5 Best Options for the Chicago Bears to Replace Brian Urlacher
It's the end of an era in Chicago.
After 13 seasons roaming the middle of the Chicago defense, including eight Pro Bowl campaigns, a Defensive Player of the Year award and a trip to the Super Bowl, the Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher are parting ways, according to Brian McIntyre of Yahoo! Sports.
Urlacher's loss is a big blow to fans of the team, but as they wax nostalgic about the glory days, the question facing the franchise is what to do moving forward.
The list of in-house candidates is not an appealing one, so here's a look at a handful of outsiders—from free agents to rookies—that could fit the bill in the Windy City.
Best Free Agent: Karlos Dansby
Luckily for the Bears, the free-agent market for inside linebackers has been slow to develop. Outside Dannell Ellerbe, most of the signings at the position have been depth adds or bargain buys.
Even better for the Bears, the Miami Dolphins cut their middle linebacker to make room for Ellerbe.
The 31-year-old Karlos Dansby had a career-high 134 tackles last year for the Dolphins, including over 100 solos. The 10th-year veteran graded out as a top-15 inside linebacker in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
He probably wouldn't come especially cheaply. However, while it may be heresy to say this, the 2013 Bears defense would be better with Karlos Dansby in the middle instead of Urlacher.
Best "Cheap" Free Agent: Daryl Smith
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Not many Chicago Bears fans are going to do cartwheels about the idea of signing Daryl Smith, especially after the 31-year-old missed almost all of the 2012 season with a groin injury.
However, in two of the three seasons prior, Smith rolled up over 100 tackles for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In 2011, only Von Miller of the Denver Broncos graded out higher among 4-3 outside linebackers than Smith in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
Smith also has significant experience playing the middle, and would probably come quite a bit cheaper than a player like Dansby.
It may not be a sizzle signing, but Daryl Smith would bring some steak to the Chicago defense.
Best Trade Target: David Hawthorne
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It's rather unlikely that the Chicago Bears will address their hole at middle linebacker via a trade.
However, should the team choose to go this route, the first call they should make is to the New Orleans Saints.
David Hawthorne's first season in the Big Easy was an injury-filled disaster, but he had missed only one game over the previous three years prior to 2012.
He also averaged over 110 tackles a season for the Seattle Seahawks during that stretch. With the Saints moving to the 3-4 (and Hawthorne a bad fit for it) the sixth-year pro might well be available.
Best Way to Screw Things Up: Manti Te'o
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Steel yourselves, Bears fans, because the amount of Manti Te'o-to-Chicago talk is about to become deafening.
With the Bears moving on from Urlacher, there is no doubt going to be a ton of speculation about how great Te'o could be as the heir apparent to Urlacher.
Hopefully the Bears don't buy into it, because it's a bad idea.
As productive as Te'o was in college (including all those interceptions) and for all his strengths, the simple fact is that Manti Te'o doesn't appear especially suited to being a three-down linebacker in the NFL.
The speed just isn't there, and his hips are too stiff. Instincts will only get you so far in coverage if the other guy just beats you.
Furthermore, as Te'o showed in the BCS National Championship Game, a tremendous amount of pressure is as likely to cause him to shrink as it is to make him explode.
Not that there would be any pressure involved in replacing Brain Urlacher in Chicago or anything.
Best Replacement in the Draft: Arthur Brown
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If the Chicago Bears want to replace Brian Urlacher in the 2013 NFL draft, their best bet lies with hope.
As in, hoping that Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown is available in the second round.
The 6'0" 241-pound Brown, who had 100 tackles for the Wildcats in 2012, is sturdy enough to hold up against the run, fleet enough of foot to hold his own in coverage and drew a comparison to NaVorro Bowman of the San Francisco 49ers in NFL.com's draft profile of him.
However, the Bears may have to look at trading up to get him. After a strong showing at Kansas State's recent pro day, Brown's draft stock is on the rise.