Khalil Mack - Signed through 2024 - Mack not only changed the Chicago Bears’ defense, but he helped change the perception of the entire franchise. It wasn’t all him, but with Ryan Pace swinging the blockbuster trade, a message was sent to the NFL that the Bears are ready. The team still had to go out and get it done on the field, but Mack helped them have the number one defense and head coach Matt Nagy led them to a 12-4 record.
Mack causes so many problems for opposing offenses. He’s a game changer that teams must account for on every snap. Mack’s primary job will still be getting after the quarterback, but we might see him rushing from some different angles in 2019 with a new coordinator in town.
Leonard Floyd - Signed through 2020 - The Bears picked up Floyd’s 5th year option giving the team control for 2020, but I can’t imagine they aren’t working on a contract extension to lock him up long term. After a slow start to his 2018 season, he came on strong enough to be a Pro Bowl alternate.
Aaron Lynch - Free agent - The 25-year old Lynch had a bounce-back year that should get him a long term deal this offseason. Whether that’s with the Bears, with his mentor Vic Fangio in Denver, or with another team remains to be seen. He played in 13 games and about 34% of the defensive snaps in 2018 as the number three OLB. I think he’s in the perfect role in Chicago and I could see the Bears offering a three-year deal to keep him around, but another team may view him as a starter.
2018's highest-graded edge defenders in the NFC North pic.twitter.com/ouNfM4nomG— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 15, 2019
Sam Acho - Signed through 2019 - Acho’s cap hit is over $2 million in 2019 and releasing him would only be $250,000 in dead money, so that makes him a viable cap casualty candidate. He’s a good special teamer and a quality back up OLB, plus a veteran team leader, so the Bears will need to weigh all that against how much they need the extra cap space.
Kylie Fitts - Signed through 2021 - Fitts didn’t develop like I thought he would as a rookie. He appeared in 6 games and didn’t scratch the stat sheet. There’s still some potential there, and after spending a year with the strength and conditioning coaches I wouldn’t be surprised to see him push for a real role in 2019.
Isaiah Irving - Exclusive rights free agent - Irving will be back to compete for a spot after playing in a career high 13 games last year and getting the first sack of his career. He and Fitts (both 24-years old) could be angling for one spot on the roster.
James Vaughters - Signed a reserve/future deal - Vaughters (6’2”, 250) had 11 sacks the last two years with the Calgary Stampeders as a defensive end, but he will play OLB in Chicago.
2018 OUTLOOK - In a perfect world Irving and/or Fitts will break out in 2019, but I don’t think the Bears can count on that happening. I like Acho, but I like him as a 4th or 5th OLB on the depth chart.
The Bears don’t have a lot of needs, but they need a third outside linebacker that can rush the passer. That could be Lynch, but a popular name to watch for is Terrell Suggs. The 36-year old has played all 16 of his professional seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, but he may be inclined to join his former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, who will be calling the D in Chicago, for a shot at another ring. Pagano will no doubt like to bring a few familiar faces to his defense and Suggs fills a need for the Bears.
There are a few veteran 3-4 OLBs that are hitting the market that may take a little less to join the culture (#ClubDub) in Chicago. The Bears are in a legit championship window and are an attractive destination for free agents.
That felt weird to type, but what a difference a year makes...
Grabbing an edge rusher in the draft is an option, but with Pace’s proclivity to pick best player available, it’s hard to guess how the draft will fall with their first pick not coming until the third round. Also, if Pace addresses the position in free agency, then I doubt he spends a draft pick there unless a high rated player falls to him.
What are your thoughts on the #3OLB?