Last season the core of Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith created one of the best 3-4 linebacker duos in the NFL and when you have one of the most talented teams in the league, poachers like to scoop up any crumbs that fall off the wagon.

As a defensive captain heading into the last year of his contract, and with the Bears fielding the NFL’s best defense, you can be sure teams have their eyes set on him. This leaves the Bears with 4 options.

  1. Re-sign Trevathan (Counting the cost)
  1. Develop Iyiegbuniwe and Kwiatkoski (Boys 2 Men)
  1. Sign an Inexpensive Free Agent (Checking the Bargain Bin)
  1. Draft an ILB in 2020 (What can our picks get us?)

Lets take a more in-depth look at each of these directions; meanwhile evaluating the Bears cap space, examining necessary extensions and plotting which moves will keep the Bears Super Bowl window open the longest.

Re-Signing Danny Trevathan   

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Damage control. The Bears are going to take a hit whether they extend Trevathan or not, so let’s assess his role and his overall impact on the defense. His contributions will thus impact the decision the team must make as some point this season.

Danny Trevathan signed with the Bears in 2016 after coming off a Super Bowl Championship with the Denver Broncos and the NFL’s best defense. He followed defensive coordinator John Fox to Chicago and Ryan Pace rewarded his role within that defense with a 4 year contract, worth $28 million.

Fast-forward 3 years later, the Bears have the best defense in the NFL and a strong shot at a Super Bowl as he heads into a contract year.

With that said, if he wasn’t willing to re-sign with the 2015 Denver Broncos, who drafted, developed and made him a champion. You can’t expect Trevathan to re-sign with Chicago for some sort of hometown discount either. Trevathan is hoping for a healthy, stat-padded 2019 season with the Bears so that he can get one last good crack at a big multi-year contract as he approaches the backside of his career.

If he can replicate his 2018 season by being available all 16 games, it should make him good for at least 100 tackles, 3 turnovers and 3 sacks. With a cap hit at $7.6 AAV Trevathan is the 15th highest paid ILB in the league and deservedly so. It would be reasonable to expect him to receive some sort of 3-4 year, $8-9M contract to go elsewhere. Perhaps he goes full-circle and returns to Denver who nabbed Vic Fangio and possess a need at ILB too.

When you’re out fishing and you have a good catch, it’s tough to cut the line but you don’t want to risk breaking the rod while there’s other fish you can reel in.

Key players like Eddie Jackson, Roquan Smith, Cody Whitehair and Mitch Trubisky are crucial re-signs. 1 or 2 of these re-signs will not happen if the Bears re-sign Trevathan for $8M. AAV.  Lose Trevathan and we regress, lose one of these guys and they lose a piece of their identity.

On the other hand, if the Bears didn’t have Roquan they would be singing a different tune, but with the likely-hood of him captaining the defense for the next decade, they should be in good hands. But the question therein lies is who will be the LB that takes Smith and the rest of the Bears defense from good to great?

 

The Question

What traits are needed in the next starting linebacker? Although Chuck Pagano made it clear he’s going to push for continuity from Fangio’s defense, there’s a big domino type shift that is about to unfold. Understanding this shift will help you understand the type of ILB needed. Here’s a quick break down:

Pagano is a more aggressive play-caller than Fangio, so expect more focus on the line of scrimmage from the OLB and DL. This opposes Fangio’s mentality of loading up in coverage and hoping one the star pass rushers can pressure the QB into making a mistake.

From a personnel standpoint it’s logical to speculate the Bears to move back to more of a true base 3-4 instead of Base Nickel. This is not the case across the board, just expect more of it.

Since Pagano is a more aggressive attacker, expect Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols to be on the field more, which is also why Bryce Callahan wasn’t a necessity to re-sign. Meanwhile, the Bears will supplement the loss at nickel by having two free safeties in the secondary.

Two free safeties on the field, require the addition of a reliable “Mike” linebacker to watch the run in place of the missing strong safety. Eddie Goldman covers up a big portion of the deficiency against the run, which is why he’s such a key piece to the Bears defense. Trevathan who is typically more of a “Will,” should continue to be a solid hybrid linebacker solving any problems against the run in 2019.

As a potential move on from Trevathan in 2020 is expected, what type of backer best fits the Bears system and price point?

 

The Answer

As previously mentioned, Roquan Smith should be the future of this Bears defense (contract negotiations pending.)  But he’s not without his flaws, Roquan is speed, not muscle which is perfect for his position as the teams “Will” linebacker. Therefore, he needs his “Eddie Goldman,” he needs a role player to join him as a “Mike” linebacker who is okay with making assists, swallowing up running backs and is versatile enough to not be a complete liability in coverage.

A wise pick-up would be a player who does well against the run, plays with enough muscle that he can plug gaps with his blocking and has the technique to be able to shed lineman. All of this opens up Roquan to roam and make big plays within the Pagano’s system.

In addition, a new line backing addition should still be able to move from sideline to sideline well, possess enough instincts to rack-up tackles for loss and defend shallow passes. When called upon, they need the quickness necessary to effectively blitz. Lastly, he should have enough intelligence and athletic ability to stay with a TE or RB cutting through the zone.

The Young Bloods

Taking a look at the current linebackers on the roster we can deduce that management is also looking for that powerful, strong-side LB.

chicagobears.com

Nick Kwiatkoski 

Kwiatkoski was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. From there he’s demonstrated potential and has made some flashes, most of which stems from his powerful hitting and his intelligence in making plays for short gains. But he’s been inconsistent in coverage and his lack of speed has held him back from pushing for a starting role.

Nick’s play so far, was awarded with a performance escalator that pushes his 2019 salary from $725K to $2M. Without question, that’s money the Bears would like to have back. It wouldn’t surprise to see a trade towards the end of training camp, as he heads into a contract year. He will be a name to look out for in camp, whether he proves his worth or the Bears push out PR fluff in order to increase his trade value. Kwiatkoski is a longshot at being with the Bears in 2020.

 

Kevin Pierre-Louis.

The Bears picked up Kevin in May, as he brings ILB and special teams’ value. He may be Kwiatkoski’s replacement if he shows out in camp, though, it is not likely he’s on the Bears roster in 2020.

 

MSN.com

Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Iyiegbuniwe is the Bears best kept secret. From having no meetings with him before the draft night to his college highlights being scarce. In addition, hearing virtually nothing out of OTA’s, camp and practices from both coaches and beat reporters. The guy is an athletic, I’ll give him that. Which leads one to think there’s something there right? He has both the intelligence and physical traits to play the position. As far as his size goes, the guy is massive. If you follow Bears players on Instagram, he’s often the butt of the joke for having biceps that are “too big” and for bicep curls being his favorite past-time.

NBCS Chicago even got in on the action, posting this tweet of Iggy and the amount of size he’s added this offseason.

 

Iggy knows his role, he’s not a high draft pick so he has no sense of entitlement, at this point he’s just trying to part ways with his “special teams only” label. He has the traits, he has the intelligence, but he also has virtually no experience playing inside line backer.

Bears Scout Sam Summerville had this to say, “Iggy is easy because he has traits. He has size, speed, athleticism, he has all the tools, all he needs to do is refine them…  (He has big hands) he needs to do a better job of using his hands, and as he does he will become a better player.”

As a member of Western Kentucky, he played many positions, but his last season with the team is where he truly excelled. In 13 games he had an astounding 117 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles.

Although Iggy and Trevathan are different styles of linebacker, they also possess similar traits and skills. Both late round picks by John Fox from Kentucky Universities, an inch apart in size, same draft weight. Both excel in getting sideline-to-sideline, reliable tackling, good in shallow coverage, excellent run-stopping, long-lasting motors. Both lack the Roquan-like” feet, necessary for man-coverage, defending passes, and covering deep routes while finishing blitzes. Speed at which they play helps make up for this one negative in their game.

When looking back at the combine, Iyiegbuniwe beat Trevathan at every measurable both in size and skill categories. So if Iggy is the answer, he needs to make some noise at training camp and get the coaching staff’s attention. He doesn’t have to beat out Trevathan by any means, but he should definitely be separating himself from Kwiatkoski and making consistent plays against the 2nd team offense.

That said both Kwiatkoski and Iyiegbuniwe carry the complementary trait of being the powerful hay-maker to Roquan’s jab. Training camp which begins in a few weeks should give us clear answers of their futures with this team.

 

2020 Bargain Bin

At this point if we can conclude that Kwiatkoski is all but gone and Iyiegbuniwe is praying for a 3rd string job. There is a need for an inexpensive ILB to come and help next season. While it can’t be counted on, don’t dismiss the possibility of a Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix type deal for someone looking to improve their stock before testing the free agent market in 2021. Chicago should again be a hot destination for veterans seeking to improve their value for a long-term contract.

Players that could fit this role may be Danny Trevathan’s former college and Bronco teammate Wesley Woodyard. He’s 34 years old, has a current AAV of $3.5M and is coming from a solid 3-4 defense in Tennessee. A downside is that he may want a 2-3 year deal to cap off his career. If a deal can be reached for $8-9M it should be a no-brainer to some, being that he’s still playing well for his age. While he doesn’t fit the youth movement of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, exceptions can be made. Another issue is he’s also used to being more of a weakside backer, but if Nagy and company like what they see on film, Woodyard could be a reliable filler for Trevathan.

Patrick Onwuasor from Baltimore may be a good pick-up depending on how 2019 goes. The Ravens plan on using him to fill-in CJ Mosely’s role, who departed this off-season for the New York Jets. Patrick is 26 years old and would cost the Bears anywhere from 3 to 4 million potentially.

Two middle linebackers that may take discounts to come to Chicago, would be guys like Brandon Marshall from the Raiders and Zach Brown from the Eagles. Both bring veteran leadership, traits needed to excel in the Bears system and experience to fill the role for a season. Either one would should cost  $1.5 to $2M, with a contenders discount.

 

2020 Draft Options

With limited cap space in coming years, the Bears will to look to the draft for the mid round steals that are becoming synonymous with Ryan Pace. Starting next year, we’re going to have more holes that will need to be patched up with dollar store duct tape, so it is crucial that to draft well now more than ever.

The Bears have roughly 8-10 picks: 2, 2, 4, 4, 5/6 con., 6, 7 with a few picks pending the performances of players traded to and from the team. Both 2nd round picks  could be packaged to move up into the first round and draft a player like Dylan Moses from Alabama. Considering the needs next season at CB, OLB, TE, G, OT, SS, every pick is extremely valuable.

Here’s a list of some players to watch over the next college football season and combine, that could possibly be good Trevathan replacements in the early to mid-rounds.

Troy Dye – Oregon  www.goducks.com

6’4,” 224 lbs.

2018- TCK: 115, TFL: 8, SCK: 2, FF: 0, PD: 8, INT: 1

 

 

 

www.247sports.com

Errol Thompson – Miss St.

6’1” 250 lbs.

2018- TCK: 87, TFL: 9, SCK: 4, FF: 0, PD: 2, INT: 2

 

 

 

Kenneth Murray – Oklahoma     

www.oudaily.com

6’2” 238 lbs.

2018- TCK: 155, TFL: 13, SCK: 4, FF: 1, PD: 2, INT: 0

 

Shaq Quarterman – Miami

6’1” 240 lbs.

2018- TCK: 82, TFL: 14, SCK: 5, FF: 1, PD: 8, INT: 1

 

www.hurricanesports.com

Conclusion

 Danny Trevathan is a huge part of this Bears team, he helped develop the defense and deserves his credit. He was reliable and only got better as the years progressed and the talent around him improved. It’s understandable if he wants to move on since it’s likely he’ll be out of the Bears price range.

Ideally Nick Kwiatkoski or Joel Iyiegbuniwe will step-up giving the Bears the freedom to use the picks elsewhere, but that may be a pipe dream. Their play will be vital to the decisions the front office will make in the coming year.

Ferocious inside linebacker play is what helps turn the Bears defense into the “Monsters of the Midway”, but the Bears don’t need an All-Pro at the position, they need reliability. In reality, this concern is more about next season. Now is the time for excitement. In a few short months, Chicago gets to show the Monsters moniker is well deserved and they are alive ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses.