Joe Gaither

The Bears Brawl Writer and contributor

Ryan Pace was hired in 2015 to rebuild and reconstruct an aging roster. Four years and a division title later Pace’s rebuild is complete. Pace now faces the challenge of maintaining a talented roster. Let’s take a look at how he has built one of the most iconic positions in all of sports- inside linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

Danny Trevathan, signed by Pace in 2016, has been a consistent contributor for the last three years. Turning 29- years old in March and going into a contract year, many questions surround his future in Chicago. Trevathan’s production has improved from year to year as the talent around him has grown. Trevathan has amassed 257 tackles, five sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles in his 37 games for the Bears. With one more season to go on his contract to impress Pace and the Bears, will he earn himself a new deal? The cap situation in 2020 appears to be tight, and Trevathan will likely command a similar deal to the one he signed in 2016. The Bears will likely allow him to test the open market after this year and look to replace him with an in house candidate.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Roquan Smith started slowly after an arduous off-season that saw him arrive late to Fall Camp. Smith played sparingly the first two weeks of his rookie year but once he got up to speed it became clear why Pace drafted him eighth overall. Smith finished the year with 121 tackles, five sacks, one interception and  was named to the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie Team. After just one season, Smith looks like the next great linebacker to follow in the footsteps of Urlacher, Singletary, Butkus and George.

Nick Kwiatkoski, drafted in the fourth round in 2016 out of West Virginia, is a rotational linebacker who has started 14 games in his three seasons. Kwiatkoski has filled in when starters have gone out due to injury, but has never elevated his game to consistent starter level. Kwiatkoski was second on the team for special team’s snaps in 2018. Barring injury Kwiatkoski will contribute to the 2019 Bears in the same role, a backup linebacker and a versatile special teams player. He is entering the final year of his contract with the team but could be back on a similar deal that Pace gave to Ben Braunecker (2 years/$3 million) in order to play special teams.

Source: Getty Images North America

Joel Iyiegbuniwe was drafted in the fourth round this past season. Iyiegbuniwe, “Iggy” led the Bears in special teams snaps this year. Iyiegbuniwe recorded nine tackles on defense but struggled to earn playing time due to a log-jam at the position. Entering his second year and only 23-years old, Iyiegbuniwe has shown up well on special teams but needs to develop his game more if he wants to step into a potential starting role.

Josh Woods is entering his second year with the Bears after spending his rookie year on the practice squad. Woods converted to linebacker after playing safety for Maryland at the collegiate level. Woods, listed at 205 pounds, still needs to put on more weight and gain more experience before contributing at the professional level. With offenses opening up and attacking down the field in the current NFL, Woods offers intriguing potential should he continue to develop.

Jameer Thurman was given a futures contract in January and is an intriguing name to watch. Thurman, only 24, recorded 82 tackles last year for the Calgary Stampeders. A local Chicagoan, Thurman offers another example of Ryan Pace’s eye for undiscovered talent. Thurman, an Indiana State product spent two years in Canada before signing with the Bears this year.

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Pace has continually attacked this position group and now it looks to be one of the strongest units on the team. Trevathan and Smith comprise one of the strongest inside backer tandems in the league and Kwiatkoski and Iyiegbuniwe make fine backups with special teams capabilities. Woods and Thurman are two guys to watch develop and could potentially impact the team in time.

With the current contract situation and the depth of this position, it would be surprising if Pace spends one of his few 2019 draft picks on an inside linebacker.

After the 2019 season Pace will need to evaluate this position carefully and decide if Trevathan and Kwiatkoski are worth re-signing.
The 2020 free agency class will be loaded with options such as Bobby Wagner, Jaylon Smith, Myles Jack, Deion Jones, Reggie Ragland, Kyle Van Noy and Blake Martinez. This gives Pace the flexibility to be selective with how he chooses to address this position in 2020 if an in-house replacement does not emerge.