Who Wants to be the Next Great Bears Linebacker?
Superb linebacker play and the Chicago Bears are synonymous.
Every generation of Chicago football fan can boast about studs leading the charge at linebacker. Dick Butkus, Brian Urlacher, Bill George, Lance Briggs, Wilber Marshall, Otis Wilson, Doug Buffone, Mike Singletary, Rosevelt Colvin, Roquan Smith … I can go on until the cows come home. And because I don’t own cows, that means I could keep going for a while. But I won’t.
However, I will wonder about who could be the next great Bears linebacker leading the way. Someone has to occupy the middle of a Matt Eberflus/Alan Williams defense.
As we were discussing in Bullets, the Rams cutting ties with Bobby Wagner threw me for a loop. It’s not as if Wagner’s performance was calling for a release. Check it out:
I think Patrick (whose work at BN NFL needs to be followed, by the way) is onto something.
If the Bears are looking to upgrade their defense, they should be kicking the tires on Wagner. The 32-year-old linebacker is coming off a year in which he was graded highly by analytics giant PFF and still put up solid traditional metrics. Another season with at least 140 total tackles? Check. Putting up a career-best six sacks while playing all 17 games? Double check. Wagner also put up 10 tackles-for-loss. This marks his first such season doing so since 2017, proving he still has that juice. Plus, he just had a season in which he collected 10+ QB Hits for the second time in three years. All things considered, I want to sign up for the possibility of Wagner being a Bears free-agency target. Where do I sign up?
Of course, interest needs to be mutual. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets Wagner “wants to win.” Those three words make me wonder if the Bears are actually a fit. That might be a tough sell from the Bears’ perspective. After all, this is a team coming off a 3-win season that had them finishing with the NFL’s worst record. HOWEVER, I don’t think it is an impossible pitch. Then again, he isn’t the only option at the position. And we should be mindful of that when a big name makes it onto the market. So often, it is the players bubbling under the radar who end up as better fits in the team-building process.
What about T.J. Edwards as an alternative target?
With that being said, shout out to my guy Danny for putting T.J. Edwards on my radar as a possible linebacker target in free agency.
Edwards, 26, fits that young veteran mold that I think GM Ryan Poles might target this offseason. The University of Wisconsin product was a three-year starter with Philadelphia and is coming off his best season. Edwards, a Lake Villa native, was a starter in all 17 regular-season games the Eagles played this season. And, yes, a starter in the three playoff games they participated in, too. During the regular season, Edwards put up career-bests in total tackles (159), solo tackles (99), and QB Hits (5). Edwards also had 10 tackles-for-loss last season. That is as many as he had in the 28 games he played over the previous two seasons. Soon, Edwards could parlay that into a sizable raise via free agency.
FWIW: Edwards is PFF’s No. 28-ranked free agent on its top 100 list. And I’d like to add how Pro Football Focus projects him to get quite a contract in free agency. PFF predicts a three-year deal with an AAV of $13.5 million, $25 million guaranteed, and worth up to $40.5 million. That might seem like a premium, but the Bears have wiggle room under the cap to make it work. And they have a need to address the position. Plus, Chicago *SHOULD* know what they’re getting in Edwards. Maybe this is where secret weapon Assistant GM Ian Cunningham could come in handy. Cunningham had eyes on Edwards while he was with the Eagles. It sure feels like this is the fit we should be looking at instead of Wagner. At a minimum, I like having worthwhile options to consider for filling the position.
Speaking of which, how about some others to consider:
Off-the-ball linebacker might not be the premium defensive position it once was in a previous era of the NFL. But it isn’t a spot on the field the Bears should overlook as it rebuilds. Bolstering that part of the defense could be helpful in rounding out a roster that needs help in every area. To be clear, I don’t think using premium draft capital on the position is ideal. However, the alternative of GM Ryan Poles flexing Chicago’s cap space muscle is alluring. In the end, it’s something to be mindful of as we enter March next week.