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LB Mason Foster (25), Bucs -I was high on Foster coming out of college in 2011 due to his elite run stopping potential. He has good instincts, takes proper angles to the ball, rarely misses a tackle, and likes to hit. Injuries have hampered his production with the Bucs, but he didn’t miss a game in college so I’m confident it’s not an on-going issue. Foster’s versatility is another plus, he played all three 4-3 LB spots in college and I thought he projected best on the weak-side instead of the middle where the Bucs have played him. He likely won’t carry a hefty price tag due to injuries and limited production, but the former 3rd round pick would give the Bears a potential starter at any of the LB spots.
LB Justin Durant (29), Cowboys – Bears LBs Christian Jones and Jon Bostic both finished last year playing the best football of their young careers and should be favorites to begin next season in the starting lineup. They are both versatile and played multiple LB spot last year, but Jones played best on the weak side and Bostic in the middle. Locking those two young atheltic LBs in at one position should help their development but it also creates a hole on the strong side. Adding an experienced and reliable veteran like Durant at the strong side position will give the Bears some veteran leadership at the LB position and a sure tackler. Durant has had injury issues in his career, including the last two seasons, but is a very good run defender with sideline-to-sideline speed. His injuries should keep the price down and the Bears could add him with limited financial risk. Durant has played on the strong side more often than other LB positions in his career, but has some experience in the middle and the weak side as well.
LB Malcolm Smith (25), Seahawks – Last year’s Super Bowl MVP lost his starting job to K.J. Wright this season, but was an above average starter at weak-side OLB in 2013. Smith is under-sized (6’0, 233) but has elite speed (4.46), has good instincts, and is a big hitter. He’s also a solid special teams player which the Bears clearly need.
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DE/OLB Pernell McPhee (25), Ravens – A former 5th round pick of the Ravens in 2011 who has been an above average backup and a standout on special teams for the Ravens since his rookie year. Despite not starting this year and playing less than half of the Ravens defensive snaps, McPhee finished with 8 sacks and 40 QB hurries which is 8 more than any Bear in 2014. McPhee is also rated as the 2nd best 3-4 OLB according to Pro Football Focus. At 6’3, 278 pounds McPhee has the size to play DE in the Bears 4-3 scheme, which is the position he played in college. A good performance in the playoffs for the Ravens could push McPhee out of the Bears price range, but he is a player to keep an eye on. If the Bears switch to a 3-4 scheme this season, then McPhee is a no-brainer as the Bears don’t have any natural 3-4 OLBs except maybe Shea McClellin (ugh).
DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard (25), Browns – A former 2nd round pick and natural pass rusher who is stuck behind high-priced free agent Paul Kruger and 6th 0verall pick (2013) Barkevious Mingo. Every time I watch the Browns I see Sheard making plays and he may be looking for more playing time outside of Cleveland. Even better, Sheard may be playing out of position as a 3-4 OLB as his main skills is getting to the QB. At 6’3, 264 Sheard struggles in coverage, but has improved his run defense enough where he would be a solid 4-3 DE. Sheard would give the Bears another explosive pass rusher off the edge with Houston moving inside on passing downs.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
DT Corey Peters (26), Falcons – Young DT who has been inconsistent since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft, but has flashed serious potential. Peters wasn’t a good fit for the Falcons new 3-4 alignment last season and ended up only starting one game behind free agent signings Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson. I doubt Peters would go back to Atlanta to be a backup considering he had the best season of his career (5 sacks) as a starter in 2013 when the Falcons still ran a 4-3 scheme. The Bears have some depth after drafting two DTs early last year, but neither player has proved they can move into the starting lineup anytime soon. Peters (6’3, 305) can provide depth in 2015 at either the 1 or 3-technique and would give the Bears a potential replacement for Jay Ratliff if he retires when his contract is up after this season.
DT Da’Quan Bowers (24), Bucs – Has been a major bust for the Bucs after being a mid-2nd round pick in 2011, but has the size, power and athleticism to be a prototype 3-tech. Bowers had another disappointing season for the Bucs, which included a 2 game suspension for performance enhancing drugs, and Tampa is reportedly giving up on him. On the bright side, Bowers played one of the best games of his young career in week 17 and you never know when the light bulb is going to go on for a young player. It’s a low risk move for the Bears with the type of upside that could speed up the rebuilding process.