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The Bears only have one legitimate ILB in Jon Bostic and there are even question marks about his ability. With the Niners Fangio had two elite athletes at ILB in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman and their ability to cover both TEs and RBs was a key part of the Niners defensive success. Bostic has the athleticism to play the Willis role, but no one else on the Bears roster does except maybe Christian Jones who would be better suited to an OLB role. Due to their lack of talent at the ILB position, I have the Bears selecting an ILB in the 2nd round of the draft, but relying on a rookie in the starting lineup is a risky proposition. If the Bears are going to spend any free agent money at the linebacker position, than it should be on the inside where they don’t even have two starters on the roster right now. The Bears have approximately the 10th most cap space in the league ($24M) so they can afford quite a few mid-level players. Ideally free agent money will be spent on youngish players with upside, like:
Bruce Carter (26): Has played out of position the last two seasons as an OLB in a 4-3, but as rookie showed plenty of promise as an ILB in a 3-4 scheme under Wade Phillips, whose scheme is similar to what Vic Fangio ran in San Fran. Carter is an elite athlete who could excel in the right situation. He won’t be expensive ($2.5M / per?) and has Pro Bowl potential.
The Bears need at least four ILBs on the roster if they are going to run a 3-4 base scheme, so signing two free agents is almost a guarantee unless they plan on moving Christian Jones or Khaseem Greene inside. Regardless of how many ILBs they want on the roster, if I had to make a bet on one it would be…
Michael Wilhoite (28): The former 49ers ILB was Fangio’s mouthpiece on the defense last season showing a trust and respect that I think will prompt a move to Chicago this year for Wilhoite. He is one of the better coverage ILBs in the league already after only one season as a starter and could handle the NaVorro Bowman role in Fangio’s scheme at least temporarily.