Not all that long ago the Bears were consistently a solid pass-rushing team. Three times (2005, ’06, ’12) in the span of Lovie Smith’s last eight years the Bears had at least 40 sacks, coincidentally or not, three years in which they won a combined 34 games.
The last three years they averaged 35 sacks per season, coincidentally or not, three years in which they won a combined 19. Not necessarily a direct cause-and-effect, but one that the Bears are intent on remedying in the 2016 offseason through a combination of draft and free agency.
But here’s the problem:
Free agency rarely offers elite pass rushers, and the Bears made their play for one last offseason with a $35 million contract for Pernell McPhee from Baltimore. Teams do not let top pass rushers escape without incumbent options (the Ravens had Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs) and the franchise tag for defensive ends ($15.7 million) accordingly is second only to that for quarterbacks ($19.95 million).
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Not surprisingly, Denver franchised Von Miller (11 sacks), Miami use a transitional tag on Olivier Vernon (7.5) and the Jets used their franchise tag on Muhammad Wilkerson (12).
The draft is the best way to secure disruptors in the pass rush. And the ’16 draft class is widely considered one of all-time best for defensive linemen. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said that he had 16 defensive tackles in his top 100 players in this draft, meaning that an elite down-lineman like Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson projects as the right choice based on best-player-available philosophies.
Because various edge options in the draft are anything but enthralling.
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“[Clemson defensive end Shaq] Lawson is going to be the most consistent effort guy,” McShay said of the 275-pound rusher who tied for the ACC lead with 12.5 sacks. “He’s going to bring a lot of fire and emotion. He’s a natural pass rusher in terms of his instincts. But he’s not a speedster.
“But I think he’s a junkyard dog. I love the way he plays.”
Georgia outside linebacker Leonard Floyd has moved up on some draft boards. But whether those boards include the Bears’ is open to question.
“I’d rather personally — and I’m not speaking for [the Bears] — bet on [Lawson] that’s going to go out and give me everything every single snap, and play with that kind of intensity, than a player like Floyd who is supremely talented but never has quite found his niche,” McShay said. “Maybe it’s how they used him...but he’s never grown into the player you would expect when you look at those measurables.”