With the hiring of John Fox as head coach and Vic Fangio as defensive coordinator, the Chicago Bears have made a commitment to shift to a 3-4 defense. However, with few players suited to that scheme on the defensive front, personnel changes needed to be made to make that alignment an effective one in Chicago.
The Bears and new GM Ryan Pace are starting that process quickly, as they have targeted an outside linebacker in free agency and are expecting to sign him once Tuesday rolls around:
Report: #Bears are closing in on 5 year deal with OLB Pernell McPhee. Deal is expected to be worth just under $40M total.— Aaron Leming (@AaronLemingNFL) March 9, 2015
McPhee was a 5th-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, and has played all but four games in his career so far. Much like the Packers' Mike Neal, McPhee played on the line early in his career before moving back to outside linebacker, where he played in a heavy rotation in 2014 and recorded 7.5 sacks despite not starting a single game.
For his career, McPhee has recorded 17.0 sacks and three forced fumbles to go along with 92 total tackles in 60 career games.
The outside linebacker position was a critical one for the Bears to address in free agency or the draft this year as they make their switch from a 4-3 defense. Linebacker Shea McClellin is one candidate to contribute on the outside, as are former 4-3 defensive ends Jared Allen and Willie Young. Despite Fox's and Pace's comments at the Scouting Combine, Allen has no experience in a 3-4 system and is nowhere near the freak athlete that Julius Peppers is, making the likelihood of him transitioning well to outside linebacker much less than that of last year's Packers signee.
Young is built much more like a 3-4 outside linebacker at 6'4", 251, and at 29 is still somewhat malleable. He and McPhee could make a solid tandem on the outside with Allen in the mix as well as a pass-rushing specialist and McClellin contributing as well. The signing of McPhee will help to solidify the outside linebacker position in Chicago and will allow Pace to focus on building up the defensive line through the draft to continue reforming the Bears' defense to Fangio's liking.