The Bears have a lot of work to do at inside linebacker.
That room has quietly become one of the major concerns for Ryan Pace and Co. this offseason, as 2019's top three guys — Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, and Kevin Pierre-Louis — are all unrestricted free agents.
"Inside linebacker for us is a position of strength," Ryan Pace said from the combine on Tuesday morning. "I do feel like last year, when we talk about our defense, that we got hit with injuries with both those players. I think that hurt us — with Akiem going down in the middle, too."
Trevathan will be 30 next season, and while the Bears haven't publicly made up their minds one way or the other about his future at Halas Hall, his salary demands and injury history create a situation where it's easy to see the team moving on. The surrounding circumstances are bit different for Kwiatkoski, but the outcome could very well be the same: after filling in admirably for Trevathan, the fifth-year vet rightfully views himself as a starter — which alone may price himself out of negotiations with the somewhat-cap-strapped Bears.
"He took full advantage for his opportunities when he got them. You tip your hat to him," Pace added. "We talk about drafting and developing players. With him being a fourth-round pick, we’re proud of where he got to.
"Any of those negotiations with all those guys, we’ll keep them in-house. I hope you guys can respect this time of year. It’s a difficult time to talk about a lot of things."
Fortunately, the Bears know they'll be able to pair whoever they bring (back?) in with Roquan Smith, who, according to Pace, is recovering well from surgery on a torn pectoral muscle. The team expects Smith to be fully healthy when training camp rolls around.
"This is a fully recoverable thing for Roquan," Pace said. "When he was healthy last year and playing right, you saw the player that we drafted and why we took him so high. Our outlook on him is very optimistic."