Jerrell Freeman emerged from obscurity to be the Indianapolis Colts' most consistent linebacker over the last four seasons. Now he's finally cashing in.
The Chicago Bears announced they have agreed to a three-year contract with Freeman.
The contract is worth $12 million, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Freeman tweeted about the decision:
Jerrell Freeman @JerrellFreeman
The 💨💨💨 City! #Letseat https://t.co/EikxYHOv2a2016-3-12 19:35:39
Chicago signing Freeman continues an overhaul of the team's linebacker corps, as it inked Danny Trevathan to a four-year deal Wednesday.
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The Mary Hardin-Baylor product's path is unlike that of many before him. Undrafted after declaring in 2008, he was cut as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans and then latched on with the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders from 2009-11. He signed with the Colts in a low-risk move in 2012 and then emerged as one of Indy's most consistent defenders.
Freeman has ranked first or second on the Colts in tackles each season since his arrival. He has posted at least 100 tackles in three of four years and started 57 of a possible 64 games.
While Indianapolis wanted to retain him, he made it clear he wanted to test the market. The team chose to offer him an RFA tender last year rather than signing him to a long-term deal, and Freeman wanted to make sure he recouped his maximum possible value.
“You gotta kinda do what’s best for you,” he told SiriusXM. “The team did what was best for them with all their cap issues and all that stuff. I’ve been playing for the league minimum for three years and ended up signing the tender, which was best for the team. Went ahead and signed it, and now I’m in free agency and guess I’ll have to do what’s best for me.”
The logic makes sense. Freeman turns 30 in May. This will likely be the only time in his career he'll be a coveted name on the open market. By hanging out in the CFL for so many years as a diamond in the rough, he lost untold millions; someone with his resume at age 26 likely wouldn't have had trouble finding an eight-figure signing bonus.
As it stands, Freeman is making the best of his career path. He's a stellar wrap-up tackler who excels in underneath coverage, which makes him an extremely valuable piece in today's NFL. Sports Illustrated ranked him the 33rd-best free agent on the market, and SB Nation had him 50th. He was one of the best players remaining on the market after a flurry of moves early on, and getting him at this price will be smart if he continues to perform at a high level.
Age, more than skill, will be the big question here.
Freeman will play under a defensive guru in head coach John Fox for the Bears, which gives him a great chance to be successful in 2016 and beyond.
While Chicago may not be in line to contend in the NFC North right away, Freeman is a key piece who could make the Bears threats by the end of his contract.