When it comes to this year’s Chicago Bears team mired in controversy and shortcomings, there has been plenty to discuss in what has been an un”bear”able 2014 season. Coaches, players, and executives are bickering like unruly children. Fans have resorted to burning tickets and jerseys; and because of it, no one is safe at Halas Hall. These past six months have been in a word, shameful; and perhaps the most shameful thing of all is that in the midst of so much negativity, this team’s lone bright spot has gone somewhat unheralded. His name is Stephen Paea.
In his fourth year, the former second round pick out of Oregon State is having his best statistical year as a professional, having compiled as many sacks in 2014 (6) as his previous three years in the league combined. In addition to those six sacks, Paea has two forced fumbles, batted three passes, and 30 combined tackles.
Among defensive tackles in the NFC, his sack total is good for sixth, his three pass breakups tie him for second, and only two other tackles have forced at least two fumbles– they are Frostee Rucker of the Arizona Cardinals and Justin Smith in San Francisco.
The result? Paea finished with the second most Pro Bowl fan votes of any defensive tackle in the NFL behind Marcell Dareus of the Buffalo Bills. Granted, fan voting only accounts for one-third of the total Pro Bowl selection process, but if any player deserves to represent Chicago in Arizona, it’s Stephen Paea.
Lone Bright Spot For the Bears
If the Bears season has been anything but shameful, it’s been loud.
Loud in the worst way too– with boos, cries for change, and extremely loud with mockery resonating from every corner of the NFL. Sad to say after all the talk of playoffs and Cutler’s potential MVP candidacy, the mockery is well-deserved. Even more sad is the Bears have essentially become the laughing stock of the NFL. So don’t feel bad Chicago fans, sometimes it’s damn near impossible to see the light amongst the black of chaos.
Thankfully, enough people have seen that light to give the big guy the credit he deserves– 297, 826 strong to be exact.
His peers have taken notice as well. After Chicago defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in November, former head coach Lovie Smith (who moved up in the 2011 draft to snag Paea with the 53rd overall pick) and some former teammates sung nothing but praises for their former teammate.
“Steve is a beast, ” ex-Bears cornerback and current Buccaneer Isaiah Frey told CSNChicago.com “He’s been balling all year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make the Pro Bowl. He’s been doing the same thing. He had a couple of injuries but this year he’s been healthy and getting sacks. He’s been doing real good.”
However, there is one lingering caveat to this tale, Paea is in the final year of his contract. So what should the Bears do?
How Much Could it Cost to Re-Sign Him?
Of course, the biggest defensive free-agent prize of the 2015 off-season will be Ndamukong Suh, who has a great chance of supplanting Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy as the league’s highest paid defensive tackle. But after the season he’s had, and the rarity of young cornerstone defensive tackles in the NFL, someone will end up paying, and possibly overpaying, Paea a boatload of cash.
The one thing the Bears will have to seriously consider with Paea is his injury history. While he has played in the majority of possible games during his tenure with the Bears, he has been continually hampered by various injuries that have slowed his production. Most recently, a sprained big toe in 2013.
On the flip side, with a few years of NFL experience under his belt, Paea has shown what he can do when healthy; and that’s wreak havoc in the backfield. Luckily for him, none of his injury history is serious, so that should play in his favor.
Also, in recent years there have been relatively few defensive tackles to register at least six sacks in a season.
Since 2010, only twenty other players at the nose tackle and/or defensive tackle position have tallied more than six sacks in a season. That has to count for something in terms of monetary value.
It won’t be the 6 year, $95.20 million contract, McCoy signed with Tampa Bay, which included $51, 500, 000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $15, 866, 667. But, McCoy has been arguably the top rated defensive tackle in the NFL for three years. Registering two straight years of five-plus sacks prior to 2014, including 9.5 in 2013. This season he has 8.5 sacks, 6.5 of which have occurred since signing the mega-deal in week seven.
With all that being said, Paea could demand upwards of $30, 000, 000; similar to the four-year, $29, 150, 000 contract Buffalo Bills’ defensive tackle Kyle Williams signed after a 2010 season in which he registered 5.5 sacks.
Should the Bears Re-Sign Him?
It depends on how you look at it. Many will clamor for the Bears to solidify the defensive front by stealing the monster that is Suh from the Detroit Lions. While others may contend that re-signing Paea to a much more team friendly deal will allow the Bears to make additions to other areas of need, such as safety and linebacker.
Only time will tell really, although one thing is for certain; The Bears should do something. Or rather NEED to do something, and re-signing an in-house shining star, rather than handing out another $100, 000, 000 contract after a disastrous 2014 season could end up being a more prudent step in the right direction.
As for the Pro Bowl, The official rosters will be announced Tuesday, December 23, on NFL Total Access.