Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace is expected to re-tool a roster that’s lost 34 games in the last three years, and has already taken the first step forward by cutting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the Bears have released the 31-year-old linebacker after the second year of a three-year deal he signed in 2016.
Freeman was signed a three-year deal worth $12 million in 2016 with the idea of shoring up the middle of the Bears defense. And for one year, it kinda-sorta worked. Freeman earned an elite grade from Pro Football Focus and led the team in tackles despite serving a four-game PED suspension. His second season wasn’t as productive as Freeman played in just one game, landed on injured reserve after Week 1 with a torn pectoral muscle, then was served a 10-game PED suspension that effectively ended his season. If Freeman signs elsewhere, he’ll still have to serve the final two games of his suspension with his new team.
The Bears will save an estimated $3.5 million in salary cap space by releasing Freeman, but will need to find a capable starting inside linebacker in his place.
Chicago could choose to address the position in the draft, where Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia’s Roquan Smith rank as the top linebacker prospects entering next month’s NFL Scouting Combine. The team could also retain free agent Christian Jones or promote 2016 fourth-round pick Nick Kwiatkoski into an expanded role.
In any case, the roster reconstruction at Halas Hall is officially under way.