The Chicago Bears had five linebackers start games for them a season ago; one was traded away, three others are pending free agents, and the one still under contract ended the season on injured reserve. The lone returner started six games in the middle, but when he was signed as an undrafted free agent, many figured he'd be a better fit at the strongside outside linebacker position.
Linebacker is a position the Bears need to address, and they'll likely do so in free agency and the NFL Draft.
In this 12-part series, I'll list the contract status of all the current Chicago players on a position-by-position basis while speculating on some offseason moves that could happen.
Jack Sanborn - Signed through 2024 - While many fans had high hopes that Sanborn would make the initial 53-man roster and contribute on special teams, I don't think many were anticipating him working his way into a starting role. After Roquan Smith was traded, Sanborn stepped in at the Mike, and he didn't look like a UDFA. In the five games he started and finished, he had 54 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, and a fumble recovery.
Nicholas Morrow - Free agent - Morrow played the Mike up until Roquan was traded, and then he moved to the Will. The 27-year-old had the most productive season of his career with a team-leading 116 tackles, 11 TFL, and an interception. A new contract shouldn't break the bank, and he's proven to be a solid player in the scheme with the ability to play all three linebacker spots.
Joe Thomas - Free agent - Thomas went from the practice squad to starting 9 of the 15 games he played in. I could see the veteran returning on another one-year deal to compete for a depth spot.
Matthew Adams - Free agent - The former Colt came over to assist in Chicago's transition to head coach Matt Eberflus' defense, and he started 3 of the 10 games he appeared in. He's another candidate to return for a special teams/reserve spot.
Elijah Lee - Free agent - The Bears signed Lee late in the 2022 season after suffering some injuries to the position, and he only played the third phase in his three games.
Sterling Weatherford - Signed through 2024 - The Bears got Weatherford on waivers before the season started, and the athletic 6'4", 224-pounder played in 64% of Chicago's special teams snaps as a rookie.
Terrell Lewis - Signed through 2023- Lewis was signed to the practice squad late in the 2022 season and was signed to their active roster on January 4, but he never appeared in a game. While the Bears list him as a linebacker, he has some edge traits that may warrant a move to defensive end.
DeMarquis Gates - Signed through 2023 - The former All-USFL player got into three games for the Bears last season.
Kuony Deng - Signed through 2023 - The Bears added Deng (6'6", 240 pounds) on a reserve/futures contract a few weeks ago, and while he's listed as a linebacker on the team's site, his draft projection coming out of Cal had many thinking he'd play an edge in the NFL. The Falcons had him playing outside linebacker before they waived him, but most of his experience in college was at inside linebacker. It'll be interesting to see where Chicago's coaches have him playing this summer.
2023 OUTLOOK - Sanborn seems like he'll be given every opportunity to win a starting job in 2023, and my guess is it'll be at the Mike, although he could fit better at the Sam, depending on who else is added. I expect Morrow to come back, as his versatility is good for a linebacker room.
As far as free agency goes, the Colts' Bobby Okereke seems like a no-brainer due to his versatility and scheme fit. He talked about the Bears and coach 'Flus on a recent appearance on our podcast channel.
Buffalo's Tremaine Edmunds will be the priciest linebacker if he hits free agency, but some other options could be Cleveland's Anthony Walker Jr., Philadelphia's T.J. Edwards, Dallas' Leighton Vander Esch.
The Bears will no doubt spend a pick or two on the position in the NFL Draft, but I can't see that happening until day three. Charlie Thomas from Georgia Tech, Isaac Slade-Matautia from SMU, and Edefuan Ulofoshio from Washington are a few players that fit the athletic profile the Bears are looking for. Arkansas' Bumper Pool has one of the best names in the draft and would be a developmental prospect as a UDFA.
What do you think the Bears will do at linebacker?