Lions lose a productive player in Young

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A day after grabbing likely their biggest free-agent signing, the Detroit Lions lost arguably their most talented free agent to one of their biggest rivals.

The Chicago Bears signed defensive end Willie Young on Thursday, opening up another need for the Lions along the defensive line. Young was a starter for Detroit last season and a productive one as essentially the fourth-best lineman on one of the more talented defensive lines in the NFL.

That Young is heading to the Bears -- and going there at a fairly reasonable three years for $9 million with $4 million guaranteed, according to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero -- likely means one of three things.

The first is that Detroit didn’t have as much interest in bringing back Young as initially thought or that Young didn’t have much interest in returning to the Lions. The second is that the team might believe either Jason Jones will fully recover from his ruptured patellar tendon or that Devin Taylor, who played well in short doses but not as well in long stretches, is ready to make a second-year jump.

The third is that Detroit wanted to look in another direction for a free-agent defensive end, and the team has Darryl Tapp – formerly of Washington – in its facility Thursday. It also shows that defensive end might not have been a large priority signing for the Lions, especially with those two on the roster to play opposite last year’s first-round draft pick, Ziggy Ansah. They'll have to replace someone who, according to Pro Football Focus, had 48 quarterback hurries in his first extended playing time last season in Young.

The Lions will now be searching for a new defensive end and it might be difficult for them to find one on the free-agent market that matches Young’s size, length and speed. If the Lions are looking for a potential starter, Jared Allen and Anthony Spencer might be the top two options out there – and the Lions are extremely familiar with Allen, who might be able to be brought in at a cheaper price these days.

There’s also Julius Peppers out there after the Bears cut him, and if the Lions wanted a smaller, speed rusher, they could look at a 3-4 outside linebacker/4-3 defensive end like LaMarr Woodley.

Whether the Lions were smart in letting Young walk will likely be seen often by the team, as Young remained in the same division after initially heading to Jacksonville at the start of free agency for a visit.

Then Jacksonville made moves on other defensive ends –notably Chris Clemons from Seattle – leaving Young once again searching for a home. He found it in a place he is familiar with: Chicago. What the Bears saw when they played Young was someone who made nine tackles and had one sack, three batted passes and four defensive disruptions.