The Chicago Bears were an 8-8 team last year, due mainly to an injury-riddled defense that faltered down the stretch. GM Phil Emery made a number of moves in free agency to bolster the defense, which includes the recent signing of defensive end Jared Allen.
Allen said today that he did consider retirement toward the beginning of the free agency period but the prospect of playing in Chicago was too good to pass up.
"[Retirement] is always a consideration. For any athlete, it's always under consideration," said Allen, who turns 32 in a few days. "I think this team is closer than people think. What attracted me here is the opportunity to go out and win it, to earn it and win it and be a part of it and be a piece of that puzzle."
Allen said he would have retired had no contending teams called, yet he feels the Bears have the right pieces in place to make a run at the franchise's second Super Bowl title.
"I wasn't just going to throw my cleats on and my pads on for a team that had no chance, are rebuilding," he said. "I feel like I'm still the best at what I do. If not the [best], one of [the best]."
Allen said it starts on offense, where he believes the Bears have the opportunity to be one of the best in the league.
"I know what it takes to prepare for this offense, and it sucks. Week-in, you go Argghh!" said Allen. "Jay (Cutler) is crazy good with what he can do inside the pocket. People talk about how (Ben) Roethlisberger, how he can extend plays. I think Jay is probably the tops in pocket presence of just making it hard to rush against. Chicago was always in my top-five short list because they have a quarterback, they have an offense. (Matt) Forte, he's a dual threat. He can run for a thousand. He can catch for a thousand. What are you going to do? Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, those are two of the top receivers you're going to play against, with that size."
Defensively, Allen said he was very attracted to playing next to defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who signed a two-year deal with the Bears this offseason.
"One of the people that excites me the most is Jay Ratliff," said Allen. "I've gotten to know Jay over the years at the Pro Bowl. I've seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he's healthy, he's an absolute beast in the middle. I've had the fortune to play with Pat and Kevin Williams, and he's up there on that level with them. What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the 3-technique spot, not only in the run game but in the pass rush game, that's huge. To have a guy that can consistently get three or four yards deep, a quarterback's got one way to go, me or him. That I'm really excited about."
With Ratliff and the other young pieces Emery has added to the defense, Allen thinks the Bears can rise from the ashes after a historically awful 2013 campaign.
"We're going to be a vaunted Bears defense again, and it's going to start with us up front, it's going to start with that front seven," he said. "I think the guys are here. Lamarr Houston, him being in Oakland and still having success, in Oakland, when you're playing from behind most of the time. Willie Young, I've watched him play up in Detroit, he's a good, long, rangy kid. I think he has a lot of talent. The veteran leadership you have, the rate that the Bears can create turnovers, it's exciting to play with them. And then you bring the young guys in and when that all comes together, I think that's a great match."
Allen has the most career sacks (128.5) of any active player, yet he doesn't feel his role will be that of a pass-rush specialist.
"I wouldn't be here if I thought I was going to be ... if they told me 'hey, you're going to be a third-down rush guy,'" he said. "I have a lot left in this tank. My body feels good and again, I feel like I can make waves."
With no Chicago media outlets reporting it beforehand, the signing of Allen caught everyone off guard, even Allen.
"They sniped me," said Allen, who is an avid hunter. "It was awesome. It was cool how it happened. I got a call at five in the morning: ‘Hey, it's going.' When I went to bed that night, it was ‘We're still working on some language.' ‘OK, call me when it's done.' I got the call at five in the morning and Cutler called me right away. And I was like, ‘Jay, I've got to call you back, it's 5:30 in the morning. I'm going back to bed.'"
Allen said he spoke with defensive coordinator Mel Tucker before he signed.
"With Mel it was more we understood each other," said Allen. "I understood what he wanted from me and he knew what he was going to get from me, and our philosophies kind of matched up to that right way of thinking. So there wasn't a whole lot of recruiting. It's just I had questions and they were answered the right way and I feel comfortable with it."
Yet beyond Tucker and the coaching staff, beyond playing for the oldest franchise in league history, Allen said his reason for coming to Chicago is to win a championship as a member of the Bears.
"I want to win a Super Bowl. Let's make that clear. And I think the Bears, with an offense and a quarterback, you always have a chance. And now you throw a good defense in that," Allen said. "There are great organizations out there but this was the best fit. It's a chance to win."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth 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.