Brian Urlacher still isn’t too happy with the Chicago Bears’ decision to trade All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith at the midway point of the 2022 season.
The Bears legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker recently sat down for a one-on-one interview with Marshall Harris of CBS Chicago and aired some frustrations with his former team and how the new regime has handled business over the past year. He particularly singled out the “horrible” decision to trade Smith, someone who Urlacher believes could have been the next great linebacker in Chicago’s strong lineage.
Here’s what Urlacher said about the Bears trading both Smith and Khalil Mack in 2022:
First of all, the Roquan trade was horrible in my opinion. … So you trade for Khalil (Mack in 2018). You give up two first-round picks to get Khalil, correct? Khalil was a great football player. Then you get rid of Khalil again (before the 2022 season). And then you trade Roquan, who in my opinion is the same level as Khalil, status-wise, and you get a second-round pick for him. Great, but I guess you don’t have to pay him. … You drafted him in the first round. He’s produced for you. I know he wants a lot of money. He’s earned it. He’s a good football player. I’m glad to see he got what he wanted there in Baltimore, but I was very sad to see him leave Chicago. I thought he’d be there for a long time (and) kind of fill that lineage of that (Dick) Butkus, (Mike) Singletary, Bill George, they all started back in the day. So it was frustrating to see that trade take place.
Urlacher Was Impressed With Jack Sanborn’s Rookie Year
Despite Urlacher’s clear frustrations with the Bears’ decision to move on from Smith, he did have a few good things to say about Smith’s replacement — undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn — and the level of play he brought to the defense after the trade went down.
“Jack Sanborn is a good football player,” Urlacher continued. “He did pop this year. He started off on special teams early on in the season and once he got in at linebacker, he stepped in there and made some plays for them when they traded Roquan.”
Sanborn started six games following Smith’s departure and held down the middle linebacker spot better than most expected from an undrafted rookie, recording 59 total tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and a fumble recovery along with an interception that was ultimately called back due to a questionable penalty. While Sanborn did miss the final three games with an ankle injury, he was still picked as one of two linebackers on Pro Football Focus’ All-Rookie team for 2022.
“I don’t put a lot of stock where you got drafted,” Urlacher said. “If you’re a free agent, if you’re a seventh-rounder. I don’t care. If you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter where you get drafted in my opinion, because a lot of guys who got drafted high can’t play. So it doesn’t really matter.”
Bears Could Target New Linebacker in Free Agency/Draft
Sanborn put enough good football on tape as a rookie for the Bears to consider him an asset moving forward into the 2023 offseason. That said, Ryan Poles and the Bears’ new regime will be looking to make massive upgrades across the board to their defense in the coming months, and the middle linebacker spot might not be an exception.
The Bears traded Smith to the Ravens because they weren’t interested in paying an off-ball linebacker about $20 million per season, but their reluctance to pay top dollar to Smith doesn’t mean they are afraid to invest in their linebacker corps. In fact, Chicago will need to sink resources into better linebackers if they want their defense to take meaningful strides in 2023, even with Sanborn returning as a safety net for the middle.
Right now, the Bears’ linebacker room needs the most attention at the weakside and strongside positions. All three of their top veteran linebackers — Nicholas Morrow, Joe Thomas and Matt Adams — are set to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins in mid-March, and while Morrow at least figures to be a candidate for a new contract, a veteran addition could be a priority in free agency. A few of their higher-end options include Lavonte David, Bobby Okereke and Deion Jones.
The Bears might also think it wise to invest a draft pick or two into a promising rookie linebacker. There are bigger needs in their offensive and defensive trenches as well as their receiving room, but guys like Jack Campbell, Noah Sewell, Owen Pappoe and Henry To’oTo’o could appeal to them if they fall into their range on Day 3.