By Chris Emma—
(CBS) Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman took the road less traveled to NFL success. The first ever Mary Hardin-Baylor product to reach the league, Freeman was first cut by the Titans during training camp in 2008 and spent three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League before earning a place with the Colts.
After recording 478 tackles in 57 games with Indianapolis, Freeman was signed to a three-year deal with the Bears in March 2016. It seemed to be an ideal pairing, with an accomplished veteran linebacker joining a franchise in need of a steady presence and some leadership.
Freeman’s feel-good story has taken a major hit after a repeated violation of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, as announced Monday. He will be suspended 10 games – a penalty he begins immediately while on injured reserve – and forfeit $1.875 million in game checks for the remainder of this season. If the Bears (3-5) miss the playoffs this season, he’ll serve the final two games to open the 2018 season.
In a lengthy statement, Freeman was contrite in apologizing for his mistake. He also admitted to memory loss from a head injury. Freeman suffered a concussion in the season opener while playing with a torn pectoral.
“That being said there’s no excuse to cope with any problems by taking any kind of pills,” Freeman wrote in a statement. “I don’t know my future but a big thanks to the Bears and the NFL, if I would have used their programs and services earlier than I did I wouldn’t be in this situation. Sorry again for the distraction.”
Due $3.5 million next season, it’s more likely that Freeman’s time in Chicago is over. The Bears could instead opt for the $500,000 cap hit and move on from Freeman.
The Bears have inside linebacker Danny Trevathan playing at a high level this season as one of the key leaders to their defense, and second-year linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has shown the kind of potential that has his coaches excited. Christian Jones, a fourth-year player who primarily worked on special teams during his career, has also earned a place in the rotation at inside linebacker.
Moving on from Freeman would be a lot easier to do with the emergence of Kwiatkoski and Jones alongside Trevathan.
It’s also worth wondering whether the Bears would want to have Freeman back after multiple PED suspensions. He was voted a captain these last two seasons because of the great respect teammates held for him. Freeman’s reputation certainly takes a blow after another suspension.
On Monday, coach John Fox was asked about Freeman’s standing with the organization.
“It kind of is what it is,” Fox said. “Just kind of disappointed that it happened again the second year in a row, and we’ll just kind of leave it at that.”
Ultimately, it’s a decision for general manager Ryan Pace to make when evaluating the progression of his young inside linebackers. Pace hasn’t spoken to the general media since prior to Week 1 of the regular season.
What’s most important for Freeman are the long-term effects to his health. He has been spotted at Halas Hall wearing sunglasses inside the building and working with the Bears’ medical team. Freeman even admitted in the written statement that his career could be over due to the memory loss, which he said he has been downplaying.
If Freeman does choose to play in 2018, it may not be with the Bears.