Jeremiah Ratliff re-signing with the Bears in advance of the start of free agency over the next week affects more than simply one position on the defensive line. For a defense intent on increasing versatility, few players offer potentially more of that in the overall than Ratliff.
The signing, to a two-year deal, does not automatically remove defensive line from the shopping list of either upcoming free agency or the draft in May. But Ratliff started at both nose tackle and three-technique over the span of the Bears’ last four games, and he was a four-time Pro Bowl selection working at nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme of the Dallas Cowboys.
Ratliff becomes an every down defensive tackle in either a 4-3 or 3-4 package, a proven pass rusher able to be aligned to take advantage of mismatch situations.
Retaining Ratliff does not project to have a direct impact on the possible re-signings of Henry Melton and Nate Collins, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries. It does, however, diminish some of the injury uncertainties at the position group.
The former Cowboys 2005 seventh-round draft pick (224th overall), has appeared in at least 15 games in six (2006-11) of his nine NFL seasons, including starting all 16 in four seasons (2008-11). Most of the 2012-13 seasons were lost to a hernia and the ensuing surgery. But as Brian Urlacher observed about his own 2009 season lost to a fractured wrist, the net effect of down time is also physical recovery that can extend a veteran’s career.
The Bears hired Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach after the 2013 season. Pasqualoni was the Dallas defensive line coach and interim defensive coordinator in 2010 and coached Cowboys linebackers in 2006-07.
Still to be addressed is the muddied situation at defensive end, with Julius Peppers still on the roster with a $14 million salary and Corey Wootton not on the roster. But with Stephen Paea and Ratliff under contract, the Bears are a significant step closer toward the kind of interior strength too often missing last season.