Part of a position-by-position preview of where the Bears stand entering free agency on Tuesday.
Signed for 2015: Jeremiah Ratliff, Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton, Brandon Dunn.
Expiring contract: Stephen Paea.
Position synopsis: Ratliff projects to be the team’s first option to handle nose tackle responsibilities in the team’s new 3-4 defense. But soon to be 34, entering the last year of his contract and having missed 26 games the last three seasons with injuries, Ratliff can’t be relied upon as an every-week given. If the last Bears regime was bullish on Sutton’s upside, the shift to a 3-4 could leave the 2014 third-round pick without a niche. Ferguson, a second-round selection a year ago, has much better potential to slot in as a space-eating tackle in the new system. Still, the Bears’ new scheme mandates that they peruse all defensive tackle options in free agency and in the draft.
Worth asking: Is Paea worth keeping around?
A day after last season ended, Paea expressed his desire to remain with the Bears and put plenty of production on tape with a career-best six sacks, 3.5 other tackles for loss and 14 quarterback pressures. That will provide options and leverage on the open market. And if the Bears have a proposed vision for Paea, they’ll have to compare that against his asking price.