Nick Kwiatkoski

Nick Kwiatkoski dubbed one of NFL's most underrated free-agent signings

Nick Kwiatkoski dubbed one of NFL's most underrated free-agent signings

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.

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Bears’ free agent linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis to sign with Washington

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USA Today

Bears’ free agent linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis to sign with Washington

The Bears 2020 situation at linebacker is becoming clearer. With Ryan Pace signing Danny Trevathan to a three-year contract extension and Nick Kwiatkoski reportedly to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders (for a whopping estimated $21 million over three years, with $13.5 million guaranteed), the last free agent linebacker on the Bears roster still up in the air was Kevin Pierre-Louis. 

Not anymore. It was reported Pierre-Louis will sign with Washington. According to Ian Rapoport, it's a one-year deal that could be worth as much as $3.45 million.


Pierre-Louis was drafted in 2014 by the Seattle Seahawks and has played with the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs. He came to Chicago in 2019 from New York and had three starts and 37 combined tackles this season. 

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The Bears didn't get hosed in picking Danny Trevathan over Nick Kwiatkoski

The Bears didn't get hosed in picking Danny Trevathan over Nick Kwiatkoski

Nick Kwiatkoski’s deal with the Las Vegas Raiders will reportedly be for $21 million over three years, with $13.5 million guaranteed. That’s awfully similar to the money the Bears committed to Danny Trevathan. 

So did the Bears make a mistake by signing Trevathan last week, before Kwiatkoski’s market developed?

Nah. 

Kwiatkoski is a good player, and yes, he’s three years younger than Trevathan. His coverage skills improved in 2019, and he’s always been a solid run-stopping thumper who has a good knack for hitting home on blitzes. 

The Raiders are getting a good player. But the Bears are better off with Trevathan, even if the money is effectively equal. 

Why? Trevathan is a better football player than Kwiatkoski, and his leadership and experience would’ve been difficult to replace. 

Trevathan’s age isn’t a big deal here — over the last decade, there were 66 instances of a linebacker over the age of 30 to record at least 100 tackles in a season. Trevathan turns 30 this year. For whatever reason, off-ball linebackers often have greater longevity than players at other positions. 

The Bears need Trevathan to stay on the field, of course, after he missed 17 games due to injury in the last four years. Assuming some risk there feels fine based on the details of Trevathan’s contract: 

Ryan Pace and cap guru Joey Laine got creative here to spread Trevathan’s cap hits out, allowing them flexibility in 2020 while keeping a core piece of their defense. Maybe they could’ve let Trevathan see what was available on the open market and got him for a little cheaper, but a cap hit under $5 million in 2020 is more than palatable. 

So don’t let Kwiatkoski’s deal with the Raiders change your perception of Trevathan’s deal with the Bears. It’s still a good deal! And also, the Bears could be in line to get a fifth-round comp pick in 2021 for letting Kwiatkoski go. That's also important in evaluating the Bears' decision, which in this case, still was the right one.