New Bears general manager Ryan Pace made his first splash in the NFL's free-agent pool Monday. And if the final day of the 2014 league year was any indication, the team's transition to a 3-4 defense will make more waves in the days ahead.
Pace began the defensive makeover by agreeing with Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee on a five-year deal worth around $40 million and $16 million guaranteed, a person with knowledge of the situation confirmed.
No deals can be finalized until free agency begins at the start of the new league year at 3 p.m. Tuesday. But the Bears have more defensive needs and an array of options with which to address them.
The Bears have considered outside linebackers O'Brien Schofield (Seahawks) and Brooks Reed (Texans), sources said. Whether the team will see the bidding through, however, remains unknown. There should be strong competition for Schofield, who turns 28 next month and had two sacks in 16 games as a reserve last season.
The market for safeties settled into a holding pattern Monday, a league source indicated, after head-of-the-class Devin McCourty re-signed a five-year, $47.5 million deal with the Patriots on Sunday night.
There's reluctance among Rahim Moore (Broncos), Da'Norris Searcy (Bills) and Ron Parker (Chiefs) to agree to a deal that sets the second tier of the market and subsequently be outdone by the next contract.
At inside linebacker, one of the Bears' greatest remaining needs, the Saints released Curtis Lofton on Monday. Pace helped sign Lofton once already — in New Orleans in 2012 for five years, $27.5 million and $7.8 million guaranteed.
Lofton, who turns 29 in June, has missed only one start in his seven-year career. He had 99 solo tackles last season, his second-highest single-season total. He also was regarded as a strong leader for the Saints, but his $9.25 million salary-cap number this year was too much for a team trying to get under the cap by Tuesday's deadline.
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Wisniewski was a second-round pick from Penn State in 2011. He has made 61 starts over the last four seasons, playing center for three years after lining up at left guard as a rookie.
Rodney Hudson set the bar high for the position Monday morning. CBS Sports reported he agreed to a five-year, $44.5 million, contract to move from the Chiefs to the Raiders, where he will effectively replace Wisniewski.
Hudson was considered the best center available. Bears incumbent starting center Roberto Garza signed a one-year extension two days before the end of the 2014 regular season, before general manager Phil Emery was fired.
The Bears will use McPhee (6-foot-3, 280 pounds) primarily as an outside linebacker, but he was a promising 3-4 defensive end earlier in his career. That versatility is one of his greatest assets, and new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will exploit it with pre-snap disguises and to take advantage of favorable matchups.
Last season, McPhee played outside linebacker behind Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. He played about half of the team's snaps and had 71/2 sacks. He had six sacks as a rookie fifth-round pick out of Mississippi State.
Paea was not expected to return to the Bears as part of their new 3-4 despite a career-high six sacks last season. He capitalized on playing with a quality three-technique in Jeremiah Ratliff, and he got past the sprained toe that sapped his dominant power in 2013.
Tribune reporters Brad Biggs and Dan Wiederer contributed.