Chicago Bears Free Agent Options: Inside Linebacker
Michael Wilhoite – 28, 49ers (6’1 | 240): Started all 16 games for the 49ers last year as a replacement for the injured Navorro Bowman. Wilhoite played pretty well considering it was his first extended NFL action and DC Vic Fangio had enough trust in him to have him relay the play calling from the coaches. Wilhoite’s best skill is his coverage ability which is the primary responsibility for RILB in Fangio’s scheme. Wilhoite finished the season with a positve grade in coverage (+2.1) which was the 14th best grade in the league for inside linebackers. His familiarity with Fangio’s scheme, coverage skills, which happen to be Jon Bostic’s weakest trait, and an affordable price make Wilhoite a good fit for the Bears.
Malcolm Smith – 25, Seahawks (6’0 | 226): 2013 Super Bowl MVP who lost his starting job to K.J. Wright this season, but was an above average starter in 2013. Smith is under-sized, but has elite speed (4.46), good instincts, and is a big hitter. He has the athleticism to handle the ILB position in Fangio’s scheme which requires the ability to cover both TEs and RBs and the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline run stopper. Smith could slot into the Navorro Bowman role, despite being a little smaller than ideal. He’s also a solid special teams player which the Bears clearly need.
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Justin Durant – 29, Cowboys (6’0 | 235): Adding an experienced and reliable veteran like Durant at ILB will give the Bears some leadership in the middle of the field 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 could handle either ILB role if Bostic or whoever else the Bears add in free agency and the draft don’t pan out.
Chris White – 26, Patriots (6’2 | 240): Has only played 15 defensive snaps over the last four seasons, but was one of the Patriots best special teams players. White shouldn’t cost much to sign and would significantly improve the Bears kick & punt coverage teams.