Okoye played all of last season with the Bears and then unexpectedly signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the offseason. Okoye was cut by the Bucs to get to the 53-man roster, and the Bears went out and immediately brought him back to Chicago.
To make room on the 53-man roster for Okoye's arrival, the Bears released former Bucs DT Brian Price, who they brought in via trade a few days into camp. The Bears traded Price to the Bucs for a seventh-round draft pick in the hopes that he would be a valuable asset to their DT rotation.
The swapping out of Okoye for Price for essentially the second time this offseason is a curious move by the Bears. Okoye underwent an arthroscopic knee procedure in June and missed three preseason games as a result. According to new Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, Okoye had to go out and earn a spot.
Via the Chicago SunTimes:
Price, on the other hand, participated in all four preseason games for the Bears and looked dominant at times. As a player, Price is probably one of the strongest DTs in the NFL, commanding multiple blockers at the point of attack. Even when he's double-teamed, opposing blockers rarely get any movement on him, as he can hold his ground in the run game.
Price's biggest concern may be his conditioning, as he often looked winded with his hands on his hips and appeared to be struggling to stay in the game.
Even with Price's conditioning problems, he far and away outplayed 27-year-old veteran DT Matt Toeaina during camp and the preseason. Toeaina had one good effort against the Washington Redskins during the second game of the preseason, but other than that one game, he struggled.
Toeaina's problems were noticeable throughout camp and even more evident in preseason games. Toeaina was easily the least performing player among the DTs the Bears were going to keep on the active roster. He lost his starting job to Stephen Paea within the first week of practice and then struggled to hold off Nate Collins, another offseason addition to the Bears roster.
Price may not be as fast or athletic as some of the other DTs on the Bears roster, but he is a better nose tackle than Toeaina. Given that both Price and Toeaina play the same position and Price is the younger player with the higher upside, this may be the first curious move by GM Phil Emery.
Toeaina is easily the worst DT on the Bears roster at the moment, which isn't a bad thing, but he's not better than Price. The Bears may feel otherwise, but Brian Price should still be on the Bears roster.
The hope going forward is Toeaina's early-season struggles are a mirage and that Okoye's knee problem that led to his release from the Bucs doesn't crop up during the season.
CORRECTION: The article has been corrected to reflect the wrongly reported age of defensive tackle Matt Toeaina. Toeaina is not 30-years-old, and is in fact 27-year-old, the article now reflects Toeaina's proper age and corrects the previous egregious error.