The Chicago Bears head into this off-season with many concerns to address, and one of the biggest is at linebacker.
With free agency right around the corner, the Bears are running into a situation where they will have only one starter coming back, and that’s Lance Briggs. Both Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach are free agents and neither are certain to return.
Even if both do re-sign, the problem then becomes age.
Urlacher will enter his 14th season as a 35-year-old veteran to the game. It’s no secret his love for former head coach Lovie Smith and former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. So the question is whether or not he’ll be willing to stay and play for a new coaching regime and a new defensive coordinator in Mel Tucker.
He’s gone on record saying he wants to stay, but at what price? Will the Bears, first off, even make him an offer and if they do, will it be enough to keep him around? Urlacher is most likely looking for a two-year deal and it’ll be up to Phil Emery to decide if he’s worth that money.
Briggs will turn 33 during next season and one can assume his play on the field is going to decline with age. He still has Pro Bowl talent and is still a valuable player in this defense, but the league is changing and getting away from the traditional weak-side linebacker.
Briggs has two years left on his contract and probably won’t be re-signed. It may not be because of the money, even though he’d be on the books for $6.5 million, but it’ll be because of his age. He’ll be 34 after the 2014 season.
Roach is a must re-sign if this Bears defense wants to have any continuity going forward. He’ll be 28 when the season starts in the fall and entering the prime of his career. He’s fast, athletic, and smart. He’s been with the team since 2007 and knows this personnel just as well as anyone.
He showed his versatility as he moved inside to middle linebacker when Urlacher went down with injury. That versatility can be an asset if the Bears do move to a 3-4 type of defense down the road.
The problem the Bears have is on the bench. There isn’t much rotation depth on the roster because guys like Blake Costanzo are seen as special teams players.
The league is starting to get too fast and too athletic for this aging defense. It was evident down the stretch after the turnovers stopped coming their way. Whether it’s the NFL draft in April, or through free agency, the Bears are going to have to make a move this off-season to get younger at linebacker.