Fixing the Bears Defense (Part 4: NFL Free Agents)

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Inside Linebacker:

The Bears are considering moving rookie Jon Bostic to OLB. If that happens, it would leave the Bears with zero MLBs on the roster. Bringing back DJ Williams is an option, but he suffered multiple injuries in his first year with the Bears and wasn’t very good when healthy (-3.1). Luckily the crop of free agent MLBs is much stronger than OLB.

Wesley Woodyard DEN (27): An un-drafted free agent who has done nothing but produce when given a chance. Woodyard is small (6’0, 233), but has excellent speed and has excelled in both run defense and pass coverage in his 5 year career. Woodyard played MLB in 2013, but played well at weak side OLB earlier in his career. His versatility would be helpful to the Bears who really have no established LBs except Briggs. Woodyard was a special teams captain his first five years in the league and was nominated for the Walter Payton Award in 2010. He could give the Bears a tackling machine at any LB spot and take some of the leadership responsibility off Briggs’ aging shoulders.

Donald Butler SD (25): Inconsistent and has struggled with minor injuries (7 missed games over last 2 years), but is a legit play-maker who has the talent to be great if he can stay healthy and become more consistent. He’s one of the strongest MLBs in the league, a big hitter, and a decent coverage guy despite being a step or two slow for the position. Butler would bring some much-needed toughness and aggressiveness to a LB core that couldn’t have been softer last year.

Perry Riley WAS (25): The 4th round pick out of LSU has become a solid but unspectacular MLB for the Redskins. Riley has averaged 84 solo tackles and 4 sacks the last two seasons (per PFF). He’s adequate in short pass coverage but struggles to cover TE’s and slot receivers down field. He is a better MLB than anyone on the Bears roster and at only 25 he has room for growth.

Vincent Rey CIN (26): Short, stocky MLB with good speed (4.58). Rey filled in for injured MLB Rey Maualuga for 3 games and arguably played better than Maualuga. In three starts he compiled 22 solo tackles, 3 sacks, 3 pass deflections, and an interception. That’s almost more production in three weeks than Jon Bostic delivered the whole season. Rey is a restricted free agent, but the Bengals are loaded at LB and I doubt they would match starter money for a back-up. Rey, a 7th round pick out of Duke, had over 300 tackles in college and has been awesome when given a chance in the pros.

Jon Beason NYG (28): Three time Pro Bowl-er who recovered from micro-fracture surgery in 2012 to have a decent year for the Giants in 2013. Beason was solid against the run with just under 8 tackles per game but struggled in coverage. It could be worth a flyer to see if another year removed from surgery will get Beason back to his pre-injury Pro Bowl form.

(3-4) Brandon Spikes NE (26): If the Bears want to add toughness and hitting to their LB core then Spikes should be a target. He’s a bad man and one of the better run stuffers in the league. Spikes won’t be cheap, but if the Bears are going to convert to a 3-4 they need some LBs with experience in the scheme and Spikes is one of the best.