Could the New York Giants benefit from the Chicago Bears' impending switch from a 4-3 defense to one predominantly based on the 3-4? Possibly, if the Bears choose to let talented defensive tackle Stephen Paea, considered unlikely to fit in a 3-4 scheme, walk away in free agency.
Paea, who will be 27 next season, is a former 2011 second-round draft pick who is coming off the best season of his four-year career.
"Paea turned in the best season of his young career, playing in all 16 games, registering 39 tackles, 6 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles. The numbers may not say a lot, but for a nose-tackle that was initially billed as a 3-technique DT, he's quickly asserted himself as one of the best young tackles in the league," wrote Dane Noble of SB Nation's Bears web site Windy City Gridiron. "Obviously, the Chicago Bears would love to keep Paea around, but he had just the type of season that most players hope to have coming into a contract year. He put himself in a situation to get paid, and with questions swirling around what type of defense the Bears will run in 2015, I'd say there's only a 50/50 chance he's back in Chicago next season.
"Should the Giants be interested? Only if they're willing to spend the money."
The Giants defense was last in the league in yards per rushing attempt allowed in 2014. Johnathan Hankins is the Giants best defensive tackle, a rising star at the position. After that, though, the Giants have only question marks.
Cullen Jenkins just accepted a pay cut to remain with the team. Jenkins, though, is a 34-year-old coming off an injury-plagued season. Jay Bromley was drafted in the third round a year ago, but is largely untested. Markus Kuhn and Mike Patterson are, at best, rotational players who should minimal snaps.
Paea had a +14.4 Pro Football Focus score in 2014, second only to Detroit Lions' superstar Ndamukong Suh among free-agent defensive tackles. Paea is noted more as an interior pass rusher, as evidenced by the six sacks and +18.2 pass rushing score he compiled. His pass rush productivity percentage of 8.7 was fourth-best among all defensive tackles who played at least 50 percent of their team's defensive snaps.
Here are a couple of GIFs showing Paea as a pass rusher.
The question about Paea would be run defense. His PFF scores in that area are as follows:
Is he simply not stout against the run? Is there something about the way he was used in Chicago, or the players he was surrounded by, that hurt his run defense statistics? Would be benefit from playing next to a run stuffing behemoth like Hankins?
Jeff Dickerson, who covered the Bears for ESPN Chicago, had this to say about Paea's run defense:"Nobody on the Bears could stop the run, honestly. I think Paea suffered because of that aspect. I also think Steve is sometimes caught between playing nose tackle and wanting to be a 3-technique. He wants to rush. Bears put him in a slightly different role," Dickerson said.
"But honestly, the Bears were so bad on defense, I don't think Paea was put in the best position to succeed."
Here are a couple of GIFs showing Paea's promise as a run defender.
Back in the day, Paea set a Scouting Combine bench press record with 49 reps of 225 pounds. So, strength is certainly not an issue.
In an article written during the 2014 season, Dickerson said "the Bears are finally seeing Paea begin to reach his full potential."
Dickerson added this about Paea, who seems like a player who would fit the high-character mold that seems to have become increasingly important to the Giants:
Paea seems like a safe investment -- for the proper price. He works extremely hard in the offseason and is viewed as one of the good guys in the Bears' locker room. Paea is a remarkable story. The 26-year-old didn't even know how to speak English when he moved to the United States from Tonga at age 16. Paea successfully overcame the language barrier and is currently one of the most accessible and thoughtful players inside the building.
How much will Paea cost? He probably won't be cheap. A year ago, Linval Joseph left the Giants in free agency and got a five-year, $31.25 million contract from the Minnesota Vikings that included $12.5 million guaranteed. Is Paea worth that much? More? Less?
"Paea is good, not great. He has a history of injuries, but played pretty well the last two years," said Dickerson. "In my opinion, he's probably worth $2 million a year. However, I'm sure he'll be looking for more. Nice guy, but not a player worth overpaying for."
Your thoughts, Giants fans?