There is a growing expectation that things will look different for the Chicago Bears’ defense in 2018.
In his review of the team’s group of inside linebackers, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes Jerrell Freeman “will almost certainly” be let go from his contract if he doesn’t retire.
Freeman, who turns 32 on May 1, is coming off a 2017 season that was cut short by a torn pectoral muscle suffered in Week 1 and a second PED-related suspension in as many years. He led the team in tackles in 2016 despite missing four games due to a PED suspension, but has played just 13 games in two years since signing a three-year deal to join the Bears as a free agent in 2016. Releasing Freeman would clear $3,460,783 million in cap savings and cost the team just $500,000 in dead money.
The Bears’ defense didn’t miss Freeman’s presence in 2017 as the unit finished in the top-10 in scoring and yards.
For the second time in three years, Christian Jones stepped up in a pinch and played well in a starting role. Jones played in all 16 games (started 11) and came up with 57 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble, and a recovery. Second-year linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski also slid into a starting role for six games, while John Timu earned a practice squad promotion and started two of the 11 games he appeared in. With as often as the Bears were mixing-and-matching inside and outside linebackers due to injuries and suspensions, it’s amazing the defense was as productive as it was in 2017.
Once the Bears officially part ways with Freeman, GM Ryan Pace will have options to choose from when he goes about searching for help at inside linebacker. Since there is no consensus on who the Bears should draft with the eighth pick, one could make a case for Georgia’s Roquan Smith or Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds as a possible candidate for selection. The team could also explore the free agent market in March or even bring back Jones, who is set to be a free agent in March. The Bears currently have a little more than $40 million in salary cap space as of right now, so they could conceivably spend some cash on a proven starter if they so choose.
In any case, the Bears will need to re-tool at the position at some point this offseason. Because even if they replace Freeman from within, the Bears will still need to add competent depth in case of injury. Remember, Danny Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season with the Bears because of his own health issues, so it would be wise for this team to make sure its bases are covered at some point this offseason.