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Professional

Houston signing a big gamble

Talk about a leap of faith. The Bears spent $35 million for a right defensive end with 16 sacks in four seasons, and a career best of six in 2013. Only two of those sacks came in the last nine games.

Lamarr Houston has been ranked by a number of scouts as one of the top defensive ends available in free agency this year.

But as he also adds just four career forced fumbles, five passes defensed and one interception to that meager sack total, it is reasonable to ask why spend the money on him.

Part of the answer is that Houston is more than just a right end. His unique size, at 6-foot-3, 302 pounds has allowed him to play outside or inside, much like Michael Bennett did in Seattle last year, and Julius Peppers has done on occasion.

Houston is strong against the run, and shoring up the Bears’ run defense is priority No. 1.

But if he is coming to town to replace Julius Peppers, and that would appear to be the case, this could very well prove to be Phil Emery’s biggest gamble yet.

Houston is 7 years younger than Peppers, so he fits a stated goal of Emery’s and Marc Trestman’s of making the defense younger.

But consider this comparison. In his first four seasons, Peppers had 40½ sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 23 passes defensed and three interceptions. The least of those 4 years produced seven sacks, and as disappointing as Peppers was last year, he still managed 7½ sacks and forced two fumbles.

The rumored trade of Peppers was a joke from the get-go; it could never have happened with his contract as part of the deal.

While we still don’t know for sure what Emery is thinking with Houston, his plan at linebacker is now crystal clear. The D.J. Williams signing is a great move by the Bears.

Williams was looking like a really nice fit with Lance Briggs before he got hurt last year and, even though he’ll turn 32 in July, he’s played less than half a season each of the past 2 years, and should have at least one more big push left in him.

The Williams and Jeremiah Ratliff signings might not make the Bears defense younger, but it definitely makes it better.

It also helps by freeing up Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic from worrying about the MIKE spot to compete at SAM Linebacker.

The Williams deal is cap friendly for a starter in the middle, and makes all the sense in the world.

The signing of Ryan Mundy at safety is a start, but not a gamechanger. I called two of his games with the Giants last year from the sideline, and was impressed with his physicality, but he’s not overly athletic.

He earned a starting job due to injury to other players, not with his performance. Minimally, Mundy figures to be more assignment-savvy than Major Wright.

I would still expect the Bears to look long and hard at either Calvin Pryor or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft, if either or both are available.

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