Monsters are fearsome again

CHICAGO -- In the span of a season, Chicago Bears safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte went from promising young duo to clueless busts.

In the same season, the Bears defense went from reliable run-stopping takeaway bandits to an injury-riddled mess, the worst rushing defense in the league, which managed a paltry 30 sacks, tied for the fifth-lowest total in the NFL.

Welcome to Chicago, Jared Allen.

Like Dennis Rodman nearly 20 years ago, a colorful, dangerous rival is coming to Chicago with championship dreams. Give the Bears a one-peat and Allen can dye his mullet any color he pleases.

Allen, a Bears irritant in his days with Minnesota, signed a free-agent deal with the Bears on Wednesday morning worth a reported $15.5 million guaranteed. He's signed for four years, but given that he's turning 32 soon, it's more like a two-year deal.

With no pass rush thanks in part to a makeshift defensive line, the Bears defense cratered in 2013, wasting a strong offensive showing from new coach Marc Trestman and his unit. General manager Phil Emery didn't fire first-year coordinator Mel Tucker, but promised to attack the weakness of the defense as he did the offense in his previous two offseasons.

With that makeover in mind, the Bears bade goodbye to veterans Julius Peppers, Henry Melton and Corey Wootton and moved Shea McClellin to linebacker.

While re-signing a few defensive returners, Emery has quickly put together a formidable new group on the defensive line, which is of course the essence of any good defense. A pass rush is a safety's best friend.

After signing Lamarr Houston and Willie Young, and re-signing Jeremiah Ratliff to play with fellow holdovers Nate Collins and Stephen Paea, most figured the Bears would target a lineman with their first pick in the draft.

But adding Allen not only gives the Bears more experience up front, it also gives them the flexibility to take a safety to replace Wright. It also has given Bears fans a reason to start talking Super Bowl again.

In a game of intra-division musical chairs, Allen replaces the last name-brand defensive end the Bears signed in free agency, Peppers, who signed with Green Bay.

Allen is a little younger and a lot louder than Peppers. If Julius was considered Superman by his peers, then Allen is Wolverine. And I'm not just talking about his bad haircut.

The defensive end surely will bring attitude, always a good thing in moderation, and for the Bears' sake, more consistent pressure from the edge. You can mark him down now for double-digit sacks, as long as he's healthy, and given that he's never injured, you see why he's a good buy past 30. Allen had 11½ sacks last season, 12 the year before and 22 in 2011.

The Bears don't expect Allen to have a Peppers-like impact. He was brought in to give them a piece of what they were missing and all of whatever's left in his tank.

With a potent offense and a defense rebuilt from the front up, this is the team to fear in the NFC North.