Brian Urlacher is still not too happy about the Chicago Bears’ decision to trade All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith midway through the 2022 season.
The Bears legend and Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker recently sat down for a one-on-one interview with CBS Chicago’s Marshall Harris and expressed some frustrations about his former team and the way the new regime has handled deals over the past year , expressed. He specifically highlighted the “terrible” decision to trade Smith, someone Urlacher believes could have become 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:
Despite Urlacher’s apparent frustration with the Bears’ decision to move away from Smith, he had a few good things to say about Smith’s replacement – undrafted rookie Jack Sanborn – and the level of play he brought to defense after the trade failed.
“Jack Sanborn is a good footballer,” Urlacher continued. “He banged this year. He started out early in the season on special teams and when he joined Linebacker he got on there and made a few plays for them when they traded Roquan.
Sanborn started six games after Smith’s departure and held the middle linebacker berth better than most would expect from an undrafted rookie. He recorded 59 total tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits and a fumbled recovery, as well as an interception that was eventually recalled for a questionable penalty. While Sanborn missed the last three games with an ankle injury, he was still selected as one of two linebackers on Pro Football Focus’ all-rookie team for 2022.
“I don’t really care where you were drafted,” Urlacher said. “If you’re a free agent, if you’re a seventh. I do not care. If you can play, you can play. In my opinion it doesn’t matter where you get drafted because a lot of people who get drafted high don’t get to play. So it doesn’t matter.”
Sanborn has caught enough good football as a rookie for the Bears to consider him an advantage in the 2023 offseason. That said, Ryan Poles and the Bears’ new regime will look to massively improve their defense across the board in the coming months, and the center linebacker spot may be no exception.
The Bears sold Smith to the Ravens because they weren’t interested in paying an off-ball linebacker something like $20 million a season, but their reluctance to pay Smith the maximum amount doesn’t mean they’re afraid to get in to invest their linebacker corps. In fact, Chicago will must Pour resources into better linebackers if they want their defense to make meaningful strides in 2023, even with Sanborn returning as a safety net for center.
Right now, the Bears linebacker room needs the most attention on weak and strong side positions. All three of their top veteran linebackers — Nicholas Morrow, Joe Thomas and Matt Adams — will become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins in mid-March, and while Morrow is at least considered a contender for a new contract. A veteran addition might be a priority in free agency. Some of their high-end choices are Lavonte David, Bobby Okereke, and Deion Jones.
The Bears might also think it wise to invest a draft pick or two in 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 within their range on Day 3.