2018 depth chart
1. Danny Trevathan
Usage: 16 games, 93.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $7.65 million cap hit
The Bears could save $6.4 million in cap space if they were to release Trevathan before March 17, per Spotrac, but that move seems unlikely. Trevathan was one of the more underrated players on the league’s best defense in 2018, serving as a vocal leader while putting together his best season in Chicago. He finished the season with 102 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, four pass break-ups, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and eight tackles for a loss, all while playing 986 snaps, the third-highest total on the defense.
With Chuck Pagano keeping 3-4 continuity, Trevathan will maintain a significant role in the Bears’ defense. Cutting him for cap savings could be detrimental to the Bears’ chances of making the playoffs again in 2019. He’s a guy who not only should be back, but should be one of the team’s most important players again this coming season.
2. Roquan Smith
Usage: 16 games, 83.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $4,199,356 million cap hit
For a guy who participated in roughly one and a half practices during training camp and the preseason, and didn’t start in Week 1, Smith put together an impressive and encouraging rookie year. He was all over the field, with his speed, instincts and physicality often overcoming a steep learning curve in Vic Fangio’s defense. He led the Bears with 121 tackles but, perhaps just as impressive, tied for third on the team in sacks with five (which equaled Leonard Floyd’s total).
Smith’s future is searingly bright. And as the Bears’ roster evolves over the next few years, with Mitch Trubisky’s rookie deal coming to an end and a rich extension due to Eddie Jackson, the Bears can overcome some potential roster/cap casualties by Smith living up to his potential while he’s still on his rookie contract.
3. Nick Kwiatkoski
Usage: 16 games, 10.6 percent of defensive snaps, 71.5 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $2,188,780 cap hit
Kwiatkoski lost his starting job after Week 1, when it was clear the Bears needed Smith’s speed on the field after blowing that 20-point lead to the Packers in Green Bay. He barely played on defense after that, but credit the 25-year-old with committing himself to special teams and being a key contributor on those units (he also caught a two-point conversion pass on “Golden Ticket” in Week 17).
The Bears, though, could save a little over $2 million in cap space by cutting Kwiatkoski. He’s a solid backup, but if the Bears think 2018 fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe could be a similarly-solid reserve, they could decide to move on from Kwiatkoski.
4. Joel Iyiegbuniwe
Usage: 16 games, 2.2 percent of defensive snaps, 74.6 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $739,643 cap hit
“Iggy” played more special teams snaps than anyone on the Bears, though his work on defense was limited to three snaps in garbage time in Week 4 against the Buccaneers and 12 after starters were pulled in Week 17 against the Vikings. That doesn’t give the Bears much film to evaluate, though he did play 129 snaps on defense during the preseason that should help with the team’s evaluation of him.
5. Josh Woods
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract
Woods, who played defensive back at Maryland, suffered a hand injury in the Bears’ second preseason game but stuck around the practice squad all year.
Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 1
If the Bears stick to the status quo with their depth chart here, there’s not much work to be done. Trevathan and Smith are an excellent starting pair, with Kwiatkoski a reliable backup and Iyiegbuniwe a strong special teams contributor. If the team moves on from Kwiatkoski, they could be in the market for another backup here, but that wouldn’t be a pressing need.