The Bears continued to bulk up their defensive line on Tuesday, striking in the early minutes of free agency by signing defensive end Lamarr Houston away from the Oakland Raiders with a five-year contract that projects to provide a physical edge-setter who combines with a hoped-for upgrade in the pass rush.
Houston, 26, posted a career-best six sacks in 2013 playing both defensive end spots and is one of the league’s highest-rated edge players against the run, as much of a priority as the pass rush after last season’s difficulties.
Houston is a former Texas teammate of defensive tackle Henry Melton, and a second-round Oakland selection in 2010. Houston is listed at 6-3, 300 pounds, although he has played as low as 280 pounds. In four seasons he has never missed a game and has 16 career sacks.
The move, which sets the stage for the release of Julius Peppers, adds mass to the front four, which already was enhanced this offseason with the re-signing of Jeremiah Ratliff (303 pounds) and backup Nate Collins to go with nose tackle Stephen Paea (300).
General manager Phil Emery already has signed lighter, taller defensive ends Austen Lane and Trevor Scott to go with Michael Bass in competition for the fourth defensive-line spot.
The increased size reflects a realization that if the Bears cannot stop the run, the rest of their scheming matters little. The Bears were tied for last in sacks for 2013 with 31 but part of real reason lay in the fact that opponents ran the ball more than 47 percent of the time against them, vs. the NFL average of about 42 percent.
The other obvious reason was that Melton was injured, taking away a Pro Bowl tackle with an interior rush, and Corey Wootton went from a breakout 2012 season at end to defensive tackle and a resulting falloff of sacks to 3.5.