On this date in 2013, the Chicago Bears and star linebacker Brian Urlacher went their separate ways.
General manager Phil Emery announced the move when the team and the player couldn’t come to an agreement on a contract. Urlacher had spent 13 years in Chicago, making eight Pro Bowls and was named to a first-team All-Pro spot four times. He did it all from the middle linebacker spot, coming up with 22 interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns), forcing 11 fumbles (and recovering 15 others), and picking up 41.5 sacks. Urlacher excelled against the run and pass, while also providing a a distinguishable presence.
Only now, four years later, the Bears are finally starting to get quality play from the middle linebacker spot. The Bears signed Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan to free agent contracts a year ago, and providing positive contributions at the position for the first time since Urlacher’s departure. The players who came immediately after Urlacher struggled to produce at a consistent level, let alone fill his shoes. Jonathan Bostic and Shea McClellin were draft picks who struggled on the gridiron with the Bears. Just another reminder of how important drafting the right player is, especially for a rebuilding team.
On with today’s Bullets …
- Free agent Ricky Jean-Francois reportedly made his scheduled visit with the Bears on Saturday, and it went well according to Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times. However, Jean-Francois left Chicago without having agreed to a deal. The Bears reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent nose tackle John Jenkins on Friday, but adding Jean-Francois – who is familiar with defensive coordinator Vic Fangio – to the mix would improve depth to a position group that needs it in 2017. Mitch Unrein (436 snaps) and Jonathan Bullard (296 snaps) graded poorly, according to Pro Football Focus, while starter Eddie Goldman has finished each of his first two seasons in the NFL on injured reserve. Like Jenkins, Jean-Francois fits more of the prototype nose tackle of a 3-4 defense. Goldman fits, too, but the Bears can’t have enough defensive linemen if they want to keep players fresh and productive next season.
- The way the Detroit Lions addressed their along the offensive line needs in free agency really puts them on the radar as a team that could contend for a NFC North championship in 2017. Yes, needs, as in plural. Detroit snatched guard T.J. Lang from the rival Green Bay Packers in a move that improved the interior of its line. The team also set a new high bar for paying right tackles, but picked up a good one in Ricky Wagner, formerly of the Baltimore Ravens. These two moves should improve Matthew Stafford’s protection, as he was sacked 126 times the last three seasons – the third highest total of any quarterback since 2014. Further, the team’s moves are among six offseason developments NFL analyst Adam Schein loves.
- There are 24 players from NFL.com’s list of 101 available free agents who still don’t have a new team for 2017. This group is headlined by Adrian Peterson (eighth overall), but old friend Jay Cutler (35th overall) isn’t too far behind. In fact, Cutler is the top-rated quarterback. Good luck to him and whichever team gives him the snaps to try and close out his career on a high note. As for the rest of the bunch, the Bears aren’t listed as an interested team in any of the remaining free agents who ranked among the best available, but that could always change.
- The Bears haven’t lost much in free agency, but wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is the one player who stands out, and thus appears on a list of 10 free agents who will be missed the most by their former teams. Senior media analyst Gil Brandt writes that the Bears will miss Jeffery because he possessed the kind of upside no other Bears receiver owned. Further, there is still much uncertainty among a group of receivers including oft-injured Kevin White, and free agent additions Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton.
- Perhaps a strong season from Mike Glennon would help boost the stocks of the Bears’ receiving corps. Bears legend Jim McMahon, the only quarterback to win a Super Bowl as a starter in Chicago, weighed in on Glennon and used some measured words:
— Jim McMahon (@JimMcMahon) March 20, 2017