Chicago Bears Free Agency Wish List: Inside Linebacker

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /
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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

Depth with Upside

Tahir Whitehead, Lions (25) – The former 5th round pick in 2012 started 15 games in 2014 at middle linebacker when Tulluch went down with an injury and struggled at times but showed enough to be in the mix for a starting spot last year. Surprisingly he was beat out by Travis Lewis (who?) despite seemingly outplaying him in the preseason. Whitehead was reinserted into the starting lineup in the second half of the 2015 season and helped lead a resurgence by the Lions D. Whitehead led all Lion LBs with 6 pass breakups and also had 2 sacks and 47 tackles. Pro Football Focus graded Whitehead as the Lions best LB in the second-half of the season. He’s been moved around by the Lions staff the last few seasons, but has the size (6’2 | 233) and speed (4.62) Fangio hs looked for in the past to play ILB in his system.

Fangio likes rangy ILBs who can make plays in coverage, blitz when needed, and have enough speed to be a sideline-to-sideline run defender. Whitehead checks all of those boxes, plays well on special teams, and already knows the division well. If the price is right, Whitehead could compete for the ILB job next to Trevathan.

Projected contract: 3-yrs, $5M

Zach Brown, Titans (26) – A 2nd round pick in 2012 who looked like a long-term starter early in his career, but has struggled to stay healthy since. Brown racked up 183 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 2 TD returns, and 10 pass defenses over his first two years but has made only six starts since due to a torn pectoral muscle.

When on the field, Brown (6’1, 244) excelled in pass coverage, but struggled at times against the run. The talent is there for Brown to be a well-rounded ILB and he’s still only 26 so still has time to improve his run defense. Brown is a potentially high-upside option who shouldn’t cost much for the Bears to roll the dice on.

Projected contract : 2-yrs, $4M

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports /

Sean Spence, Steelers (25) – Former 3rd round pick in 2012 who spent the first two years of his NFL career on the sidelines due to a serious knee injury suffered in his first preseason, but has started 13 games over the last two seasons and flashed legit NFL ability. Spence has been a reliable reserve for the Steelers, filling in when starter Ryan Shazier has been injured.

Spence has flashed natural run-stopping instincts and attacks the line of scrimmage aggressively, but his lack of height (5’11) makes him a liability covering tight ends. He is probably best off as an early down player or back-up like he was in Pittsburgh, but his above-average range, athleticism, and run-stopping instincts could be an upgrade over the Bears current ILB group. Spence has also been a solid special teams contributor which could make him a more viable free agent target than a similarly priced player like Shea McClellin.

Projected contract : 2-yrs, $4M