The Las Vegas Raiders signed former Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski to three-year, $21 million deal with $13.5 million guaranteed early in the 2020 NFL free agency period in a move that was generally described as a quality signing for a defense desperate for an upgrade on its second level.
Kwiatkoski, 26, made it to the open market because general manager Ryan Pace chose instead to sign Danny Trevathan to a new multi-year deal. Trevathan's contract is nearly identical to what Kwiatkoski received from the Raiders: three years, $21.5 million, $13.62 million in guarantees.
But it's the Raiders' decision to sign the now ex-Bear that's been dubbed one of this year's most underrated offseason moves.
"Kwiatkoski was mostly a rotational player in Chicago, seeing starting action only in the event of an injury," ESPN's Anthony Treash wrote. "Yet outside of his rookie year, he has looked like a starting-caliber off-the-ball linebacker in the NFL when given the opportunity to be on the field. Since 2017, Kwiatkoski has produced a PFF grade that ranks him among the 15 best off-the-ball linebackers. He is one of six who has produced a 70-plus grade as a run defender, as a pass-rusher and in coverage over that span. He has generated the ninth-most WAR per snap over that stretch, too."
The Bears couldn't afford to bring back both free-agent linebackers and with Roquan Smith filling the roster's role of the ascending young talent at the position, Pace opted to go with the established and predictable play from Trevathan rather than take a chance on Kwiatkosksi, who has yet to prove he can sustain a high level of play over 16 games as a starter.
We'll soon find out if Pace made the right call. Even if Kwiatkoski goes on to have a great career in Las Vegas, the decision to bring Trevathan back is a logical one. The bigger, and more pressing concern, is whether Smith will meet the lofty expectations that came along with him being the eighth overall pick in 2018. He had a rocky 2019 season, but when he's right, he's one of the most exciting inside linebackers in the league.