Bears

Bears roster will change, but for now, some notable names remain

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Bears roster will change, but for now, some notable names remain

Few expect the Bears to open against the Green Bay Packers on Sept. 13 with the identical 53-man roster that was in place at the close of business on Saturday. The changes, though, are speculative-only at this point as the Bears continue exploring available options, meaning trades and additional cuts are decided possibilities.

Several inclusions in the final-for-now roster were notable.

[MORE: Bears cutdown to 53-man roster reveals Fox, Pace 'traits']

Veteran Willie Young played his way back from a season-ending Achilles tear and onto a roster emblematic of the Bears’ new 3-4 defense: nine linebackers, including both starting defensive ends (Young, Jared Allen) from last season. Young’s value, however, may be greatest with a team operating a 4-3 defense that utilizes him as a hand-down defensive end.

Young’s playing time will be problematic in the current depth chart, and the Bears reportedly offered Young in trades prior to the cutdown deadline, with no takers. Because he doesn’t play special teams, Young’s long-term spot with the Bears is open questionable, although 10-sack pass rushers will always find work in the NFL.

The Bears currently stand with just two defensive lineman – rookie Eddie Goldman, Jarvis Jenkins – in excess of 300 pounds. They are keeping just five down-linemen for their front three, with Jeremiah Ratliff unavailable for September until he serves his three-game suspension.

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Coach John Fox has said repeatedly that the preponderance of nickel personnel packages make Allen, Young and Lamarr Houston de facto “linemen” as well as rush linebackers Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho.

With the required roster reduction behind them, and before the Bears make additional changes in the form of pickups from other teams’ discards, a look at how the 2015 roster stands:

Offense (25)

Quarterback (3)

Jay Cutler

Jimmy Clausen

David Fales

Comment: Clausen’s recent concussion history and Fales’ play vs. Cleveland make three QB’s necessary.

Running back (4)

Matt Forte

Jacquizz Rodgers

Jeremy Langford

Ka’Deem Carey

Comment: May be best RB group since Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson/Adrian Peterson.

Wide receiver (6)

Alshon Jeffery

Eddie Royal

Marquess Wilson

Joshua Bellamy

Marc Mariani

Cameron Meredith

Comment: Kevin White injury scrambles the overall, injuries require added depth.

Tight end (3)

Martellus Bennett

Zach Miller

Khari Lee

Comment: Offense demanding TE’s who can block and catch equally well.

Offensive line (9)

Jermon Bushrod

Matt Slauson

Will Montgomery

Kyle Long

Jordan Mills

Hroniss Grasu

Tayo Fabuluje

Vladimir Ducasse

Charles Leno Jr.

Comment: RT issues remain unsolved but quality OL-men hard to find.

Defense (25)

Line (5)

Eddie Goldman

Ego Ferguson

Jarvis Jenkins

Will Sutton

Cornelius Washington

Comment: Jeremiah Ratliff suspension, Goldman concussion create concerns with untested group.

Linebacker (9)

Jared Allen

Christian Jones

Shea McClellin

Pernell McPhee

Sam Acho

Jonathan Bostic

Lamarr Houston

Willie Young

John Timu

Comment: Youth will be served; Timu fortifies special teams, too.

Cornerback (7)

Alan Ball

Kyle Fuller

Sherrick McManis

Demontre Hurst

Terrance Mitchell

Tracy Porter

Bryce Callahan

Comment: Bears need Fuller to play like a No. 1 draft pick in scheme stressing “man” coverage.

Safety (4)

Adrian Amos

Antrel Rolle

Brock Vereen

Sherrod Martin

Comment: Still a position that thwarts Bears’ efforts to settle.

Specialists (3)

Robbie Gould

Pat O’Donnell

Thomas Gafford

Comment: Bears didn’t bring K or P into camp; hopefully LS issues resolves.

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.