Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs both earned trips to the Pro Bowl last season. They still perform at a high level. Yet Briggs is 30,and Urlacher will be 33 once the season starts. How many good seasons they have left is anyone's guess, but it's definitely no more than a handful. And any major injury could reduce their number of productive years significantly.
To add insult to injury, those two are the only linebackers currently on the roster. The rest of the group – Pisa Tinoisamoa, Nick Roach, Rod Wilson and Brian Iwuh – are all free agents. Iwuh and Wilson were not tendered and won't be back.
It would be wise for the front office to sign Tinoisamoa or Roach to man the strong side. Roach has been productive when given playing time, and is four years younger than Tinoisamoa. If comes down to re-signing one or the other, Roach is the better option.
Yet that still leaves the position very thin and without youngsters that can eventually take the place of the aging veterans. The Bears most likely won't address the position very high in the draft – considering the needs along the offensive line, at defensive tackle, wide receiver and cornerback – so free agency could be the place to begin rebuilding. Here are eight free agent linebackers Chicago should be targeting.
LB Stewart Bradley
Stewart Bradley, 27, Eagles (6-4, 258-pounds)
Bradley played middle linebacker in Philadelphia, yet most scouts believe, because of his size, he is best suited to play the strong side – just the position Chicago is looking to fill. He has good range, is solid at the point of attack, and plays with good vision and instincts. He's had some injury issues the last two seasons, so the Bears could be able to get him fairly cheap. If I were calling the shots, Bradley would be my guy.
James Anderson, 27, Panthers (6-2, 235-pounds)
Anderson spent four years as a reserve in Carolina. Yet he started 15 games in 2010 and racked up 130 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception. While he shows some natural talent, he's not outstanding against the run or pass – just serviceable in both. Most likely his numbers were enhanced by playing next to All-Pro Jon Beason. Yet he'd be in the same position alongside Briggs and Urlacher, which could create a monster.
Clint Session, 26, Colts (6-0, 235-pounds)
Session is undersized but very quick and hits hard. He has played in the Cover 2 system in Indianapolis his whole career, so there would be no learning curve for him to overcome in Chicago. He missed all but five games last season due to a fractured forearm, but recorded 103 tackles, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble in 2009. His speed and athleticism, along with his experience in the Cover 2, would make him a great fit for the Bears.
Rocky McIntosh, 28, Redskins (6-2, 239-pounds)
McIntosh is essentially a Briggs clone, so this move only makes sense if one is willing to move to the strong side. If McIntosh were willing to slide over, it would create one of the most dominant linebacker trios in the game. He's a hard hitter, has good speed and is outstanding in pass coverage – all reasons Chicago should consider him as part of the future.
Paul Posluszny, 26, Bills (6-1, 238-pounds)
Posluszny is a solid, smart linebacker who tallied 151 tackles last year, and 110 each the previous two seasons. Yet he's not very strong or athletic. Additionally, he's better suited playing middle linebacker. If Urlacher were to reitre, Posluszny would make a great replacement, but he would have problems playing the the strong side. There has been a lot of talk about him coming to Chicago but it's really not the best fit, especially considering his price tag.
LB D'Qwell Jackson
D'Qwell Jackson, 27, Browns (6-0, 240-pounds)
Jackson led the NFL in tackles (154) in 2008 but only played six games the past two seasons due to two pectoral injuries. He is a very good player though: fluid, smart, instinctive, excellent range, and good against the run and pass. He's a little undersized to play the strong side but his athleticism would more than make up for it. He should definitely be on the Bears' radar.
Thomas Davis, 27, Panthers (6-0, 240-pounds)
Davis lost all of 2010 and 10 games in 2009 due to major knee injuries, so he'll come very cheap. He's a former safety with great sideline-to-sideline speed and outstanding coverage abilities. He's undersized and is better suited to play weak side. Odds are, because of his injuries, Chicago wouldn't ask him to start right away. But he would make an outstanding fill in who, if he stays healthy, could regain his previous form and be a starter in the future.
Justin Durant, 25, Jaguars (6-1, 240-pounds)
Durant is another talented player whose career has been marred by injury. He has shown excellent speed, athleticism and quickness. He is well suited to play the strong side but his coverage game needs work. If he can stay healthy, he'd be a cheap, solid addition to the Bears' defense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.