the future. Defensive tackle would appear to be the main target in the draft, and that could still be the case, even if the Bears managed to bring back free agent Henry Melton.