Bears tried to sign Packers' Neal in free agency
GREEN BAY, Wis. — When Phil Emery set out to rebuild the Chicago Bears defensive line in free agency, he cast a wide net at the outset.
The Bears were all-in on Michael Bennett before the defensive end re-signed with the Seattle Seahawks and then the team reeled in Lamarr Houston shortly after the signing period opened. Before the Emery added Willie Young from the Detroit Lions and ultimately lured Jared Allen after the prized pass rusher made two visits to the Super Bowl champion Seahawks, the Bears tried to sign Mike Neal.
Neal told the Tribune that the Bears made him a contract offer early in free agency before he ultimately chose to sign back with the Green Bay Packers.
"They offered me," Neal said. "In the long run, their offer, it wasn't a bad deal. The option for me to come back here was better, in my opinion. I felt like this was a system that if I was kept in the same position, I could flourish in. I thought it would be better to try to capitalize on what I did last year here."
Neal returned to Green Bay on a two-year contract worth as much as $8 million and the Bears signed Young for three seasons for $9 million. It looked like Young would be plugged in as a starter, like he was last season for the Lions, until Allen came on board.
Neal, a Gary, Ind., native who attended Merrillville High School, revived his career with a switch from defensive end in the Packers' 3-4 scheme to outside linebacker a year ago. He dropped 25 pounds to make the position change and had four sacks in the final seven games to finish with five. His 37 quarterback hurries led the team.
Obviously, the Bears looked at Neal as a defensive end and an emerging pass rusher, much the same way they viewed Young. The Bears have completely restocked the position with the top three on the depth chart — Allen, Houston and Young — all newcomers.
Meanwhile, Green Bay has fortified itself with pass rushers, adding former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers to the mix. Now, Neal hopes to soak up some knowledge from Peppers, who will also be playing outside linebacker in Dom Capers' defense.
"I think one of the biggest things that comes from Julius is he is a veteran so he brings a lot to the table," Neal said. "He's everything you could ask for in a vet and me being a young player, he's probably one of the best guys. Just everything he brings is great."