Bears

Bears: NFL may be a breeze for Fabuluje after life struggles

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Bears: NFL may be a breeze for Fabuluje after life struggles

Tayo Fabuluje got the call of a lifetime on Saturday when Bears coach John Fox informed the TCU tackle that the Bears had selected him with their sixth-round pick, the 183rd overall. Recounting the moment afterwards, the emotion was right there in his voice and the words came out in a torrent:

“It's a dream come true,” said Fabuluje, a 6-7, 353-pound lineman who’d attended TCU and BYU in addition to sitting out all of 2013 working three jobs to help his family. “I broke down into tears when I heard the news. It's a day at one point I didn't see coming. I didn't think it could happen for me, when bad things are going on in my life.

“Like I've told people before, you kind of lose sight of the good things in life when you're down and you're struggling and you're trying to dig yourself out of a hole. Being in a top-flight position today, being a Chicago Bear is just a dream come true. I don't think anybody could write this up. This is something that is God-given and it's just a blessing and amazing. I don't have words that can explain how I feel today. I'm just truly blessed and thankful for the Chicago Bears organization and all the good people that have been around me and helped me get here to where I am today.”

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That Fabuluje, born in Nigeria and brought to the United States as a youngster, was able to have this day perhaps speaks to a “character” level not many can reach.

Fabuluje was 5 when his father was deported back to Nigeria after being implicated in a truck-theft ring. The son rarely has contact with the father now.

The father had been the family provider and Fabuluje’s mother Debra had not worked before the deportation. She struggled to make ends meet but did it by engaging in petty theft, to the point where she was sent away to prison in 2012 and is still incarcerated.

“She never worked and my dad provided everything,” Fabuluje said. “When he was taken out of our lives she was like a deer in the headlights. She didn’t know what to do and she got around some bad people who steered her down the wrong path. Everything she’s ever done was to only help her family succeed. That’s why she’s doing time.”

Fabuluje, who redshirted at BYU in 2010, transferred to TCU in 2011 but had to sit out because of transfer rules. He started 12 games in 2012 but had to quit football in 2013 and worked three jobs to help his sister Tosin.

“I worked those three jobs because I knew I had to help out to support my sister, who was in a hard time with my mom going away to have to do some time and all that type of stuff,” Fabuluje said. “She had trouble finding work, so I had to do that to keep my family afloat.”

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After the year away from football, during which he moved back to Utah to live with friends, Fabuluje returned to TCU for the 2014 season, started 12 games and was an All-Big 12 second team selection.

Good enough for that call Saturday.

“They were telling me that one of the first things they're going to do when I get there is going to throw me on the scale, and we all got a good laugh out of that,” said Fabuluje, who changed his eating habits and has his weight down from 360 into the 330’s. “I'm not worried about it. I've got my weight in check. I'm just ecstatic and ready to get started."

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.