Eyeing Potential Bears Free Agent Targets: Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski

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Eyeing Potential Bears Free Agent Targets: Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears are at a crossroads. After delivering a dud in 2019, they must make changes at important positions to get back on the winning track. One way to achieve that goal is through free agency. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the more promising and available targets  to see if there’s a fit for the Bears in 2020. 

Previous free agent targets: TE Austin Hooper, QB Marcus Mariota, QB Case Keenum
Previous trade targets: QB Andy Dalton, QB Nick Foles

Potential Target, Age (in 2020), Position

Nick Kwiatkoski, 27, inside linebacker

2019 Performance

Season stats: 16 games (8 starts), 76 tackles, 8 tackles-for-loss, 3 sacks, 3 QB Hits, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 safety

Pro Football Focus grade: 72.6, 15th of 89 qualified linebackers

The Bears defense didn’t miss a beat when Kwiatkoski filled in for Danny Trevathan in the middle of the year (or Roquan Smith earlier in the season. In Kwiatkoski’s eight starts, he picked up 43 tackles, 7 tackles-for-loss, 2 QB Hit, 2 sacks, and a safety. Extrapolate those numbers over a full 16-game season, and we’re looking at 86 tackles, 14 tackles-for-loss, 4 quarterback hits, and 4 sacks. Those numbers translate to rock solid inside linebacker play.

The brink of free agency is one heck of a time to be putting up those types of numbers.

Performance Before 2019

Stats: 41 games (14 starts), 83 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 5 QB Hits, 3 forced fumbles, 4 passes defended, 0 interceptions

Pro Football Focus grades: 59.1 (2016), 80.5 (2017), 56.1 (2018)

What to make of Kwiatkoski’s numbers and PFF grades being exponentially better when he gets a steady stream of playing? Hmm. It’s almost as if Kwiatkoski is at his best when he can build up a lather and get a full workload in. This isn’t to overlook his contributions as a special teams player, but the two seasons in which Kwiatkoski played his best are the ones in which he received a significant chunk of playing time. Not to say Kwiatkoski wasn’t nails as a role player, but he could certainly make a case for being a full-time starter with the Bears (or elsewhere).

Possible Contract Considerations

Kwiatkoski is PFF’s 77th best available free agent and fifth-ranked linebacker. However, OverTheCap.com projects a modest contract for the West Virginia product. OTC’s projected deal for Kwiatkoski is a two-year contract worth $6.5 million total and includes $2.6 million guaranteed. If the Bears could get Kwiatkoski on that deal, I would run to the table and get it signed as soon as possible. But because Kwiatkoski played his best ball just as he was about to hit free agency, I can’t imagine him accepting a sweetheart deal like that before testing free agent waters. But hey, a fan can dream … right?

The Fit

Re-signing Kwiatkoski is reportedly a priority for the Bears. That’s good news. Because if it isn’t, the Packers are lurking and very well could swoop in and snag a home-grown starter from the Bears defense for a second consecutive season. That wouldn’t be cool.

Kwiatkoski is one of Ryan Pace’s success stories as a GM.

Pace and his scouts can point to a fourth-round pick from West Virginia who excelled in every aspect of the game he was asked to perform in when called upon in Chicago. Kwiatkoski isn’t great in any one particular area, which is probably why he is flying under so many radars right now. But a guy who was reserve inside linebacker who flashed as a starter, contributed as a special teams ace, and even contributed offense once deserves a ton of props for what he has done to get to this point.

If Kwiatkoski cashes in with a multi-year contract with the Bears, that would be fine. I can’t imagine him signing a deal that would be overly prohibitive to what the team wants to do elsewhere. And if Chicago can team him with Roquan Smith in the middle for the foreseeable future, it would be applauded by me. But there is a distinct possibility that he has played his last game for the Bears. And if that’s the case, someone is going to get a fine linebacker to plug into the middle of their defense.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.