Insurance Policy

Lake Forest - The Bears are going to do everything within their salary cap power to sign Pro Bowl LB Lance Briggs to a long-term deal. If he does hit the free agent market after next season, there could already be a possible replacement on the roster.

Leon Joe came to the Bears as a fourth round pick out of the University of Maryland in 2004. Known for his speed and athleticism, he seemed like a perfect fit for the type of defense Lovie Smith wanted to implement in Chicago.

However, Joe struggled with learning the system and found himself on the street after just one regular season game.

"Yeah I was a little bitter, I really didn't understand (why)," Joe said. "I think I was making a lot of rookie mistakes but I was rookie. The powers that be decided I wasn't doing my part so they released me."

Joe landed with the Cardinals and played a limited role with the organization throughout his rookie year, participating in just four games. Smith kept in touch with Joe through Arizona special teams coach Kevin O'Dea, who worked in Tampa Bay at the same time as Smith.

GM Jerry Angelo said of his personnel decisions with the Bears, his biggest regret was letting Joe get away. So when the opportunity came to bring Joe back to Chicago, Angelo jumped at the chance. The Bears claimed him off waivers from Arizona during training camp and he fought his way onto the roster because of his ability to be a factor on special teams.

"I had to let them know that the first time was a mistake and now I'm here and I mean business and I'm trying to do my part and help this team win," Joe said. "I'm not out there just as another deadbeat or another guy on the field."

After being inactive for the first two games of the season, Joe has suited up for the past 13 including starting the past two weeks at strong-side linebacker for the injured Hunter Hillenmeyer.

"I've been looking forward to this opportunity my whole life," Joe said. "As far as I can remember I've been thinking about starting in an NFL game and I finally got the opportunity and I'm just happy the results came out the way they did."

Joe tallied 6 tackles and 3 special teams stops in subbing for Hillenmeyer and flashed a knack for making a big hit. Something he wasn't known for coming out of college.

"I know my speed is the No. 1 thing in my game, but I haven't heard anybody say I couldn't hit," Joe said. "I hope nobody overlooks it anymore, I can make some hits."

With the Bears locking up the NFC North title and a first round bye, there is a good chance Hillenmeyer will get another week off to rest his injured thumb, which would allow Joe to start his third straight game.

Despite the increased amount of playing time, Joe is realistic about his chances of holding onto the job in the postseason.

"I want to be on the field, but at the same time I'm not trying to rush the situation," Joe said. "I know Hunter is a good player as well and he's been doing well this whole season.

"Whatever my role is, if it's just special teams or if I got the starting nod I'm going to do my part."

With Lance Briggs is expecting to receive a lucrative contract either from the Bears or when he becomes an unrestricted free agent after next season, there is a chance Joe could be his replacement.

All three-linebacker positions are similar in the defense, which would make Joe a prime candidate to move into the weakside position if Briggs were deemed too expensive.

For now, Joe is glad to be back with the organization and headed to the postseason.

"It was a long road, it was kind of rough, but I'm happy they brought me back and things are working out for the best," Joe said.

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