Chairman George McCaskey indicated this week that while the Bears may have ostensibly closed the door to middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, that door was not necessarily irretrievably locked. It could be before too long, however.
The organization dialed down the immediate need for starting linebackers with the signings of James Anderson from Carolina and D.J. Williams from Denver. Both are products of 4-3 schemes, although neither has been a fixture at middle linebacker in exactly the scheme the Bears intend to run under new coordinator Mel Tucker.
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But general manager Phil Emery has positioned the Bears such that the number of “must-haves” in the draft is minimal. This is not the 2008 draft when the Bears had to take a tackle (Chris Williams) or 2011 when the Bears had to land a tackle (Gabe Carimi) or 1999 when the Bears had to select a quarterback (Cade McNown).
All of which means that if the significantly best-player-available is a linebacker, particularly with allowances for an anticipated effort to trade down in at least the first round, any window still open could in fact close irrevocably on Urlacher.
Indeed, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper projects precisely that scenario, in the person of Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o to the Bears at No. 20. Notably perhaps, the next projected pick is a linebacker, Georgia’s Alec Ogletree to Cincinnati at No. 21, with LSU’s Kevin Minter off the board at No. 25 to Minnesota.
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Mel has Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown going to San Diego at 45th overall. The Bears were slated to bring Brown in for a pre-draft visit, as first reported by the Chicago Tribune. Brown is not as highly rated as any of the other three, but the Bears do not draft according to others’ boards. Last year, the Bears had Alshon Jeffery pegged ahead of numerous other wide receivers and in fact traded up to get him in the second round, which is where more projections than not have him going.
ESPN colleague Todd McShay’s revised first round gives the Bears tight end Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame. Te’o is projected to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 25, which also is Kiper’s second choice for Te’o.
Four of the eight NFL.com staff draftniks have the Bears selecting a linebacker, three predicting Te’o and one forecasting Ogletree.
[MORE: Draft Capsule: Manti Te'o]
“I just looked at all the angles, and I just think Chicago is where it's going to fall,” Kiper said.
“I tried to get him down to Minnesota because it makes so much makes sense, the Vikings at 23. The Vikings pick again at 25; they desperately need a middle linebacker. They have a big hole at that position.
“But I think Chicago at 20 [for Te’o]. If not, the latest I think he falls is to Minnesota at 23. It'll be interesting to see if a team like Minnesota, knowing that Chicago could have an interest –- the Giants could have an interest at 19 -– tries to move up a little bit to get Te'o, especially ahead of a team in their own division with Chicago having the same need area.”
Were the Bears to add a linebacker with one of their high picks –- and with Emery of the mind that those top picks should be starters, ideally sooner rather than later -– they would then suddenly have four starter-grade linebackers where a couple of weeks ago they had just one.
Even though Anderson and Williams are signed to one-year contracts, so would Urlacher be. With Lance Briggs signed through 2014, the Bears would clearly be in succession-plan mode with a linebacker addition. That is not a situation where teams would likely add a fourth 30-something linebacker, regardless of price.