Brian Urlacher - Free agent - I always assumed that Brian Urlacher would end his career with Chicago, just like the two iconic Bears middle linebackers before him. Now, after his injury plagued 12th season, there's a distinct possibility that Urlacher will be allowed to walk as a free agent.
Starting the season off not fully recovered from his knee injury hampered his conditioning the entire season, and I think that's what ultimately led to his hamstring problem. If healthy, I see no reason why he couldn't contribute to the 2013 Chicago defense, but the Bears would have to really kick the tires on him this off season.
Pro Football Focus wasn't very kind to his 2012 season, as he ended up as the 44th graded inside linebacker in the NFL. His overall -11.2 was hurt by his -13.5 against the run. The one silver lining in his grades was the 3rd best +6.7 he had in pass coverage, and the 5th best QB rating against his coverage of 74.6.
I'd like to see him return on a one or two year deal, but the new regime has yet to tip their intentions.
Lance Briggs - Signed through 2014 - Let me just get this out of the way early, I think Briggs was robbed of a Pro Bowl appearance this season. He had an outstanding year, and if it wasn't for all the 3-4 edge rushing OLBs stealing up the spotlight, Briggs would have been in his 8th consecutive Pro Bowl.
The PFF numbers had Briggs as the 3rd best 4-3 OLB in football, although their number one guy, Von Miller, plays more of the 3-4 edge rushing style as evidenced by his 18.5 sacks. His +12.1 overall grade was actually the 7th best OLB grade in all of football.
Nick Roach - Free agent - I think Roach is a solid football player, but he's not the kind of player you break the bank over. His experience and versatility adds value, but if the Bears intend to spend the #20 overall pick on a linebacker I think they let Roach walk.
As a middle linebacker, PFF had Roach with a neutral 0.2 grade in 276 snaps, and as the strong side OLB, he was a -2.7, good for 28th place. While patrolling the middle of Lovie Smith's zone, Roach had a better QB rating against rank than even Urlacher did. In fact, of those ILBs with over 200 snaps, Roach had the 2nd lowest QB rating against at 58.8.
Geno Hayes - Free agent - I wasn't overly impressed with anything that Hayes did, but he does give some flexibility to the Bears because he can play both the weak and the strong side OLB. Unless he receives starter type money as a free agent, which is highly doubtful, I think it's 50/50 he returns.
Blake Costanzo - Signed through 2013 - Costanzo was signed mainly to play special teams, he that's where he spent the majority of his playing time. PFF had him with 29 snaps as an OLB (+2.9), and 14 snaps in the middle (0.2). I see no reason to think that he won't return in 2013.
Dom DeCicco - Signed through 2013 - DeCicco was cut last August while he was injured, but was resigned in December to a two year deal. The converted college safety is athletic enough and was a good special teamer as a rookie, that he'll have a chance to show something once camp opens up.
J.T. Thomas - Signed through 2014 - Thomas was a 6th round draft pick in Jerry Angelo's last Bears draft, and he spent his rookie year on injured reserve. His 2012 season had a great start to it with a forced fumble, but that was really his only highlight on the season. He had 5 tackles on special teams.
Patrick Trahan - Signed through 2014 - Trahan has had a few different stints with the Bears, the most recent is when they signed him to a reserve/future contract in January. Basically he's a camp body with an outside shot at the final roster.
Jerry Franklin - Signed through 2013 - Franklin was signed late in 2012 when the Bears had some LB injury issues. Chicago is the 4th team for the former Arkansas Razorback. In college he played both OLB and MLB, so he may bring some depth chart value to the new coaching staff.
Lawrence Wilson - Signed through 2014 - Yea, I had no idea who he was either... He was a 6th round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2011, and the Bears are his 4th team. The Bears list him at 6'1, 229, and he'll be another guy battling it out for some special team reps once the season starts.
2013 OUTLOOK - Before the Bears even entertain bringing Urlacher back, they'll have to have their doctors give him a thorough examination. If Urlacher is fully recovered, I think it makes perfect sense to bring him back on a short deal. He already said he's not looking for big money, so if he's healthy, I think he's back.
Signing Roach would help transition through the post Urlacher era. He would be MLB insurance if Urlacher is brought back and is injured again, or he could be the starter at the Mike if Urlacher is allowed to walk away.
Whether the Bears bring Urlacher and Roach back or not, they do still need to upgrade the position in the draft. Finding a guy that can play MLB and the SSOLB, is a logical plan, and I'm not talking some 6th round project.They'll no doubt sign a handful of undrafted free agent rookies to push some veterans.
As far as free agency goes, I don't expect the Bears to drop much money outside their own guys. They already have six bottom of the depth chart guys on the roster, so no need to clutter that up with more vets.