Pernell McPhee - signed through 2019 - Injuries prevented McPhee from really flourishing in a leading role for the Bears in 2015, but a recent clean up of his knee should have him 100% by the time training camp rolls around. While his overall numbers weren't spectacular, don't forget how impactful he was early in the season before his knee became a problem. He did have 5 sacks in his first 7 games, and was overall more active defending the run. If he can stay healthy, I think McPhee will play with a big chip on his shoulder.
Sam Acho - free agent - Acho may be one of those guys just good enough to stick around an NFL roster, but not good enough to ever sign a big money deal. I could see the Bears wanting Acho back on another veteran minimum type of deal. He started at the strong side OLB spot most of the year, coming off the field when the Bears went nickle, but he played about 63% of the teams special teams snaps. I could see the Bears wanting him back, but also looking to replace some of his snaps on D with a more talented player. That player may already be on the roster if the 2 converted defensive ends continue to improve as OLBs.
Willie Young - signed through 2016 - Young led the Bears in sacks in 2014, but an Achilles injury and a position change slowed his start to the 2015 season. Once he rounded into shape, and felt more comfortable playing out of a two point stance, his play started to improve. He ended the year with 6.5 sacks, but he had at least one sack in every game from week 11 to week 15.
Lamarr Houston - signed through 2018 - Houston was signed to give the Bears an impact defender before what ended up being the last year of the Marc Trestman/Phil Emery era. His unfortunate knee injury on a sack dance kind of summed up the entire 2015 season for the Bears. But the silver lining of the Houston addition, was that he actually played some decent football last year after converting to a 3-4 OLB. He led the Bears in sacks with 8, and 7 of those came between weeks 9 and 17. His play seemed to improve as he gained confidence in his new position and as his knee gained strength.
But with that being said, I do think there's a slight chance the Bears move on from Houston. The new regime inherited him, and a near $7 million cap hit in 2016 may be more then they want to spend on a rotational player. Then again, maybe the Bears have high hopes for a healthy, hungry and more confident Houston in 2016. He does have the skill set necessary to start at the strong side OLB spot for the Bears.
Danny Mason - signed through 2016 - The Bears signed Mason (6'3", 235) to a reserve/futures deal after he spent a few weeks on the Broncos practice squad last year. In 2014 he played with a couple indoor football teams. He graduated from Texas A&M-Commerce in 2013 and has been fighting for his football life ever since.
2016 OUTLOOK - The Bears will need to decide if the starter opposite McPhee is on the current roster. If not, they need to get that guy. Whether via free agency or the draft, some competition will probably be added.
Even though I have high hopes for Young and Houston, I think the Bears need to find a speedy edge rusher. A quick twitch athlete that can compliment the pass rush skills of McPhee and company.
Our draft guru, E.J. Snyder, has spotlighted some OLB prospects already. Check out his breakdown of Wisconsin's Joe Schobert, Eastern Kentucky University's Noah Spence and Georgia's Leonard Floyd. Some of the ILB prospects he looked at are scheme versatile enough where they may provide some edge rushing too, so just go read all of E.J.'s stuff.
I don't see the Bears spending big at the position in free agency, so don't get your hopes up for Denver's Von Miller or Seattle's Bruce Irvin. The Bears will probably snatch up a guy after the market sets itself. They'll probably bring back Acho and another vet minimum type player to compete in camp. For a list of free agent OLBs you can click here.
Outside linebacker is the one position on the Bears that I'm actually comfortable with, so if they don't do much, I won't complain.
What do you guys see the Bears doing at the OLB position in 2016?