Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Bears position outlook: Linebackers
By Jeff Dickerson
Free agents: James Anderson, Blake Costanzo and D.J. Williams.
The good: Before suffering a minor shoulder fracture that forced him to miss seven games, veteran weakside linebacker Lance Briggs was in the midst of another Pro Bowl-caliber season. Despite sitting out almost the entire preseason due to a calf strain, Williams appeared to be stabilizing the position until he went on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle on Oct. 18. Anderson led the Bears with 129.5 tackles. Rookie second-round pick Jon Bostic, forced into the starting lineup because of all the injuries, had a solid game versus the Baltimore Ravens in November with eight tackles and one key interception. He could be an outside linebacker in 2014. Costanzo topped the Bears with 17 special-teams tackles.
The bad: Obviously, the injuries to Williams and Briggs really hurt, especially after the Bears decided to let veteran linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach leave the previous offseason. Bostic and fellow rookie Khaseem Greene predictably struggled on occasion when pressed into action as first-year players. The Bears' linebackers were often in the wrong place and out of their gaps, which played a role in the team having the worst run defense in the NFL. Even when Briggs returned late in the season, he was never the same.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Briggs has one year left on his current contract and is scheduled to count $6.5 million against the cap. The Bears really need a big year out of Briggs, so hopefully whatever unhappiness still lingers from the firing of Lovie Smith can be put aside for the greater good of the team. The last thing the Bears need is for Briggs’ contract to become a distraction in the offseason since the club has so many other holes to fill on defense. Bostic and Greene are locked in for the foreseeable future with cap hits below $1 million next year. Williams appears to be a prime candidate to return at another veteran minimum/incentive laden deal.
Draft priority: Moderate. Even with the selections of Bostic and Greene last year and the possible addition of Shea McClellin to the room in 2014, the Bears shouldn’t pass up a talented linebacker in the mid-to-late rounds if one remains on the board. There is a chance Costanzo leaves in free agency, meaning the Bears could have a large hole on their coverage teams. Bottom line: There is always value in selecting a good linebacker, especially given the ages/contractual statuses of Briggs, Williams and Anderson.