The Bears’ 2018 season was equal parts successful and fun, though it’s finally time to move on. But before we get right to 2019, let’s take a position-by-position look at the roster – as presently constructed – to find out what’s in store for the offseason and upcoming year.
Today: Edge defenders and pass rushers
WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?
For the first time in a long time, the Bears are well set with players whose duty it is to rush the passer.
Khalil Mack leads the way after an All-Pro first season that netted him Defensive Player of the Year votes (though the award ultimately went to Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald). Mack led the team in sacks (12.5) and quarterback hits (18) as he transformed a fringe top-10 defense into one that gave up the fewest points and third fewest yards. After a slow start, Leonard Floyd turned it around and put together a strong second half that surely helped make the Bears’ pending decision to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. If you extrapolate Floyd’s second-half numbers (or when he was deemed fully healthy after playing the first half of the year with protection on his hand) they come out to eight sacks, 52 tackles, 16 tackles-for-loss, and 18 quarterback hits. Not too shabby.
With Mack starring at the top and a solid contributor in Floyd playing opposite of him, the Bears’ depth really shows up. Isaiah Irving played well in an increased role as a second-year player, performing admirably on special teams in place of Sam Acho after his season-ending injury. Kylie Fitts was a non-factor for a majority of his rookie season, but that can happen from time-to-time when a sixth-round pick is finding his footing in the NFL. Fitts is a work in progress with raw tools and athleticism that could be molded by a new coaching staff.
EXITING FREE AGENTS
Aaron Lynch’s time with the Bears didn’t get off to a great start as injuries limited him in OTAs, training camp, preseason, and even in parts of Week 1. But Lynch proved to be a solid addition as a situational pass-rusher behind Mack and Floyd. In fact, he proved to be quite valuable in the first half as Floyd struggled to get a feel for things in the early going. However, it’s likely that Lynch will head elsewhere to continue his NFL career.
WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?
The Bears could create $2.125 million in cap space by parting ways with Acho, but cutting the reserve outside linebacker isn’t that easy. Acho is a locker-room leader and was a key special teams contributor before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury in Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was Chicago’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award representative in 2017, so I don’t want to dismiss him out of hand. Perhaps the two sides can work out a new deal that allows Acho to stay and clear up some cap space.
HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?
At this time last year, a pass-rusher was at the top of the Bears’ list of needs – and with good reason. Because even if Floyd was to take that step, the starting spot across from him was going to be viewed as a question-mark. Had the Bears not traded for Mack, it would have left Acho as the starter on the other side. But Chicago has a formidable pass-rush now and is left to fill out their ranks and strengthen their depth.
Replacing Lynch (and possibly Acho) as depth pieces aren’t high priorities in the traditional sense. But in a league where you can never have too many pass-rushers, filling the holes is important. Otherwise, Floyd’s self improvement as he enters the final year of his rookie deal is the one thing that could take this defense to another level. If he can put together a 10-sack season and live up to the billing of a top-10 pick, then watch out!