Bears 2023 offseason preview: Where does Chicago stand at linebacker?
The 2023 offseason is officially in full swing, and the Chicago Bears are gearing up for what should be one of the busiest springs in recent memory.
Armed with $98.6 million in cap space, general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus will have plenty of opportunities to improve the team roster in free agency, while also needing to make key decisions on which players they should let walk.
Here at Bears Wire, we’re going position by position to break down where Chicago stands entering the 2023 offseason. Next up on defense is the linebacker position, which could look a lot different from last season.
Who's on the roster?
AP Photo/Stephen Brashear
Sanborn is easily the star of the remaining players, which would have been crazy to think about six months ago. The undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin stepped into some big shoes last year following the trade of Roquan Smith and blew past expectations. Sanborn was a tackling machine, totaling 64 (five for a loss) along with two sacks and a fumble recovery. All but five of those tackles came in a six-game stretch after he took over as starter. Barring a surprise signing, he’s in line to start Week 1 as he looks to build off his impressive rookie season.
After Sanborn, the other players primarily played a reserve or special teams role. Weatherford was claimed off waivers from the Indianapolis Colts just prior to the start of the season and became a critical special teams player for the entire year. Gates also saw action there, but only at the end of the season. Lewis, meanwhile, only joined the Bears at the end of the year and didn’t play a snap.
Who's slated to hit free agency?
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – DECEMBER 24: Matthew Adams #44 of the Chicago Bears reacts after a missed field goal during the first half in the game against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field on December 24, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)
Morrow was the most impactful player of the bunch hitting free agency after signing a one-year deal away from the Las Vegas Raiders. He had a career year statistically, racking up 116 total tackles (11 for a loss) and an interception. Morrow had his ups and downs early, but found more success after moving from middle linebacker to weakside linebacker following the Smith trade. Still at 27 years old, he’s a candidate to be brought back this offseason.
Adams and Thomas, each had their moments during the 2022 season. Adams missed a chunk of the season with an injury and only played in specific packages on defense being the strongside linebacker. He did have a “Peanut Punch” moment that had fans on their feet during the Bears-Bills game on Christmas Eve, his best highlight of the year. Thomas, meanwhile, has been a journeyman the last few years. He had a strong finish to the season, notching double-digit tackles in the final two games. He had 60 tackles (four for a loss), one sack, and one fumble recovery.
Who might join the Bears?
Nov 6, 2022; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets running back James Robinson (23) carries the ball as Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (49) pursues during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
The free agent linebacker pool is fairly deep and the Bears have enough cap space to land one of the top players. Options include the Buffalo Bills’ Tremaine Edmunds and the Indianapolis Colts’ Bobby Okereke. Edmunds, a two-time Pro Bowler, has been a steady contributor for the Bills since he was drafted in 2018. He’s totaled over 100 tackles in every season and has improved his missed tackle percentage three seasons in a row. At just 25 years old, he’s a great fit for the Bears defense.
Okereke, meanwhile, has familiarity with Bears head coach Matt Eberflus back when he was the Colts’ defensive coordinator. Okereke set or matched career highs in tackles (151) tackles for loss (6) and forced fumbles (2) while stepping up with Shaquille Leonard out for much of the year. He’ll likely cost less than someone like Edmunds and knowing how much Eberflus likes his guys, he makes sense as an ideal target for the Bears.
Positional need: Moderate
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – NOVEMBER 13: Jack Sanborn #57 of the Chicago Bears reacts against the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field on November 13, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
With Sanborn the only impactful linebacker set to return in 2023, the Bears will need to find players this offseason to fill out the group. But given uncertainty and lack of talent at premium positions such as offensive and defensive line, those areas are more urgent than linebacker, where Poles has shown he can find impact players at a bargain.
The Bears will likely bring in a veteran on a modest deal, whether that’s someone like Okereke or re-signing Morrow after his 2022 season in Chicago. But don’t be surprised if Poles looks to fortify the position later on in the draft. With the success of Sanborn, he may look at the later rounds to find players who can contribute. But outside of finding those players, the Bears can also improve the position by finding impact defensive linemen to create opportunities for the linebackers. We’ll have to see just how many resources Poles plans to put to the position.
2023 offseason position previews
We’re going position by position to preview the Bears this 2023 offseason:
Special teams (2/24)