As free agency looms, LB Nick Kwiatkoski focusing only on next game

As free agency looms, LB Nick Kwiatkoski focusing only on next game

One of the feel-good stories of the Bears 2019 season is the ascent of linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, the career-backup-turned-starter for a variety of reasons this year.

His first run with the starters came in Week 4 against the Vikings when he filled in for Roquan Smith, who was deactivated shortly before the game for still undisclosed personal reasons. Kwiatkoski responded with eight tackles and a sack and was highlighted as one of Chicago's bright stars from the 16-6 victory.

He returned to his reserve role for several weeks until Danny Trevathan's elbow injury in Week 9. In Week 10 against the Lions, Kwiatkoski enjoyed the best day of his career. He recorded another eight tackles, one sack and an interception on Thanksgiving, and was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded linebacker for the week. 

Kwiatkoski's play has remained steady over the last four games as a starter, and with his rookie contract set to expire at season's end, he's proving to the Bears and the rest of the NFL that he deserves a significant pay raise.

Even in limited action this season, Kwiatkoski is fifth on the Bears in tackles (52) and has the second-highest PFF grade among starters on Chicago's defense (79.8).

Week 15's rivalry game against the Packers may be Kwiatkoski's most challenging of the season, however. It'll mark the first time this year that he won't have either Smith (who's out for the season with a torn pec) or Trevathan (who's still recovering from his elbow injury) lined up next to him. Instead, it'll be little-known Kevin Pierre-Louis.

Kwiatkoski, who appeared on Ian Rapoport's "Rapsheet + Friends" podcast this week, acknowledged what Smith's absence means to the defense.

"He's a guy who flies around, does a great job of communicating and just an all-around very good football player," Kwiatkoski said. "As for this past game, Kevin Pierre-Louis did a great job of coming in on short notice. He played really well. Guys like me and guys like him, we just have to step up."

Kwiatkoski told Rapoport that the Bears' three-game winning streak is a product of the team's "all eyes on the next game" approach. But what about that expiring contract? 

"I haven't really thought about it," he said. "There's a lot of football to be played here. It's definitely in the back of my mind, but I really haven't given it that much of a thought yet."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Did Patriots owner Robert Kraft crush Bears' hope for Tom Brady?

Did Patriots owner Robert Kraft crush Bears' hope for Tom Brady?

The Bears are one of the first teams mentioned when speculation about where New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could play in 2020. The Bears are the most quarterback-needy club that also has a chance to make a Super Bowl run with a player like Brady under center, so it's logical to assume the soon-to-be free agent will at least entertain the idea of playing home games at Soldier Field next year.

Much of what happens with Brady will come down to how the Patriots view the 42-year-old (he'll be 43 at the start of next season). If all things are equal, and New England makes him a fair offer to come back, it's likely Brady would return to the only franchise he's ever played for. And if owner Robert Kraft's recent comments are sincere, it's more than likely that he will.

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

Kraft, who was in New York City on Tuesday, was asked by TMZ reporters whether the Patriots will re-sign Brady this offseason. His response? 

"We plan to," Kraft said.

Well, there you have it, right? If the Patriots plan to re-sign Brady, then the Patriots are going to re-sign Brady; assuming, of course, you believe what Kraft is saying in January before New England's decision-makers have had enough time to assess their quarterback situation with, and maybe without, No. 12 under center.

Brady is coming off of one of his worst seasons as a pro, which is saying something considering he's been playing for two decades. His completion percentage was the lowest it's been in six years, his yardage total was the second-lowest in the last 10 years, and his 24 touchdown passes were the fewest he's thrown in a season since 2006. 

It's natural to wonder whether Father Time has finally caught up to him. Maybe, however, his down year was a result of lacking talent at wide receiver and tight end. Regardless of the reason, his 2019 campaign has called into question where he'll be in 2020.

But there are those three words Kraft said — 'we plan to' — that can't be ignored. At the very least, Bears fans can't get their hopes up. The Patriots tend to get what they want, and if they want Brady back in 2020, they'll have him.

Bears showing strong interest in Dayton TE Adam Trautman

Bears showing strong interest in Dayton TE Adam Trautman

Add Dayton tight end Adam Trautman  to the growing list of tight ends the Bears have met with at the 2020 Senior Bowl.

After confirming Purdue's Brycen Hopkins and Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney spent time with Bears scouts (in the case of Pinkney, nearly 35 minutes), Trautman told's Chase Goodbread that Chicago's scouts have expressed a strong interest in his skill set.

"They're interested in me," Trautman said of the Bears. "They tell me they like what they see."

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of 2020 NFL offseason

Trautman had one of the best lines of the week when he said he prefers driving opposing defenders into the ground against their will over scoring touchdowns, and at a well-built 6-foot-5, 251 pounds, he has the perfect physical makeup to project as a guy who will do that on the next level. He needs development in that area of his game (run blocker), but his 'want-to' is half the battle.

Trautman wasn't the best tight end this week, but he was far from the worst. He's been consistent, and for a team like the Bears who are searching for a tight end who can be relied on as a second-level target for whoever is playing quarterback in Matt Nagy's offense, Trautman's consistency will be viewed as a plus.

Trautman had 916 yards and 14 touchdowns for Dayton in 2019. Scouts wanted to see whether he could handle the jump in competition at the Senior Bowl, and he's answered that question with a resounding yes.

He projects as a Day 3 pick with upside to develop into a starting quality tight end.