Chicago Bears Free Agency Wish List: Inside Linebacker
The Chicago Bears are projected to have around $50 million in available cap space even after the $14.955 franchise tag applied to Alshon Jeffery. That number factors in plenty of variables including the trade or release of tight end Martellus Bennett which will free up almost $5M in cap space. The release of dead weight Antrel Rolle ($2.75M) and a handful other players making less than a million, who won’t be on the squad next season. The ten million or so needed for the rookie signing pool is factored in as well, bringing the number to roughly $5o million.
The Bears would need about double that number to fill all of the holes in the starting lineup on both sides of the ball. GM Ryan Pace has been adamant about spreading the money around and not putting all his eggs in one basket, which seems like a sound strategy given the multiple needs at almost every position on the roster. I’ve used the estimated cap space and Pace’s reluctance to splurge on one or two high priced free-agents to come up with a list of players I think the Bears should target this off-season.
It’s not a top-heavy or even relatively deep free agent class, but there were some tough choices on which players the Bears should target at their positions of greatest need. At those positions when the decision was toughest, I’ve added a note or two about my second choice at the position. To keep under $50M I’ve used estimated free agency numbers from a variety of sources, but mainly my own gut feeling on what the players will receive on the open market.
Before you rip me in the comments, please understand that this is a wish list and not a prediction of who I think the Bears will sign. I think it’s realistic for the Bears to come out of free agency with 4-5 new starters, but that has more to do with the quality of the Bears current starters than the quality of the free agency class. I’ve broken the signing down by position of need and players at those positions who are players I think could make an impact, or be solid starters, or depth players with starting potential, and finally long-shots who could start or not even make the final 53-man roster.
Bears Free Agent Wish List:
The Bears transitioned to a 3-4 scheme under new DC Vic Fangio which created multiple issues across the board, but none worse than at inside linebacker where the Bears struggled all season to find a reliable combination of competent ILBs all year. They started five different ILBs during the season (McClellin, Jones, Timu, Anderson, Reynolds) none of which got the job done consistently. Most of the ILBs brought something to the table, but were just not well-rounded enough to play the position for all three downs.
Christian Jones has the size, speed, and athleticism for the job, but struggled to understand the new scheme. Jones often seemed tentative, lost if I’m being honest, and while he made plenty of tackles most were after the ball carrier had gained multiple yards. Between Jones and McClellin, most running backs had nothing to worry about until they had already gained 3-4 yards.
John Timu showed a real talent for stopping the run, leading the team in tackles in two of his three starts, and showed some instincts in zone coverage but is just too slow in man coverage. When Timu got beat on a crossing route by 250 pound (at least) Joique Bell, that was a pretty clear sign that he doesn’t have the speed necessary to be a 3-down NFL ILB.
Jonathan Anderson was the Bears best coverage linebacker due to his 4.5 speed, made a few flash plays against the run, and looked like he had natural timing on blitzes. Anderson is just 227 pounds though and could struggle to shed blocks and bring down bigger backs and tight ends.
LaRoy Reyolds was signed off the street and looked like the potential answer in the middle; He attacked the line aggressively against the run, laid out a couple of receivers over the middle in zone coverage, and showed the speed to be a sideline-to-sideline run defender. Unfortunately, his ultra-aggressive playing style got him hurt as it has every year since he entered the league in 2013.
I’ve said enough about Shea McClellin already this year, but the only “skill” he brought to the table was that he understood where rookies needed to lined up in certain schemes. I really hope the Bears don’t spend any legitimate money bringing McClellin back unless it is as an assistant coach.
So that leaves the Bears with four linebackers who are each good on certain downs, but far from 3-down players. It is a position that will need to be addressed via free agent and the draft. Click to the next page for my free agency wish list at inside linebacker.
Next: Impact Players