Inside the Soldier Field locker room Sunday, Bears linebacker Josh Woods saw Danny Trevathan and went to go offer his sympathies to his injured mentor.
“Damn, bro, I’m sorry,’” Woods told Trevathan.
“I’ll be alright,” Trevathan responded. “It’s a piece of cake.”
Trevathan’s response after suffering a gruesome, potentially season-ending injury tells you a lot about who he is — and why he’s so universally respected and liked inside Soldier Field and Halas Hall.
Piece of cake. That injury — don’t look up the images of it if you’re squeamish — is a piece of cake?
“That’s just the type of guy he is,” Woods said, nodding to Trevathan's relentless positivity.
Coach Matt Nagy said Thursday the Bears haven’t made a decision yet on whether or not to place Trevathan on injured reserve, which would end his season (the Bears have, occasionally, waited until the day before a game to put a player on injured reserve). Since Trevathan is a free agent after this year, it could end his career in Chicago, too.
But near the top of Ryan Pace’s offseason to-do list — beneath addressing his quarterbacks, of course — should be doing everything he can to get Trevathan back in 2020 and beyond.
“It’s one of those things, either it’s there or it’s not,” Pierre-Louis said of Trevathan’s leadership qualities. “Does it make all the difference, depending on the chemistry of the team? It can. But it’s definitely something that no matter what team you’re on you’re going to notice if it’s gone or not.”
Trevathan will be 30 next year and does have a history of injuries (he’s only played a full 16-game season twice in his eight-year career). But he was playing some of the best football of his career prior to his injury against the Detroit Lions, and inside linebackers in general can still play at a high level in the NFL into their 30’s.
The Bears, though, could probably replace what Trevathan does on the field (just as they could with most players not named Khalil Mack or Akiem Hicks). But what would be incredibly difficult to replace would be Trevathan’s impact as a leader on a team that touts its strong culture and lack of “turds,” as Nagy put it in training camp.
“It’s a presence,” Pierre-Louis said. “He holds a presence and that’s not always a skill thing. Sometimes, either you got it our you don’t. He has it.”
Trevathan’s leadership can show up in different ways. It can mean taking a young player under his wing and showing him how to act like a pro in the NFL, as he’s done with Woods. It can mean setting the tone inside Halas Hall during a four-game losing streak. It can mean galvanizing his teammates in a critical late-game situation.
And that leadership matters because it’s always two things: First, authentic; and second, positive.
“A lot of guys lead by example, but coaches, offensive players, defensive guys know when Danny speaks, you listen,” Woods said. “You know? He’s not like one of those leaders that’s like an a—hole or anything. He’s a great guy. When he speaks, it’s positive. It’s always positive reinforcement.”
The Bears’ defense may struggle to recover from losing Trevathan after already being without Hicks, who’s on injured reserve after suffering his own gruesome elbow injury in Week 5. Those two players, more than anyone else, have been the heart and soul of this defense for years — they each arrived in Chicago in 2016, experiencing both the highs of winning the NFC North and the lows of a 3-13 season. They're the Bears' two most vocal leaders on and off the field.
Hicks will still be in Chicago in 2020. But if the Bears want to give themselves the best chance of having another championship-level defense, they’d do well to make sure Trevathan is still here, too.
“His presence, his poise, his leadership,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s out in front of the huddle. He makes all the calls. He’s got the helmet communication. All that stuff, besides being the player that he is and the calming force that he is. You just don’t replace guys like that.”