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Peppers signing fills out Bears' trifecta

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Dan Arkush

darkush@pfwmedia.com
Executive editor

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Posted March 05, 2010 @ 8:23 p.m. ET
By Dan Arkush

Updated March 7, 2010 @ 3:12 p.m. ET

Operating with a sense of urgency with no picks in the first and second rounds for a second straight season, the Bears pulled out all the stops on the first full day of free agency, filling three key needs with the signing of free agents Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. Peppers, a five-time Pro Bowler who was widely considered the best player available on this year's free-agent market, will be counted on to provide the biggest boost for a team that has been merely ordinary since earning a trip to the Super Bowl in 2006.

In the days leading up to the start of this year's free-agency period, Bears team president Ted Phillips said the team would not go "hog wild" in an attempt to add new blood. But the reported contract figures for the team's three newest players — a combined total of more than $120 million — indicates otherwise.

Manumaleuna, a tight end known for his blocking who began his career playing for new Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz in St, Louis, got the Bears' cash register jingling early Friday when he reportedly agreed to a five-year deal worth more than $17 million, including $6 million guaranteed.

Taylor, a versatile and durable running back who is expected to quickly compete with second-year RB Matt Forté for a starter's role, reportedly agreed to a $12.5 million, four-year contract, with $7 million guaranteed.

Last — but certainly not least — Peppers, who had a smile on his face as wide as the Grand Canyon during a late-afternoon press conference at Halas Hall, reportedly signed a six-year, $91.5 million deal that will guarantee him $42 million in the first three years of the deal.



The PFW spin

Mission accomplished?

Let's start with the freakishly athletic Peppers, who has 81 career sacks in eight seasons with the Panthers and figures to be very motivated to outdo his new division rival, Vikings Pro Bowl DE Jared Allen.

"I'm excited to be here and am looking forward to doing big things," Peppers said at the press conference. "It's one thing to play football for a living, But to play for a team with a great tradition like the Bears, that makes it a whole different experience.

"Coach (Lovie) Smith is a defensive-minded coach, and Rod Marinelli is known as one of the best defensive line coaches. The opportunity to work with those two guys was a big factor for me, plus playing on a team with such a great defensive tradition was intriguing.

"I look forward to adding to that legacy."

Added Taylor on Peppers: "He's a great player, and I'm glad I don't have to worry about chip-blocking him anymore."

A third-down back operating behind Minnesota superstar RB Adrian Peterson the last three seasons, Taylor is an excellent receiver out of the backfield who should be a nice fit in an offense that is expected to be much more pass-oriented under Martz with Manumaleuna sealing the edge and helping to protect QB Jay Cutler.

Said Taylor of Cutler: "He's the type of quarterback who won't go down and fights for extra yards. I see a lot of Brett Favre in him."

After greatly exceeding expectations on the first day of free agency, it's unlikely the Bears will remain very active in the market moving forward, Their focus is now expected to quickly shift to the upcoming draft, where they hope to take care of more key needs, particularly a playmaking free safety.

If the season were to start today, third-year pro Craig Steltz would probably be the designated starter at free safety. While it's quite possible Peppers' presence in the lineup will bolster the play of all of his teammates, an upgrade from Steltz would certainly be preferred.

It's hardly a given that the Bears' pass rush will automatically make a quantum leap with Peppers, who has been known throughout his career to take more than a few plays off. But there is certainly reason for renewed optimism on the defensive side of the ball, especially if star MLB Brian Urlacher can bounce back strong after missing practically the entire '09 season with a discloated wrist, and DT Tommie Harris, who will not be coming off surgery for the first time in three years, can regain his Pro Bowl form.

Whatever happens, as was the case last year when Bears GM Jerry Angelo stunned the league with his trade for Cutler, the Windy City once again has an industrial-sized Bears buzz going, as numerous fans no doubt lifted their glasses in sports bars around the city to toast the Bears' three new players as they watched them on wide-screen TVs introduce themselves from Halas Hall.

 

For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.

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