Shaw Local’s 2023 Chicago Bears report card: Linebacker

Additions of TJ Edwards, Tremaine Edmunds were huge successes

Chicago Bears linebacker Tremaine Edmunds celebrates with teammates after intercepting a Las Vegas Raiders pass during their game Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The Bears went into last offseason with more than $100 million in available salary cap space – more money to spend in free agency than any other team.

In somewhat of a surprise move, they went out and made two big splashes at the linebacker position. Less than a year after trading linebacker Roquan Smith because of their inability to agree to a long-term contract, the Bears handed out big deals to linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (four years, $72 million) and TJ Edwards (three years, $19.5 million).

The Bears found two experienced veterans for the price of one (Smith signed a five-year, $100 million contract with Baltimore).

Here’s a look back at what went well and what didn’t for the Bears at the linebacker position in 2023.


Chicago Bears linebacker T.J. Edwards (left) and Chicago Bears defensive end Montez Sweat celebrate after stopping the Detroit Lions on 4th and 1 late in the game Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Despite some early bumps along the road, the additions of Edmunds and Edwards proved to be two of the best moves the Bears made in 2023. Edmunds was a ball hawk with four interceptions, seven passes defended, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His length (6-foot-5 with 34.5-inch long arms) allowed him to bat down passes and be a disruptor in pass coverage. That was an element that the smaller Smith couldn’t replicate.

With Edmunds being the rangy coverage linebacker, Edwards had the chance to be a tackling machine. He led the Bears and finished seventh overall in the NFL with 155 combined tackles. That total included 91 solo tackles and 64 assists. He was effective when blitzing, recording 2.5 sacks, eight QB hits, eight tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. He was equally effective in pass coverage with three interceptions and seven passes defended.

This duo was a big reason why the Bears defense made such big strides in 2023. Second-year pro Jack Sanborn, who after the Smith trade was effectively the team’s top linebacker in 2022, took on more of a supporting role. When the Bears were in their base 4-3 defense, Sanborn was in the starting lineup.


The only real negative was that Edmunds missed two games because of a knee injury midway through the season. Edmunds injured his knee during a late-October matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers. He missed the following two games, but avoided going on injured reserve.

The duo maybe had a somewhat slow start to the season as they adjusted to their new scheme and teammates. But it certainly didn’t last long.

Sanborn saw a drop in playing time, but that wasn’t because he wasn’t capable.

Defining moments

1. Free agency: As mentioned previously, the Bears were expected to spend big in free agency, but not many pegged linebacker as the position where they would spend money. The addition of Edmunds signaled that the Bears were looking for something that Matt Eberflus talked about a lot with his defenders – length. Edwards could slide into Smith’s vacated spot as the weakside linebacker.

2. Week 12 win: Edwards single-handedly changed the course of a Week 12 win with back-to-back heads-up plays against the Vikings. First, he made an impressive tackle after following a man in motion across the length of the field prior to a third-down snap. The tackle forced the Vikings to go for it on fourth down. That’s when Edwards picked off Minnesota QB Josh Dobbs.

Edwards finished the game with six tackles, one quarterback hit, one tackle for loss, an interception and a pass defended.

3. Detroit beatdown: The Bears played their best football in a Week 14 win over the Detroit Lions. They dominated the game from start to finish. Both Edmunds and Edwards had interceptions during that game. The Bears had picked off Goff three times in their previous meeting, too. Goff threw multiple interceptions in only three games this season – and two of the three were against the Bears.

Contract status

Edmunds is under contract for three more seasons. He will make $22.4 million next season, second on the team behind only Montez Sweat. Edwards has two more years remaining on his contract. Sanborn will be a restricted free agent following the 2024 season. Noah Sewell has three years remaining on his contract. Micah Baskerville signed a futures deal for 2024.

Shaw Local grade: A

The Bears completely revamped the linebacker position. Edmunds and Edwards each were a huge success. They were a ferocious duo for the Bears, creating takeaways and stopping ball carriers in their tracks.


The Bears don’t need to change much at linebacker. Edmunds, Edwards and Sanborn will return and continue to be staples for the Bears defense. Sewell contributed on special teams and was a backup. He will continue in that role heading into 2024.

The Bears spent a lot of money at linebacker last year. There’s no need to do the same in free agency this year. If anything, the Bears could take a flyer on a late-round linebacker in the draft.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.