In 2004, the Chicago Bears signed Israel Idonije off the practice squad of the Cleveland Browns. The former undrafted free agent out of Manitoba played sparingly for the Bears his first six years in the Windy City, serving as a rotational defensive lineman and special teams player.
Yet in 2010, he was finally given the opportunity to be the full-time starter at defensive end. He rewarded the team with 8.0 sacks and three forced fumbles that season. Since then, Idonije has been the model of consistency for Chicago's defense, both as a pass rusher and a run stopper.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Idonije's 2012 overall grade was higher than that of Julius Peppers, who was named to his eighth Pro Bowl last season. On top of that, Idonije is a well-respected veteran leader in the locker room.
He became a free agent this offseason and, to the surprise of most, the Bears put little effort toward signing him. There were other positions to consider on the open market and the club did not have a lot of money to spend under the cap. Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, yet Idonije remained a free agent.
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Here's the long and short of it: Idonije was not in Chicago's long-term plans and the team made a conscious decision not to re-sign him. Yes, the Bears are tight under the cap but club's can always shift money around if they really want to sign a player. And, at 32 years old, it's unlikely he was asking for a cap-busting salary.
The Bears have two young edge rushers, Corey Wootton and Shea McClellin, whom they see as the future of the defense. The club will have a hard time justifying Peppers' salary beyond this season, so Wootton and McClellin could be on their own as early as 2014. If Idonije is taking reps from these two youngsters in practice and in the games, they will not progress at an optimal rate and may not be ready to take over full-time duties next year. Despite his value on the field, re-signing Idonije could have hurt the team in the long run, which is why he's now in Detroit.
He joins a defensive line that already features two premiere pass rushers in Kyle Vanden Bosch and Ndamukong Suh, and an emerging player in Nick Fairley. Idonije offers positional flexibility as well, as he can play both end and tackle in Detroit's 4-3 system.
Yet his biggest value will come in the locker room. Idonije is a class act and for a while now, the Lions have been chastised for a lack of maturity and leadership. With Idonije on board, he can be a calming presence for a team that has yet to harness its considerable talent. When you also consider the addition of seven-year veteran Reggie Bush on offense, the Lions have a great chance of finally putting their childish ways behind them.
And if that happens, then they'll instantly become players in the NFC North.
As for Idonije, you can bet he'll be chomping at the bit when he plays the Bears two times next season. He'll want to show the team that didn't want him back the error of their ways.
This news doesn't necessarily make the Bears any worse but it surely makes the Lions much better.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.