Maintaining the successful nucleus of one side of the ball can be a tricky prospect for an NFL general manager. When it comes to the Bears’ Ryan Pace, there was one crucial internal decision he was forced to make during the opening salvos of this year’s free agent period. One decision weighted on the defense Pace largely built from scratch. In other words, the only current aspect of his team he can hang his hat on. Heavy is the head with the fade that wears the crown in Lake Forest.
On one side of the ring stood 30-year-old Danny Trevathan. The consummate professional. A born leader. A man with a penchant for an opportune game-swinging play when the opposition least expects it. Trevathan has been a key cog for Super Bowl champions and top flight defenses alike. He doesn’t seem to plan on tapping out any time soon. The other side, on the ropes, sees 26-year-old Nick Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski was a developmental dream for Chicago’s brass. A four-year fourth-round project turned reliable fill-in, turned reliable starter. Youth is ever in Kwiatkoski’s favor, at least for the time being. Replay any of his various bone-crunching hits on unfortunate pass-protecting running backs at your own caution.
Two pending free agents looking for a payday, security, respect. Given the innate gifts of Roquan Smith flanking whoever was to say, only one fortunate linebacker was to stick around for the long haul. There can’t be three well-compensated linebackers on one roster on a cash-strapped roster, after all. Some teams only have room for one fortunate soul, let alone any pairing.
Pressed for time and continuity, the Bears and Pace eventually made their claim. They chose Trevathan. The epitome of a no-brainer for a regime edging toward the brink.
The best compliment a person can afford an athlete is that they make their responsibilities look easy. Whatever throws or tackles or catches or blocks they’re asked to produce, their exertion seems effortless. Reality dictates that nothing an NFL player does is without complications. They are professional athletes in peak physical condition. Nothing they do has zero complication. But it’s the great ones, or at least, those possessing a fair modicum of experience, that turn watching them into play into a relaxing spectacle never to be concerned about. They may be pushing themselves to the highest degree, but you’ll never be able to tell. Their inherent play, their demeanor, is too smooth on the surface.
For any limitations, faults, or flaws he might possess, Danny Trevathan has always made playing linebacker look easy. For any of the various serious leg and arm injuries he’s suffered over the course of his lengthy football-playing career, his comeback to full operational capacity is always met with raucous fervor. Trevathan has never been a superstar along the lines of a, say, Brian Urlacher. But he doesn’t have to be. He’s not a gifted football god tailor-made to burrow into the heads of quarterbacks and running backs. But he doesn’t have to be. His role with the Bears is to lead. His mandate has been to plug away with patience. His goal is to create havoc, no exceptions of what he can or can’t do in account.
Somehow Trevathan finds ways to impact plays regardless of his profile. Even without the retrospective natural talents of other more special peers at the same position, there’s Trevathan punching the ball out of a careless passer’s hands on a sack. There’s Trevathan undercutting the route of a tight end for an interception. There’s Trevathan, stalking a slow-developing run, and closing for a tackle-for-loss before the ball carrier has the slightest chance to take advantage of an open seam. Despite what’s supposed to have held him back, you’ll find many of Trevathan’s other peers struggle to make more than a routine tackle past the line of scrimmage. It’s because he’s wired differently. He’s the embodiment of a positive, gritty mindset leading to expected positive, gritty results. Perhaps his secret is that there was never holding anything weighted holding him back in the first place. Think your success into existence the way Trevathan does.
Late bloomers in pro football aren’t as rare as you might believe. Cinderella stories of one man like Nick Kwiatkoski rising through the ranks happen on a regular basis across the league every calendar year. They may not be a dime a dozen in occurrence, but they happen nonetheless. Kwiatkoski’s issue in Chicago is that the only leverage he possessed in any negotiations was that he was supposed to be better than Trevathan in the long-term. Simple math dictates that 26 is younger than 30, and has a longer shelf life. If only that leash was of any importance in this situation.
The Bears aren’t necessarily looking for long-term answers. The time to think and plan for the future is put on pause when a great deal of your best players are in their late 20s (Akiem Hicks, Khalil Mack), let alone in their 30s like Trevathan. The time to win is now. While Kwiatkoski has the potential to project out being viable for longer than the man he learned the tools of the trade from, he’s not better than Trevathan. He’s not better than the former crown jewel of the Bears’ 2016 free agent class. He’s not better than the heart of the engine keeping the Bears afloat on the strength of stifling, united defensive teamwork. Those in Las Vegas in his new home might hope Kwiatkoski doesn’t fall flat on his face as a franchise player, and they may well be correct. But he was never going to take precedence over Trevathan while wearing navy blue and orange. He’s not as valuable in the immediate present for an organization still sitting in win-now mode as he might be in the future. He never was.
Whenever the NFL returns this fall, Trevathan will be at the head of the pack. He’ll be spearheading the Bears’ defensive efforts in the same vane as he has for the last four seasons. Chances are a sack or forced fumble may follow in his wake, the way they so often seem to do. The Bears remain in win-now mode with a defense prepared for glory. Keeping Trevathan in the fold was the only sensible choice.
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