General manager Phil Emery entered free agency this week on a mission to find two starting defensive ends to fortify the Bears’ beleaguered front.
He completed that task Thursday morning when he signed Willie Young to a three-year, $9 million contract that includes $4 million guaranteed. He joins newly-signed free-agent end Lamarr Houston as the faces of a defense that aims to be more unpredictable and versatile in coordinator Mel Tucker’s second season.
“Offenses are going to have to figure out some kind of way to stop two guys who are coming off the edge with no intentions other than to harass quarterbacks,” the former Lions end said via a media teleconference.
Young had three sacks and 47 tackles, seven for loss, last season. With the Lions, the four-year veteran learned to wait and learn from older veterans.
For his first three seasons, he had Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril as mentors. Last year, with Vanden Bosch retired and Avril heading to the Seahawks as a free agent, Young had an opening to showcase all he had learned.
Emery was attracted to Young’s length — he’s 6 feet 4, 251 pounds — and toughness.
“He has 35-inch arms,” Emery said. “He uses that advantage to gain leverage and separation. He has strong hands, a good punch. He’s a good athlete with a lot of upside.”
Emery also noted Young’s experience in playing on the right and left sides. Although Young played about four times as many snaps on the left last season than the right, according to Emery’s count, Emery hasn’t penciled Young or Houston into either side. He will wait until the roster is filled out later in the spring.
Young’s first two seasons at North Carolina State in 2005-06 were also Bears coach Marc Trestman’s two years as the Wolfpack’s offensive coordinator. Emery scouted Young later in Young’s college career.
“One thing that has been hitting my eyes since I first saw Willie at North Carolina State is how passionate and hard this guy plays the game,” Emery said. “He’s really an old-school player.
“I guess it’s a little sensitive to use the word violence in relationship to football anymore, but he’s a tough, physical player who really has learned to use his length. And he just gets after it. He has really good pursuit and instincts to get around the ball and get involved in plays as both a pass rusher and a run defender.”
Also agreeing to a deal Thursday was receiver Domenik Hixon. He will compete to return kicks on a one-year contract, Emery said, as the club seeks to replace Devin Hester.
Hixon, who was listed at 6-2, 205 with the Panthers last season, hasn’t returned kickoffs since 2009 with the Giants, when he averaged 22.6 yards on 57 returns. He last returned punts in 2012, gaining a total of 36 yards on five attempts. He has one touchdown on 80 career kickoff returns and one touchdown in 56 career punt returns.
The Bears also re-signed tight end Dante Rosario for the second time in two weeks.
As for defensive tackle Henry Melton, the Bears might not have the money or might not be willing to meet his demands if Melton’s effort to gauge his value on the open market drags on, Emery cautioned.
Melton’s visit to the Vikings on Thursday was expected to continue Friday, ESPN reported.
“I think he still has some teams to visit,” Emery said. “We pretty much left it with Jordan (Woy), his agent, that he was going to go through this process, and when he got through it and he had a pretty good idea what his market is, we could talk at that time.
“Of course, the clock is ticking, so our resources and what we have at that time may have changed. But we’ll see where we’re at when that is all finished.”