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Bears Necessities: Nick Kwiatkoski Is Next At Inside Linebacker

By Chris Emma--

(670 The Score) There certainly were many Bears bummed with the news of linebacker Jerrell Freeman's release Tuesday, a move that was largely expected.

Freeman earned team captain status and was well-regarded throughout the locker room. He went undrafted out of Mary Hardin-Baylor and earned his way to the NFL by way of the Canadian Football League. The path to Chicago was one that had garnered respect.

But the reality was that the 31-year-old Freeman had received two suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs in the past two seasons, and he admitted he was dealing with frightening side effects such as memory loss from a September concussion. He's also coming off in which he was placed on injured reserve after suffering a torn pectoral.

The Bears' parting of ways with Freeman opened up $3.5 million in the process. Fortunately for them, that money can be allocated elsewhere, as there isn't a void at inside linebacker.

Danny Trevathan, signed alongside Freeman in March 2016, has been everything the team had hoped at inside linebacker, while second-year linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski has earned a significant role. Last season also featured a pleasant surprise in the solid play of Christian Jones during his 11 starts, so the Bears are in good place at inside linebacker as the offseason really gets going.

Returning: Danny Trevathan, 27; Nick Kwiatkoski, 24; Jonathan Anderson, 26

The Bears had hoped that the combination of Trevathan and Freeman would give them one of the game's best tandems at inside linebacker. Trevathan proved to have a much bigger role in that vision.

While Freeman posted big tackling numbers, Trevathan is a complete player. His athleticism allows him to cover the middle of the field with great range, while he has also proved to be a great leader. Trevathan earned the respect of his team for fighting back from a gruesome knee injury to play in the 2017 season opener.

Trevathan still has two years remaining on a four-year deal signed two offseasons ago. The Bears are hoping to see him play a full season after he missed 11 games across his first two years with the team.

Kwiatkoski has filled the void left by injuries to Trevathan and Freeman, starting 13 games in the last two years. The Bears were relieved when a pectoral injury he suffered in the second game last season wasn't season-ending like Freeman's, allowing Kwiatkoski to continue his development.

Unless the Bears identify a player in free agency or feel strong enough about Georgia's Roquan Smith with the eighth pick, Kwiatkoski can plan on being the starter at inside linebacker next season and beyond.

Anderson played in a dozen games last season and has provided the Bears depth.

Pending free agents: Christian Jones, 27 (UFA); John Timu, 25 (RFA)

Jones arrived four years ago as an undrafted free agent and has since carved out a role with the Bears. He has played mostly at inside linebacker, moving to outside linebacker as the team has needed, and has been one of the Bears' better special teams players.

Jones has also been a steady presence in nickel downs, a valuable role in a division that features Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford. The Bears would be wise to retain Jones in free agency, shoring up depth and adding a capable starter.

Timu has played in 28 games during three seasons with the Bears, earning nine starts along the way.

What's next?

Unless general manager Ryan Pace has a strong enough conviction in free agency or the draft, the Bears are likely to come back with mostly the same group and perhaps a couple additions for depth.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago's sports scene and more for 670 The Score Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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