The Bear Goggles On Countdown to Kickoff series is now underway. With 97 days to go until the Bears’ season kicks off, we highlight the Bears player that is wearing number 97, outside linebacker, Willie Young.
Young experienced an up and down season in 2016. He lived in the backfield during some games, but put on a disappearing act in others. His 7.5 sacks on the season led the team, but he earned 5.0 of those sacks in two games against poor offensive lines. However, some of that inconsistency wasn’t Young’s fault.
The Bears began their season without their featured pass rusher, Pernell McPhee. Additionally, rookie Leonard Floyd dealt with injuries and a steep learning curve coming into the NFL. With the depleted pass rushing corps, Young took more snaps at the beginning of the year. As mentioned above, he gave two excellent performances against the Colts and Jaguars where he tallied 8 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and a forced fumble. Unfortunately for Young, McPhee returned and Floyd took major strides which minimized Young’s opportunities on the field. Young struggled to make an impact with fewer snaps and stumbled to the finish line with 1.5 sacks over the final 8 games. When Young was on, he terrorized offenses, but that was the exception rather than the rule in 2016.
Willie Young will be in a supporting role this season if everyone stays healthy. While he struggled to produce with limited snaps last season, Young has always been able to adapt to new situations. Few NFL players possess enough athleticism and versatility to make the switch from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Young not only made the switch, but he stayed productive throughout. In two years under the system that people said he wasn’t athletic enough for, Young has racked up 14.0 sacks, 4 passes defended, a forced fumble, and an interception. Being able to make the traumatic shift from 4-3 to 3-4 provides hope that Young can retool his game for his new role.
Young doesn’t face many threats in regards to losing his spot in the rotation (outside of a healthy Lamarr Houston), but being quiet again this season will severely jeopardize his future in the Windy City.
Future with the Bears:
Young signed a two-year deal worth $11 million last year, but it allows the Bears to cut Young after this season. If Young were to remain on the team in 2018, he would earn $5.4 million. However, if the Bears cut Willie Young, the team will only lose $900,000 in dead cap. Paying over $5 million to a role player isn’t common, so Young will have to make the most of every snap he gets this season.