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Houston in, Peppers out: Bears shake it up at defensive end

OaklRaiders defensive end Lamarr Houst(99) celebrates during Pittsburgh Steelers against OaklRaiders an NFL football game Sunday October . 27 2013

Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (99) celebrates during the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Oakland Raiders in an NFL football game Sunday, October . 27, 2013 in Oakland, California. (AP Photo/Tom Hauck)

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Updated: March 12, 2014 12:08AM



Out with the old and expensive and in with the new and emerging. It’s a way of life in the NFL, and the Bears are no exception.

And it all unfolded as part of general manager Phil Emery’s overhauling of the Bears’ defense after an awful 2013 season.

After being spurned by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, the Bears signed former Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston to a five-year, $35 million deal Tuesday. Of course, that meant the expected end of the Julius Peppers era with the Bears. He was released after four seasons with the team.

“We appreciate Julius’ contributions to the Bears over the last four years,” Emery said in a statement. “He was a leader on our defense, starting every game since coming to Chicago.”

The defense still will rely on linebacker Lance Briggs, but the feel will never be the same as the changes keep coming. It will have a new look with Houston and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who will be around for the whole season, and possibly without cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Henry Melton, who could be gone in free agency.

Middle linebacker D.J. Williams (one-year contract) also re-signed with Bears, and safety Ryan Mundy was added to the secondary with a two-year deal.

Adding Houston is important for a defense that allowed a league-worst 161.4 rushing yards per game and was tied for the fewest sacks last season.

Houston wasn’t overly productive for the Raiders in his first four seasons — he only has 16 career sacks — but he can play on the edge and inside and is a noted run-stopper at 6-3, 300 pounds.

And he might be on the rise.

Houston, 26, is coming off his best season with career highs in tackles (69), sacks (six) and forced fumbles (two). He also had 10 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. His six sacks led the Raiders.

Of course, he didn’t come cheap. According to a source, Houston is guaranteed $14.9 million. That includes a $4.95 million signing bonus and a $3 million roster bonus for 2014.

There also is $250,000 (yearly $50,000 increments) that can be earned through workout obligations. As far as his roster bonus, $1 million is paid on the third day of the league year, while the remaining amount is on a per-game basis ($125,000).

Houston’s base salary is $1 million for 2014, $5.95 million for 2015, 2016 and 2017 and $7.95 million in 2018. With bonuses included, his total cost is $9 million in 2014.

To offset those costs, Peppers, who was on the trading block before free agency, had to go.

Peppers was to have roughly an $18.2 million cap hit for 2014. Cutting Peppers still leaves $8.36 million in dead money on the Bears’ books, but the benefits were clear: Letting him go gave them approximately $9.8 million in additional cap space.

Peppers had two years left on a six-year, $84 million ($42 million guaranteed) deal signed in 2010. In his four seasons with the Bears, Peppers started 64 games and had 38 sacks, three interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.

“I want to thank the Bears organization, my teammates and the city of Chicago for a great experience,” Peppers said in a statement released through ESPN. “I have been focusing my time on preparing myself for next season and am looking forward to continuing my NFL career.”

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns



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