The Chicago Bears will be transitioning to a 4-3 defensive base from the 3-4 they’ve had the last seven seasons, and the main position impacted by the change will be at linebacker. The previous regime’s outside linebackers — the edges — will mostly just put a hand in the dirt and play defensive end in 2022, but finding a Will, Mike, and Sam will be a priority this free agency period.
The Bears have already begun to re-work the position with the additions of street free agents Noah Dawkins and Joe Thomas, but these are depth pieces that will be battling for a reserve/special teams place. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams needs some first string talent, because right now the only sure thing is the returning Roquan Smith. While Smith’s place in the defense hasn’t been determined yet, the Bears know that he’ll for sure be starting at either the Will (weakside outside linebacker) or the Mike (middle linebacker).
Most speculation has Smith lining up at the Will, because that’s the premier linebacking spot in this variation of the Tampa 2 defense, and also the hardest position to find a Dog at.
Signing a capable strongside OLB (Sam) and Mike among the veteran free agency market will prove to be a bit easier, and there have been several options that have been recently released around the league.
The premier middle linebacker now available is former Seahawk Bobby Wagner, but also newer to the market are the Chiefs’ Anthony Hitchens, Buffalo’s A.J. Klein, New England’s Kyle Van Noy, and Arizona’s Jordan Hicks.
These extra off-ball linebackers will join productive veteran free agents like Dont’a Hightower, Anthony Barr, Anthony Walker Jr., Jarrad Davis, and Leighton Vander Esch, just to name a few.
The Bears should be able to let the market come to them and still find starter quality stop-gaps that can buy them some time.
Here’s a list of free agent linebackers from Spotrac. Can you see any of these guys landing in Chicago?