Outside of a decent year from Lance Briggs, the Bears LBs were terrible in 2013. The veteran free agents, Anderson & Williams, were below average and injury-prone. The rookies, Bostic & Greene, didn’t show enough improvement as the season went on and can’t be counted on as starters next year. Unfortunately the free agent crop at OLB is weak after Orakpo, so expect the Bears to address the LB position in the draft.
Brian Orakpo WAS (27): A pipe dream for the Bears even if the Redskins let him get away (doubtful). Orakpo will be looking to be paid as a top 5 LB which puts him in the $6-$8M per year range and probably out of the Bears plans. If the Bears freed up money, maybe by releasing Peppers and fringe guys like Earl Bennett, Michael Bush, and Eric Weems then Orakpo might be an option. He would be a great fit for the Bears. He currently plays OLB in a 3-4, but played DE in a 4-3 in college and could probably play either DE or OLB with the Bears. He’s an elite pass rusher and would have the most impact of anyone on this list. Orakpo had 11 sacks and was PFF’s 4th rated 3-4 OLB in 2013.
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Jo-Lonn Dunbar STL (28): Was a stud in 2012 with 115 tackles & 5 sacks but had a down year in 2013. He missed the first 4 games due to a PED suspension and by the end of his suspension had lost his job to rookie Alec Ogletree. His lack of production in 2013 should mean a lower price tag than Dunbar is probably worth on the free agent market. Dunbar is not a great athlete; He gets by mostly on instinct and determination but he’s a sure tackler. After leading the league in missed tackles, the Bears could use one of those.
Spencer Paysinger NYG (25): An undrafted free agent who surprised many by winning the Giants starting weak side OLB position this season. Paysinger is fast and good in coverage but built more like a safety then a linebacker (6’3, 216). Scouting reports on Paysinger said he was too small and weak to be effective stopping the run, but Paysinger totaled 74 tackles this year with only 3 missed tackles and ended up the 16th ranked OLB on PFF. It could have been a fluke, but Paysinger was a play-maker in college (Oregon) and worst case he is an excellent special teams player. If Costanzo leaves, Paysinger could be a solid special teams replacement with the upside of starting caliber OLB.
O’Brien Schofield SEA (26): Injury prone OLB who is solid when healthy. He is a good tackler and dangerous blitzer, but only mediocre in coverage. If healthy, he could provide valuable depth and push rookies Bostic & Greene for playing time while not costing much against the cap.
Keith Rivers NYG (27): A former 1st round pick (9th overall) by the Bengals in 2008, Rivers couldn’t stay healthy so the Bengals gave up on him and traded him to the Giants in 2011 for a 5th round pick. Rivers struggled to stay healthy again with the Giants, missing 7 games in 2012 but only 2 games last year. Rivers (6’3, 240) is a freak athlete; He ran a 4.5 40 with a 42″ vertical at the combine. It’s hard to know how much of that athleticism is left after numerous injuries, but I think he’s worth a small deal to find out. Rivers made $800k last year and didn’t do enough as a Giants reserve to earn a raise in 2014. The Bears need depth at OLB and they could do a lot worse than Rivers.
(3-4) Jason Worilds PIT (25): Had a breakout season in his 4th year with the Steelers with 8 sacks. I doubt the Steelers let him get away, but they are tight against the salary cap so there is a chance. Worilds is a powerful pass rusher from the OLB position who isn’t great against the run, but he has a myriad of pass rushing moves and the strength to overpower blockers. Worilds (6’2, 262) might even be big enough to play DE in a 4-3 as a pass rush specialist. He’s the same size as Shea McClellin (6’3, 260) but significantly stronger.