The Chicago Bears last week announced the team and Brian Urlacher would be parting ways. After 13 seasons, the face of the franchise was gone. Combined with the free-agent losses of Nick Roach and Geno Hayes, the Bears were quickly without three of the club's top four linebackers from last season, with Lance Briggs the only man left standing.
GM Phil Emery moved swiftly the last five days in building a new starting linebacker trio through free agency. He immediately signed nine-year veteran D.J. Williams – who led the AFC in tackles in 2007 – to replace Urlacher in the middle. Then yesterday, he inked James Anderson, a seven-year vet, to man the strong side.
It took Emery less than a week to acquire two experienced linebackers, giving new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker the pieces he desperately needs. Yet by no means has Emery solved Chicago's linebacker issues. Williams turns 31 in July and Anderson will be 30 in September, so neither should be considered a long-term option. Emery knows this and it's the reason he signed both players to one-year deals.
Additionally, Briggs is 32, meaning by Week 4 of the 2013 campaign, the Bears will be starting three linebacker over the age of 30. For those reasons, it's safe to assume the club is still in the market for a young linebacker that can serve as a cornerstone of the defense for the next decade. Considering Chicago's lack of salary cap space – currently under $5 million – that player won't be acquired via free agency.
So while the Bears are set for this season, the future for Chicago's linebackers is as nebulous as ever. Now is definitely the time to secure an exceptional rookie athlete that can develop in the team's system and grow into a starting role.
In the first round, the Bears will be considering Notre Dame's Manti Te'o and Georgia's Kevin Ogletree. Both are experienced, physical linebackers. Te'o has more size, while Ogletree possesses more speed. Both have had off-field issues yet they have the talent to warrant a first-round selection. In the second round, players like LSU's Kevin Minter, Kansas State's Arthur Browns, Rutgers' Khaseem Greene and Connecticut's Sio Moore are viable, long-term options.
It's unlikely that any of Chicago's 2013 linebacker starters will still be on the team in a year or two, so Emery doesn't have to focus on filling one specific role. He can look at both inside and outside linebackers, taking the best player available when it's his turn to pick in the first or second round, or both.
It's likely one of those picks will be used on an offensive lineman but make no mistake, despite the recent infusion of veteran talent, the Bears are still a team in search of the new face of the defense.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.