Skip to main content

Chicago Bears Offseason Preview: Inside Linebackers

Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears

Led by Roquan Smith, this position was the strength of the Bears' defense last season

As expected, the Chicago Bears parted ways with both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy at the end of the 2021 regular season. The results didn't always present themselves on the field, and their personnel decisions were head-scratching at times.

So now the team is moving forward in a different direction. Ryan Poles, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, was hired as the new general manager on Jan. 25. Shortly after that, Poles hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be the team's new head coach.

Chicago Bears Offseason Positional Previews: QB I RB I WR I TE I OL I DL I OLB I ILB

The Bears have 24 pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (per Spotrac.com) and also have some decisions to make about veteran players that are under contract. It'll be the job of the new front office and coaching staff to decide which players will be a part of the rebuilding effort. The Bears have four pending free agents at inside linebacker, so some difficult decisions need to be made.

The Bears have been using a 3-4 alignment since 2015 but will be transitioning to a 4-3 under Eberflus and Williams. It's a scheme that will be familiar to Bears fans but it's too soon to tell how it will look in 2022 given the current personnel. For now, here is how the Bears stack up at inside linebacker.

Roquan Smith

The two-time second-team All-Pro is entering the final year of his rookie deal, which will pay him $9.7 million, but he's long outplayed that contract. Since the Bears chose him eighth overall in the 2018 draft, Smith has gathered 524 total tackles, 43 tackles for a loss, 14.0 sacks, 17 quarterback hits, 17 pass deflections, and five interceptions. He's an athletic, versatile defender who can stop the run, play pass coverage, and rush the quarterback when needed. There is no doubt that the Bears should give him a long-term deal before it's too late. Smith should remain the anchor of this defense for years to come.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Danny Trevathan

This 10-year veteran also is entering the final season of his current contract, but unlike Smith, Trevathan does not have youth on his side. He'll be 32 when the 2022 season kicks off, so it's unknown whether the Bears will try and extend him this offseason or just let the final year play out. His cap hit for 2022 is modest ($5.7 million), and it's less than it would cost the team to cut him ($8.9 million dead cap hit), so barring a trade, he'll be around at least one more season. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, considering the production he's provided in a Bears uniform. Since 2016, he's recorded 459 tackles, 19 TFLs, 7.0 sacks, 16 QB hits, four forced fumbles, and three interceptions. He's a force to be reckoned with when healthy, but that's becoming more of an issue. He played in just five games last season because of a knee injury.

Christian Jones

In his second stint with the Bears (first played with them from 2014-17), Jones held his own as a rotational player. He made 24 tackles while seeing action in all 17 games and gave this team valuable depth. He's a pending free agent and probably wouldn't cost too much to re-sign, but does the 31-year-old fit into the team's future plans?

Alec Ogletree

Ogletree took a little more than $1 million to join the Bears for his ninth professional season. And like Jones, he also was a valuable addition, especially when the injuries and COVID cases took their toll on the depth chart. In 16 games, Olgetree posted 87 tackles, five TFLs, and three QB hits. He's earned another contract to stay in Chicago, but he turns 31 in September and the coaching staff may want to go younger at the position.

Joel Iyiegbuniwe

Iyiegbuniwe has appeared in 58 games (no starts) for the Bears since they drafted him in 2018, but he's primarily been a special teams player. He only has 29 tackles, one TFL, a forced fumble, and a pass deflection on his resume, so will his special teams value be enough to get another contract? He'll turn 27 in October, so he's the youngest of the four pending free agents at his position.

Cassius Marsh

The Bears brought Marsh in as injuries started to pile up. He made six tackles in four games but became known for something else. Marsh got plenty of attention on social media after he was called for a very questionable taunting penalty after getting a sack on Ben Roethlisberger in the Week 9 "Monday Night Football" loss at Pittsburgh. Given the regime change, Marsh will probably have to try and latch on with another team this offseason.

Outlook

Whether either is signed to a contract extension or not this offseason, Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan should figure prominently in the defensive plans for 2022. One or both could see their role change slightly with the shift to the 4-3 alignment but either way, the focus will be on sorting out the depth behind them.

— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.