After missing out on free agent defensive end Jeremy Mincey, the Bears re-signed defensive end Israel Idonije to a one-year contract late Thursday. But since it was clear the Bears were seeking an upgrade at the position, the focus of their search for a defensive end now turns to the NFL draft, where Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is expected to be available if the Bears' maintain their 19th pick in the first round.
Idonije, 31, has played in 118 games over the past eight years with the Bears and has started the last two seasons at defensive end opposite Julius Peppers. While he has been an effective overall player in that role, his sack total dropped from eight in 2010 to five in 2011.
The Bears courted Mincey and thought they had him until Mincey re-signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars -- a four-year, $20 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
''It was a good fit [with the Bears],'' Mincey told reporters. ''Who wouldn't want to play beside Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher? They're a first-class organization. They do things right. They got a lot of good pieces to make it happen.''
So why didn't he sign with the Bears?
''The way I see it, why become part of a legacy when you can build your own?'' Mincey said. ''That was the line that stuck in my head throughout the whole process, and that was one of the key factors for me choosing Jacksonville.''
It will be interesting to see if that comes to fruition or if the Jaguars sold him a bill of goods. Mincey, 28, appears to be much closer to becoming the next Israel Idonije than the next Julius Peppers. Like Idonije he had a humble start in the NFL -- a sixth-round pick by the New England Patriots who was cut twice, was acquired by the Jaguars off the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad and only recently became an impact player. He had eight sacks for the Jaguars last season, the same as Idonije had in 2010.
Idonije has value to the Bears as a solid all-around player who blocks kicks and is a steadying influence in the locker room. But the Bears' interest in Mincey tipped their hand that they are looking for a better player opposite Peppers. The draft is the next opportunity to see an upgrade.