It may be hard for some Chicago Bears fans to grasp just how much better their defense has gotten in the span of the past three days. Sure, they didn’t fork out a massive contract to one of the huge names on the market, but that shouldn’t be what free agency is about. It’s a classic capitalist system: buy low, sell high. In other words find the highest quality players possible at the most reasonable prices.
GM Ryan Pace did that in epic fashion when he secured inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman for a joint $36 million. Keep in mind he got Pernell McPhee a year ago for $38.75 million. Why is this so significant? Simply because those two are more proven players than McPhee was and yet the Bears still got them at discount prices.
Just how much of a steal are we talking about? According to prominent Bleacher Report expert Matt Miller, a monumental one. In his latest NFL 1000 series, where he ranks the top players at every position, he unveiled his one for inside linebackers. As expected, both Trevathan and Freeman were on it. What will stun Bears fans is where they rank.
3. Danny Trevathan, Denver Broncos
Playing in a 3-4 defense, Trevathan is able to stack and shed blockers getting to the second level, but where he wins best is with his ability to quickly get into rushing lanes and make splash plays behind the line of scrimmage. He isn’t a classic thumper but more of a new-age athlete at the position.
Pass coverage is where Trevathan shines. He’s an athletic mover laterally and has the quickness to turn and run with tight ends or backs down the field. He also sees the field well in zone coverage, and he has the speed to close on the ball. Trevathan doesn’t allow himself to get boxed out by big players over the middle and altogether plays with elite awareness.
Through 16 regular-season games and the Broncos’ Super Bowl run, Trevathan missed just eight tackles and missed more than one tackle in a game only once—in Week 2. He’s not only a productive tackler, but he’s also as close to a sure thing when coming downhill to play the ball.
2. Jerrell Freeman, Indianapolis Colts
A 13-game starter in 2015, Jerrell Freeman (6’0”, 240 lbs) was quietly one of the NFL’s best linebackers. As a pass-rusher, he brings value, given his closing speed and agility in tracking down quarterbacks. He added three sacks, four quarterback hits and six hurries from his middle linebacker position.
Freeman gets in the rushing lane and doesn’t move until he has the ball-carrier. He’s stout enough to hold his ground and smart enough to read the keys and get into position to make a play at or behind the line of scrimmage. Freeman, playing in a 3-4 defense, has to clear blockers to get to the ball and does so routinely.
With just five missed tackles on the year, Freeman was one of the best when it came to securing the tackle when he got to the ball. His short, squatty frame can make wrapping up the legs of big backs difficult, but he hits like a rock and can make impact tackles in space or in traffic.
That’s right, Chicago got the third and second best current inside linebackers in the NFL for what amounts to chump change. The only player ranked ahead of them was Luke Kuechly. It’s a testament to the plan Pace and his front office had going into free agency and how they were able to execute it without compromising the teams’ pay structure. Can anybody say the same would’ve happened during the Phil Emery era?
Suddenly a defense that appeared a year or two away from really being competitive has two of the very best in football manning the middle. They’re athletic, fast, tough, intelligent and still relatively young All the Chicago Bears brass have to do now is get a few more pieces around them and opponents may not be having the same jolly good times they’ve enjoyed the past few years when they come to Soldier Field.