If the Bears were mulling a decision at linebacker between keeping Nick Roach or Brian Urlacher, lacking the money for both, at least half of that decision has been made for them.
CSNChicago.com has confirmed that Nick Roach, the starter at strongside linebacker since 2008 and Brian Urlacher’s relief at middle linebacker, has reached a multi-year deal with the Oakland Raiders, a story first reported by ESPNChicago.com on Friday.
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The Bears had initiated talks to sign Roach last month but no deal could be reached and Roach had visited with the Raiders this week. When Emery said on Wednesday that the Bears were tight against the salary cap, the message appeared to be that offers to re-sign Roach and likely Urlacher as well were not going to be going significantly upward.
Roach, the team’s Brian Piccolo Award winner in 2011, finished sixth on the Bears in tackles last season but averaged more than 10 tackles per game over the last four after moving to middle linebacker when Urlacher was injured.
On one hand, the cap squeeze points to Urlacher’s return becoming less certain. On the other, the Bears now have just one starting linebacker under contract in what is expected to be a similar defensive scheme under new coordinator Mel Tucker.
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GM Phil Emery was able to shore up the linebacking group last offseason with signings of Geno Hayes and Blake Costanzo, but Hayes signed with Jacksonville this week and Costanzo is primarily a special-teams fixture. Dom DeCicco also was re-signed for depth last December to a two-year contract but has been a special-teamer in the past.
The figure perhaps warranting most watching now is J.T. Thomas, the Bears’ sixth-round draft choice in 2011. Thomas missed all of 2011 on injured reserve but was active all 16 games last season and was credited with six special-teams tackles.
Potentially more important, he played both weakside (vs. Jacksonville) and strongside, albeit for a total of only eight snaps. But at 6-1, 236 pounds, Thomas is virtually an identical physical match with Roach.