By Greg Gabriel–
(670 The Score) The Bears have received decent production from their outside linebackers over the past few years, but the problem has been keeping players healthy.
Pernell McPhee was general manager Ryan Pace’s first big signing back in 2015. He made an immediate impact that season but has since regressed, as injuries cost him 10 games over the past two years. Of more concern is that McPhee, 29, has become a part-time player, starting just five games in the past two years and struggling to handle much more than around 20 snaps per game. McPhee has a cap hit of more than $8 million in 2018, so the question is will the Bears keep him around? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.
Another veteran who has had numerous injury concerns, though not as serious as McPhee’s, is outside linebacker Willie Young. When Young has played, he’s been good, but he missed 12 games in 2017. I believe he’ll be around this season, as he has a $4.5 million salary.
Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, has missed 10 games in his first two seasons. It’s imperative that he stays healthy.
With the history of injuries at the position, the Bears could be looking to sign a veteran in free agency. That said, the following may be some players the Bears are interested in when free agency officially opens March 14.
Connor Barwin, Rams
Barwin is 31 but has been durable throughout his career and put up consistent numbers. He has had five sacks in each of the past two seasons. Because of his age, Barwin might not be at the top of the Bear’s list, but he had a fair $3.5 million salary in 2017, so he figures to be affordable.
Jeremiah Attaochu, Chargers
Attaochu was a second-round pick of the Chargers in 2014 but hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He has also had durability problems the last two seasons. His best season was in 2015, when he had 44 tackles and six sacks. He was a highly thought of player when he was coming out of college and if the Bears are interested, I’m sure they will do plenty of research to make sure he’s a safe signing. His cost should be fairly minimal, and he has plenty of potential upside.
Lamarr Houston, Bears
Houston, 30, was cut before the season opener last year because of injury concerns but was brought back for the final five games. When healthy, Houston has been productive, and he’s clearly a fit for Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. He had four sacks in the five games he played for the Bears. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s brought back.
Sam Acho, Bears
Acho, 29, always seems to be counted out entering each Bears season, only to end up one of their unsung players. He gives a consistent effort and has value on special teams. He had 45 tackles and three sacks as a role player in 2017. I would bet he’s back with the Bears in 2018.
Junior Galette, Redskins
Galette, 29, has a history with Pace in that they both were in New Orleans from 2010-’14. Galette has been with Washington for the past three years but missed both 2015 and 2016 with Achilles injuries to each leg. He was healthy in 2017 and as a backup had 20 tackles and three sacks. Galette was at his best prior to the injuries, with a combined 22 sacks in 2013 and 2014. Obviously, he has to be deemed healthy enough to revert back to his 2014 form for the Bears to be interested.
Marquis Flowers, Patriots
Pace has a history of trying to find young players who are just starting to come on. Flowers may fit that bill. The Bengals selected him in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, and he didn’t initially play well. He had his best season in 2017, with 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Patriots.
His has the size and athletic fit for the Bears’ system, and his cost won’t be high after he made $574,000 in 2017. So he’s a name worth keeping an eye on.
Two players with a history with Fangio will also be on the open market. Edge rushers Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith will be available. But Brooks is 34, probably too old for the Bears, and Smith has had off-the-field troubles that will most likely keep Chicago from showing interest.
Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who’s an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.