The perennial Pro Bowl middle linebacker has been a Bear his entire career, but his proposed two-year deal for about $5 million annually was too expensive. The Bears spent their limited cap space on left tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Phil Emery, general manager for the Bears, was wise to address the biggest needs for Chicago early in free agency. However, the additions of Bushrod and Bennett depleted the Bears’ cap space. Since then, linebacker Nick Roach signed with the Oakland Raiders and Urlacher still hasn’t re-signed.
The remaining middle linebacker candidates on the roster are Blake Costanzo, a quality special teams contributor, and Dom DeCicco, an undrafted third-year pro. In eight combined NFL seasons, they have only one start between the two of them.
That means middle linebacker is a far more pressing need than guard, where Chicago has Edwin Williams, Gabe Carimi, and James Brown with starting experience.
Emery said the Bears are “up against the cap” in the Chicago Tribune. In other words, don’t expect to see the Bears sign any more starters in free agency.
The Bears need to find an heir to Urlacher with their first-round pick.
Alec Ogletree is the best middle linebacker in the draft, and Chicago would be remiss not to make him the next monster of the midway.
It’s difficult to label a player with character issues as someone a team must draft, but the upside with Ogletree is enormous.
Before the NFL combine, Ogletree was projected to be gone before the Bears picked. Mock drafts usually had him going in the top 10 based on his talent. ESPN then reported that the Georgia linebacker was arrested for a DUI in February.
Ogletree began to drop like a ball in Terrell Owens’ hands.
Two recent mock drafts had Ogletree going right around the Bears’ pick at 20 overall. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projected the Bengals selecting him at 21. NFL.com’s Matt Smith suggested he might go two picks earlier to the Giants.
Either way, Ogletree’s DUI put him squarely in the Bears’ draft range.
Ogletree is an elite talent, and he could step in at middle linebacker from day one. He is fast, physical, aggressive, and has good technique.
Like Brian Urlacher, Ogletree is a converted safety. His experience in coverage would be invaluable in the Bears’ Cover-2 defense. Ogletree also has great straight-line and lateral speed, which are vital when patrolling the middle of the field. Cover-2 middle linebackers need size to accompany their speed, which both Urlacher (6’4”, 258) and Ogletree (6’2”, 242) possess.
Ogletree would be an asset in pass defense, but he also asserts himself against the run. Even with a four-game suspension at the beginning of 2012, Ogletree still finished with 112 tackles. He attacks with instinct, and he explodes into ballcarriers.
Ogletree is not just strong and physical when he tackles, though. He uses good technique and wraps up consistently. His 2012 highlights (see video) show a smart and steady tackler.
With few holes in his game, Ogletree projects well as the next middle linebacker for the Bears. His play is NFL-ready.
Is he personally ready for the NFL?
In addition to the DUI charge this year, Ogletree has had other trouble off the field. He was suspended for a game in 2010 after being charged with misdemeanor theft. His four-game suspension in 2012 was for failing a drug test.
However, Ogletree is widely lauded as having good work ethic on the practice field. The Chattanooga News quoted his defensive coordinator Todd Grantham as saying “he’ll [Ogletree] be the first to tell you that he’s got to continue to work and develop.”
The Bears should not be scared off by his character issues. He’s only 21 years old and has plenty of time to reform himself.
Emery is not afraid to acquire players with character issues that perform on the field. He traded two third-round draft picks to Miami for wide receiver Brandon Marshall last offseason. The deal came right after Marshall was accused of assaulting a woman in a night club. That move paid huge dividends on the field, and Marshall had no publicized run-ins with the law during the 2012 season.
Ogletree’s checkered past may drop him in the Bears’ lap. Guidance from NFL teammates could be exactly what he needs to get his act straight. To his credit, he has been contrite about his DUI. NBC Sports reported Ogletree’s apology and subsequent comment that he just has to “move forward and take what I get.” He made no excuses.
Ogletree made several terrible mistakes during his college career. Hopefully he sees now that his actions can have grave repercussions and he will rectify his behavior.
If he does, he’s a perfect fit for Chicago as they look to win now. Alec Ogletree has all of the skills needed to step in to the Bears’ system and be an impact starter immediately.