Last offseason, former Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Roach signed a hefty contract with the Oakland Raiders. Roach was an all-purpose linebacker who served well at both the middle and strong-side positions in Chicago. To replace him, GM Phil Emery signed James Anderson, a seven-year veteran who was a cap casualty in Carolina.
Anderson was seemingly a perfect fit, an experienced player who had performed in a 4-3 system his entire career. He showed strong athleticism in training camp and was excellent in coverage. When the team was healthy, he played at a very high level but as injuries took their toll on the defense, Anderson struggled to keep pace.
On March 11, Anderson will hit free agency. We weigh the pros and cons of re-signing the eight-year linebacker.
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Anderson played the most snaps (1,013) of any Bears front seven player last season. He didn't miss a single contest and has sat out just four games the past four years as a starter. His durability has value.
Anderson led the team in total tackles last year (102) and was second in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (nine). Against the pass, he was a rock, covering with ease opposing tight ends and running backs. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Anderson was the only defensive player on the team last year with a positive grade against the pass.
As good as he was against the pass, Anderson was horrific against the run. Analysts have chided rookie Jon Bostic for his struggles against opposing rushing attacks last year but Anderson was worse. With Bostic, you could blame it on experience. That excuse doesn't fly with Anderson, who repeatedly filled improper gaps, ran himself out of plays and crumbled at the point of attack. According to PFF, Anderson was the worst run-stopping linebacker in the league in 2013. As a result, Chicago finished dead last in the NFL against the run, which was the main reason the team failed to make the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?
Anderson is a great locker-room presence. He has an upbeat, positive demeanor that rubs off on his teammates. He's quick and instinctive in coverage and has the skill set to man up on today's crop of athletic tight ends. That area of his game cannot be discounted, as he can help limit an opposing team's passing attack.
Going forward, Anderson's overall game and attitude will make him a solid fit in any locker room but it won't likely be in Chicago.
The Bears lost a number of games in 2013 due to the defense's inability to stop the run. Opposing teams had a runner go over the 100-yard mark in all but one contest in the second half of the season. Anderson was a huge reason for that ineptitude. His teammates dropped like flies around him, forcing him to line up alongside two rookies, but that still doesn't explain the countless occasions he filled a gap only to sidestep the runner as he flew through the line of scrimmage.
It's possible that Anderson can again play at a high level if his teammates stay off the injury report. He showed well through the first three games and his playing career before coming to Chicago was one of adequate production. But something happened to Anderson last year that severely hindered his ability to be a stout linebacker and at 30 years of age, it's unclear if he'll ever return to form.
If the Bears re-sign Anderson and he has a repeat performance, it could again compromise the club's run defense. For an organization looking to get younger and stronger on defense, Anderson just doesn't have a place.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.