Bears

Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

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Is Danny Trevathan's Bears' future in doubt after NFL Draft? 'It depends on how you look at it'

The NFL Draft is a necessary evil if you’re a veteran player, especially if your team just drafted two players at the position you play and your contract doesn’t provide much job security beyond the upcoming season. 

That’s the spot Danny Trevathan is in now. The Bears nabbed Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in April's NFL Draft, then used their fourth-round selection on Joel Iyiegbuniwe. Both players are inside linebackers; the Bears could net $6.4 million in cap savings if they release Trevathan following the 2018 season. 

Trevathan, though, isn’t approaching 2018 like the writing is on the wall for it to be his final year in Chicago. 

“It depends on how you look at it,” Trevathan said. “For me, it is what it is, (Smith’s) a good player and he’s going to help us out on defense. You just want to go ahead and do your job and keep working. He’s a good player, just like we’ve all got some good players out here. But he’s … we got the right guy to fit our defense. He’s working his tail off and he fits in with our linebacker group.”

That Trevathan answered a question about the decision to draft Smith, specifically, in that manner isn’t surprising. The 28-year-old is one of the most respected leaders in the Bears locker room, the kind of guy who sets the tone for the rest of the defense (in other words: Exactly what you want out of a veteran inside linebacker). Trevathan offered plenty of praise for Smith not only as a player, but for how he’s approached his first few practices wearing a Bears helmet. 

“He's quick, instinctive, learns well,” Trevathan said. “He's just out here trying to get better. That's what I like about him. He's calling the call sheets out. He's learning the plays. That's what you want in him. You want him to come out here and be humble. You want him to work hard. I see that in his eyes, coming out here. It's a lot of lights on him. It's a lot of attention on him. But he's finding himself out here, coming out here and trying to make some plays.”

The reality, though, is that Smith may not be the one to take Trevathan’s job, if it comes to that. The best-case outlook for Iyiegbuniwe would appear to be that the Bears found a fourth-round steal who can pair with Smith as Vic Fangio’s long-term inside linebacking tandem. If “Iggy” proves to be that guy, then Trevathan could indeed find his place in Chicago in jeopardy. 

And, too, even if Iyiegbuniwe doesn’t quickly develop into a starting-caliber player, the Bears could still decide to cut ties with Trevathan if Smith proves to be elite. 

The best way for Trevathan to make sure he’s still here in a year, though, is to play a full 16-game season — something he hasn’t done since 2013, and he's missed 11 games since signing a four-year deal in 2016. 

But when Trevathan is on the field, his speed and physicality are a critical component to the Bears’ success. That won't change in 2018, at the least. 

"(He has) that veteran experience," coach Matt Nagy said. "We went against Danny when I was in Kansas City and he was at Denver so we always knew what kind of player he was. He has the demeanor to him, a focus, he's very serious when he's out there on the field and he'll have a great mentorship, he'll be a great mentor for Roquan."

Under Center Podcast: Ha Ha, Bears a great fit for Clinton-Dix

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Ha Ha, Bears a great fit for Clinton-Dix

It's been a almost a week since the Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix signing and it's still looking like a total win for the Bears. JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan on why the Bears appear to have gotten a bargain (1:00) , how Dix could be the perfect fit for this defense at this time, and the chemistry he'll have with former 'Bama teammate Eddie Jackson. Plus probably too much punter talk after the Bears bring back Pat O'Donnell (9:30), and some more edge rusher possibilities in the next wave of free agency (14:00). And of course an update on the Chicago Football Madness as 7-seed Alex Brown makes a desperate attempt to launch a comeback and avoid an upset against 10-seed Robbie Gould (22:10)

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

What options do the Bears have left in the edge rusher free agency market? 

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USA Today

What options do the Bears have left in the edge rusher free agency market? 

The NFL is deep into its second wave of free agency, with nearly all of the top names available off the market. The Bears got their (relative) heavy lifting done last week, signing five key players: Running back Mike Davis, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, interior offensive lineman Ted Larsen, slot cornerback Buster Skrine and safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix. 

All five of those players filled holes, from depth/rotational guys (Davis, Patterson and Larsen) to expected starters (Skrine and Clinton-Dix). 

The Bears, reportedly, agreed to bring back punter Pat O’Donnell on a two-year contract, checking off another box there. But Ryan Pace’s work isn’t done yet, with one more significant need yet to be addressed: A rotational edge rusher. 

Where things stand

Right now, the Bears’ outside linebacker depth chart is topped by Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Isaiah Irving and Kylie Fitts, with Canadian Football League signee James Vaughters perhaps getting a look there, too. 

Aaron Lynch, 2018’s incumbent rotational edge rusher, hasn’t been linked to the Bears in free agency and is reportedly taking visits elsewhere:

Lynch played in 13 games last year and did reasonably well on a one-year prove-it contract, notching three sacks and an interception while providing a consistent edge-setting presence against the run. He played 40 percent of the Bears’ snaps in those 13 games, including starts against the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, when Mack was inactive. 

If Lynch isn’t coming back, his usage last year is a decent blueprint for what the Bears want out of a third edge rusher — playing somewhere between one-third and one-half of the snaps in a given game in which Mack and Floyd are healthy, with the ability to step in and effectively start, too. 

Who’s still available?

Justin Houston, Ezekiel Ansah and Clay Matthews are the biggest names still out there. A few other options: Nick Perry, Cassius Marsh, Shane Ray, Connor Barwin and Pernell McPhee. 

We’ll start with Houston. He’s 30 and had nine sacks in 2018 and played 80 percent of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive snaps in the 12 games he played. Would he be willing to take a decreased role to come to Chicago?

If he would, Houston would be a tremendous fit. The Bears likely have somewhere around $13 million in cap space, per Spotrac (consider that a rough estimate), and while they won’t spend it all that’s likely enough room to fit Houston in on a one-year deal. Again, the question is more if Houston would be willing to sign with a team that doesn’t have a No. 1 or No. 2 edge rushing opening. 

Ansah would seem to be less likely to fit with the Bears, especially if he’s seeking a one-year prove-it deal after only appearing in seven games in 2018 (he still had four sacks, which given the circumstances, is rather impressive). He had a dozen sacks in 2017, and while he turns 30 in May he could do well to rebuild his value somewhere that can offer him a full-time role. 

Matthews is an interesting case, given he turns 33 in May and began to show his age in 2018 (3 1/2 sacks, 30 pressures). Perhaps a role as a situational edge rusher would suit him better at this point in his career. But would the longtime Green Bay Packer really want to play in Chicago? Plus, the Los Angeles-area native has been linked with the Rams, which would seem to make sense as a match. 

Perhaps a more viable ex-Packer would be Nick Perry, who was released by Green Bay in the wake of their dual Smith-based edge rusher signings (Za’Darius and Preston). Perry turns 29 in April and slowed considerably in 2018, only managing 1 1/2 sacks in nine games. As his 11-sack 2016 gets further in the rearview mirror, perhaps he could fit as a rotational guy for the Bears. 

Before the Bears traded for Mack, there was a thought the team could have interest in acquiring Ray from the Denver Broncos, especially after the two teams held joint practices in Colorado in mid-August. Ray played in 11 games in 2018, had just one sack and was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the season. While he’s only entering his age-26 season, more than half his 14 career sacks came in 2016 (eight). Ray, though, fits closer to the profile of Lynch — an oft-injured guy in his mid-20’s who could use a change of scenery. 

Neither Barwin (one sack) or McPhee (no sacks) did much in rotational roles in 2018 and are each on the wrong side of 30. A reunion with McPhee could at least produce some fun media sessions in the Bears’ locker room. 

What about the draft?

Pace is a “best player available” guy, which is why he waited until the sixth round to draft his first edge rusher — Fitts — a year ago, even when there was a glaring need opposite Floyd (one, thanks to Jon Gruden, that was ultimately filled by Mack). It’s rare for a quality edge rusher to make it to the third round, let alone later: Since 2013, only 22 of the 147 outside linebackers and defensive ends taken in the third through seventh rounds have amassed at least 10 sacks. The most sacks a player picked 87th or lower in 2018 (the Bears’ first pick in this year’s draft is No. 87) was three, coming from Detroit’s Da’Shawn Hand. 

Perhaps Pace could unearth a projectable edge rusher with one of the Bears’ draft picks, but that’s not an easy task. Most anyone with NFL-ready pass rushing skills are off the board by the end of the second round. 

So what's next?

It would make sense for the Bears to sign an outside linebacker at some point in the coming weeks, given how unproven Irving and Fitts are behind Mack and Floyd. But it’s not like Pace is going to sign someone with whom he doesn’t have conviction just to fill a hole — again, he didn’t last year, when the Bears would’ve gone into Week 1 with Floyd, Lynch and Sam Acho as their edge rushing rotation. 

The Bears have some other needs to address lower down their depth chart — another tight end and cornerback, perhaps, as well as guys who will head into training camp competing for spots largely via special teams. Pace could still sign a kicker to add to their growing competition, and the team does need a long snapper with Patrick Scales now an unrestricted free agent. 

An edge rusher, though, would be the only move left out there that could move the needle before the draft. We’ll see if that happens.