In an offseason marked by a succession of moves to upgrade their defense, the Bears made the biggest move yet early Wednesday, signing free agent defensive end Jared Allen to a four-year contract.
The deal, which averages a reported $8 million per season, follows earlier signings of defensive ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young plus defensive tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.
"We are extremely happy for Jared, his wife Amy, our fans and the Chicago Bears that Jared has agreed to terms and will be joining the Bears family," general manager Phil Emery said in a statement to the Bears website. "This is another important step in our continued efforts to build our team towards a championship level."
Allen had looks with the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and others before the deal went down with the Bears. He was left unsigned by the Minnesota after six years with the Vikings (2008-2013) following his first four years with Kansas City (2004-2007).
The Allen contract is worth $32 million over four years but can void down to three years and $24 million. The deal comes with $15.5 million guaranteed, according to multiple reports.
Allen turns 32 on April 3. He started all 16 games last year for the sixth straight season, which was also the seventh in a row in which he had double-digit sacks (11.5). In this single stroke, on top of the other signings already in place, the Bears’ defensive line has gone from the weakness on the defensive side to its biggest strength.
Later Wednesday afternoon, Allen issued a statement, thanking the Vikings and focusing on the next chapter in his career.
"I'd like to take a moment to thank my former teammates, coaches and the staff at the Minnesota Vikings for all of their inspiring work and dedication," Allen said. "Perhaps more importantly I would like to thank the fans and the Minnesota community. I can only hope that I have left with you all, with even a fraction of the positive support and impact you have had on my life, my foundation and my family. I am very excited about this next chapter in my career with the Chicago Bears and can't wait to see what the future holds for us. God bless. "
NFC North carousel
Earlier this week the Bears exercised their option to restructure the contract of quarterback Jay Cutler, creating additional salary cap space. Allen’s signing offers an indication where some of that money was directed.
The Allen signing follows the release of Julius Peppers, who moved on to Green Bay but arguably brings the biggest single upgrade to the defensive line in the NFC North. Earlier this week, former Bear defensive lineman Corey Wootton left for Minnesota after the Bears went with the Houston and Young signings on top of having three edge rushers in David Bass, Austen Lane and Trevor Scott.
Allen, 6-6. 270 pounds, has been almost exclusively a right end and at 32 may be used as part of a rotation, something he has not done earlier in his career. Allen has averaged 14.5 sacks per season through his past seven years, with a franchise-record of 22 for Minnesota in 2011. The last 3.5 of those came at the expense of the Bears and Josh McCown with J’Marcus Webb at left tackle.
"We're really excited about adding Jared to our football team," coach Marc Trestman said in a statement. "We know what his abilities bring to the table. Jared is certainly a very experienced player in the league. We believe he's going to come in hungry and excited to be part of our football team, and we believe he'll fit right in with the other new players that we've added and the guys that are already on the defensive side of the ball. I know that our defensive coaches are excited as well."