When defensive end DeMarcus Walker headed into the free agency process last week, he was looking for a couple things. The business side of course had to make sense, which meant relationships, investment and logistical conversations all had to align.
But the more crucial piece for Walker was joining an organization that recognized "the value in me to help them win."
"It's a quarterback-driven league," Walker said. "Everyone wants to see touchdowns and passes and obviously that's what sells tickets, but everybody wants to hold up the Lombardi, and there's one side of the ball that's very pivotal, and that's defense. I mean just knowing that's what they're known for here."
Walker reached new heights in 2022 with the Tennessee Titans in his sixth NFL season, recording several career highs with 32 tackles, 32 quarterback pressures, 16 quarterback hits, 10 tackles-for-loss and 7.0 sacks.
The 28-year-old is committed to expanding on that breakout season. Being able to do so with a team rich in defensive tradition just felt right for Walker.
"These guys have done a lot of good things historically and when you look on the wall behind me, I mean, come on now," Walker said. "I mean you get a rush being a defensive player coming here. This is an offensive league nowadays, and when you walk in here you see Gale Sayers, but you see [Brian] Urlacher and Mike Singletary and a lot of defensive guys up here. So you go, 'OK, this is where I want to be.'"
Prior to Walker's one-year stint in Tennessee, he spent his first four years in the league with the Broncos – who selected him in the second round of the 2017 draft – before joining the Texans in 2021.
After Walker's first two years in Denver in which he made 13 appearances, totaling 11 tackles and two sacks, the defensive end's production tripled in the next two seasons as he compiled 40 tackles and 8.5 sacks. He continued to raise his stock in Houston, recording his first season with 30 quarterback pressures while adding 31 tackles, 16 quarterback hits and 2.0 sacks.
That consistent climb, culminating in last year's success, is something Walker attributes to his spirituality and dedication to always being the hardest worker in the room.
"This is a football league that is hard to sustain," Walker said. "So, every year there's a draft, every year there's free agency, then obviously it's a violent sport. Practice, weightlifting, the game, and then life. When you get in the car, walking on ice, you can hurt yourself. So to where I'm at, every year was a new task to learn something new, to challenge myself to get to where I'm at.
"With that, it takes faith. So if you take one step, it leads to two, three and four, then you get to walking and everything. So, going into Year 6 was not only a step of faith, but everything that I learned in film from the years prior met me at that point: position work, foot work, more stretching, being a better pro, learning from everyone around me."
As Walker transitions to his fourth NFL team, the Jacksonville native doesn't feel any added pressure despite coming to a franchise with such a proud tradition on the defensive side of the ball.
He recalls being in Denver and sharing the field with players like Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett and Dre'Mont Jones, then eventually heading to a Titans team that had Denico Autry, Jeffery Simmons and Bud Dupree.
Experiencing the pressure that came with playing next to those proven, established players pushed Walker to adopt the "control what you can control" mindset. It's also built a confidence that allows him to come to Chicago knowing he's right where he's meant to be.
"One thing about it, you're going to get me," Walker said. "You know what I'm saying? I'm a very honest guy. I mean to get to where I'm at, you know to have success, I've had some tough conversations. I've had some coaches tell me that I'm just a role player, I'm not this. So for me to believe in myself and to get to where I'm at, it just didn't happen by accident."
Take a look at new Bears defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker in action. Last season with the Titans, Walker experienced a breakout year, recording several career highs with 32 tackles, 16 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks.