October 01, 2022


Bears 2022 free agency primer: Who is available at linebacker?

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Anthony Walker runs to the sidelines during a game against the New York Jets on Sept. 27, 2020.

There is a wealth of middle-aged talent at linebacker, and players who might be peaking if they could stay off the injury list.

While 3-4 outside edge rushing linebackers are in a class of their own, the lines between inside and outside linebackers in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense have blurred in recent years.

Some of the best playing on the inside right now are shorter, lighter and faster than the big run stuffers we used to see. Other than the pass rush specialists, linebackers now come in all shapes and sizes in both schemes, inside and out.

Top available linebackers

Bobby Wagner: He’s one of the best of the last decade inside and a likely first ballot Hall of Famer who made a few less impact plays last season but still set a career record for tackles. The question will be how many years can you give him at the price he’s likely to command?

De’Vondre Campbell: After wandering a bit since his breakout rookie campaign in Atlanta’s 2016 Super Bowl season, Campbell signed a one-year deal in Green Bay last year and was the best inside guy in the game. The Packers would love to have him back but their cap constraints will make it tough.

Anthony Walker Jr.: Not turning 27 until training camp and averaging 108 tackles a year over the last four seasons, Walker has toiled in the shadow of bigger names in Indianapolis and Cleveland. He can line up inside in a 3-4 or anywhere in a 4-3.

Leighton Vander Esch: This kid looked like he would change the linebacker position forever during his first season in Dallas, but injury-marred ‘19 and ‘20 campaigns haunted him. He played all 17 games last season but some of the burst was gone. He’s only 26, and if he can ace a physical, 6-4, 255-pound athletes like this are hard to find.

Kwon Alexander: After his second and third seasons in Tampa, Alexander looked like a perennial All Pro but staying on the field has been a riddle for him. He’s played more than 12 games once in seven seasons, but he’s a special athlete when healthy.

Kyzir White: At 6-2, 215 pounds, he’s a hybrid safety/linebacker, but was one of the best linebackers in the AFC last season. White was the Chargers’ top defender other than Joey Bosa. At his size you can see why they wouldn’t tag him, but he will get paid somewhere having just turned 26.

Jordan Hicks: Hicks is coming off one of his better seasons but he blocked the Cardinals’ No. 1 draft pick last season, Zaven Collins, from getting on the field. At 30, he’ll be looking for a three-year deal at high-end starter money but will likely have to settle for less.

Alec Ogletree: Ogletree is an accomplished journeyman who can line up anywhere in a 4-3 scheme. Aafter spending part of 2020 and the entire 2021 offseason on the street, he joined the Bears in training camp last year and was more effective than expected.

Under-the-radar values

Ja’Whaun Bentley is just 26 and was the Patriots’ most productive linebacker last year, starting 16 games. Jermaine Carter Jr. is little known but productive. He got better every year in Carolina. At 27, Foyesade Oluokun is too good for the Falcons to let him get away. He may have re-signed by the time you read this.

Bears’ level of need

Roquan Smith is currently the only starter under contract unless Danny Trevathan can pass a physical. Ogletree, Christian Jones and Joel Iyiegbuniwe are all free agents. Jeremiah Attaochu is primarily a 3-4 outside rush linebacker who seems doubtful to be back.

Best fits for Bears

Almost any of these guys could make sense, but Walker played his first three seasons for Eberflus in Indianapolis and could be solid for the next three or four seasons.

Ogletree will be inexpensive and might fit right back in.

The Bears have more apparent needs at receiver, tackle and safety, but are unlikely to want to start two rookies at linebacker. They will have to shop here with two starting spots to fill. Question is will they make any long-term commitments or shop the clearance rack?

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and ShawLocal.com.