Nick Kwiatkoski

How Luke Kuechly's retirement could impact the Bears

How Luke Kuechly's retirement could impact the Bears

Carolina Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly shocked the NFL universe Tuesday night when he announced his retirement from the NFL.

Kuechly, 28, is considered one of the best linebackers of his generation. He's started all 118 games of his career with the Panthers, totaling 1,092 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.

Kuechly will be impossible to replace for rookie coach Matt Rhule and the Panthers defense, but they could end up looking at two of the Bears' key free agents as possible candidates, depending on the scheme Carolina runs in life after Ron Rivera.

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Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan are both set to become unrestricted free agents and they were expected to have a long list of suitors before the Panthers' sudden need at linebacker. Adding another team to their pool of potential employers will only increase their open-market value and make it even more challenging for GM Ryan Pace.

Kuechly's retirement could force Pace to reevaluate his offseason strategy for either Trevathan or Kwiatkoski and make sure he has his preferred choice locked up before the spending spree kicks off.

It's possible this has been Pace's plan all along anyway. But Kuechly's shocking decision to walk away from the game will focus even more attention on this year's free-agent linebackers; the time is now for Pace to get a deal done.

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Chiefs defeat Bears: 3 takeaways from a brutal loss to Patrick Mahomes

Chiefs defeat Bears: 3 takeaways from a brutal loss to Patrick Mahomes

Three thoughts from Soldier Field after the Bears’ 26-3 loss to Kansas City on Sunday night: 

1. The Bears’ offense needs to re-declare its major

There are only a select few days left in which we can properly enjoy the sweet irony of Nagy 202, so might as well hammer the analogy into the ground while there’s time.

Tonight’s numbers? Three points, 133 yards through the air and 101 yards on the ground.

At halftime, Mitch Trubisky had 78 total yards and David Montgomery had 17. The first time the Bears reached the Red Zone, 12 minutes into the third quarter, they ran four plays inside the Chiefs’ five yard-line for one yard before turning it over on downs. Last time the offense looked so bad, Matt Nagy conveniently had a Trubisky hip-pointer to hide under.

What’s the excuse tonight?

2. A silver lining? The Bears will have options at inside linebacker this offseason

Realistically, next Sunday is the last time that Danny Trevathan, Roquan Smith, Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis will all be on the same roster together. The assumption heading into this season was that the Bears’ deepest unit was the defensive line; it’s funny how assuming things in Week 1 usually works out.

Smith isn't going anywhere, but the other three are all unrestricted free agents. Before the Week 10 win against the Lions, the most likely scenario seemed to be the Bears bringing Trevathan back while letting Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis test the open market. 

Six games later, things look a whole lot different. Both Kwiatkoski and Pierre-Louis have thrived in starting roles, and both are now due for a far bigger pay raise than they were when the season started back in September.

The duo finished first (Pierre-Louis – 12) and second (Kwiatkoski – 11) in tackles against the Chiefs; KPL ended last week’s game as the team-leader in tackles, and Kwiatkoski did the same against Dallas one week prior.

If KPL can clean up his play a bit – he was flagged on Sunday night for running into the punter for a second time this season – the Bears might have the replacement for Danny Trevathan already on the roster. 

3. It’s hard to worry about your opponent when you can’t get out of your own way

The Bears needed about as damn-near-perfect of a performance as they’ve put together all year in order to beat the Chiefs, and instead they got … whatever that was. Aaron Lynch was flagged for his SEVENTH neutral zone/offsides penalty of the season, which is pretty wild considering he’s played only 22 percent of the team’s defensive snaps.

Kevin Pierre-Louis was called for running into the punter AGAIN, and AGAIN it led directly to a touchdown. There was also a (soft) roughing-the-passer call against Roy Robertson-Harris that gave the Chiefs 15 yards and a new set of downs at midfield.

This all happened *before* the Bears’ last drive of the half, where, on 3rd-and-5, they committed a false start that forced them to burn their final timeout or risk a half-ending 10 second runoff. One incompletion later, with no timeouts left, they committed another false start and the clock ran off anyway.

What a way to end the season! 

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Should the Bears re-sign LB Danny Trevathan? It's complicated

Should the Bears re-sign LB Danny Trevathan? It's complicated

It can be overwhelming to rank the personnel decisions the Bears have in front of them this offseason. There’s a $20+ million quarterback decision on Mitch Trubisky, a $13 million pass-rushing one on Leonard Floyd, and three of their four inside linebackers are unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins in mid-March. The Bears put one of those linebackers, Danny Trevathan, on IR Wednesday, further complicating an already sticky issue. 

“Talking through everything with where he’s at, with where we’re at, we just felt like right now is the right time,” Matt Nagy said. 

The Bears signed Danny Trevathan, who was coming off a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos, to a four-year, $28 million contract before the 2016 season. Since then, he’s started 45 of 46 games while logging 327 tackles (235 solo), six sacks and three forced fumbles. He’s also a highly respected leader at Halas Hall, and has been especially helpful with the development of Roquan Smith. 

“You could see Danny Trevathan really take him under his wing, and that was very important,” Nagy said in the wake of Smith’s season-ending pectoral injury. 

Usually, someone with Trevathan’s numbers and stature would be a likely candidate to return on a new contract. He won’t turn 30 until March, and was having one of his strongest seasons of his career until hurting his elbow against the Lions in a Week 10 win. The Bears don’t have a ton of salary space, but Ryan Pace has always shown an ability to create cap room, and that figures to be no different this offseason. If the Bears want to get something done with Trevathan, they very likely can. 

Whether they want to is an entirely different issue. Trevathan himself has repeatedly said that his backup, Nick Kwiatkoski, is a starting-caliber linebacker. Since Trevathan has been sidelined, not only has Kiwatkoski filled in, but earned himself a sizeable pay raise along the way. 

“I think we felt that early on with Kwit in training camp,” Trevathan said. “He came in in really good shape. You could see him flying around, you noticed it in preseason, training camp and then when he had that opportunity against the Vikings, you felt it there against a team that runs the ball a lot. We all know he can play the run game really well.” 

Since taking over in Week 10, Kwiatkoski has been the 11th-best linebacker in football, according to Pro Football Focus. He's earned a reputation as a run-stopping backer, but he's also played well against the pass, which was perceived as a weakness. His coverage grade (85.4) this season is the eighth best in the NFL. 

“There’s a perception about Kwit that I think, this year, he’s shown that he has coverage skills,” linebackers coach Mark Deleone said. “He’s done really well this year when we’ve put him in those situations.” 

So well, in fact, that it might make the Bears wonder how much of a priority re-signing Trevathan would be. At age 26, Kwiatkoski is four years younger, and he may not command the price tag of an established name and Super Bowl champion. There’s even a bleak reality where both Trevathan and Kwiatkoski price themselves out of what the Bears are comfortable with.

Add that to the list of the team's complicated personnel decisions.

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