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While the Bears defense has several pieces in place on the league’s ninth best unit, the “Keep” or “Sweep” decisions may actually be tougher on this side of the ball. The Bears potentially have starters returning at eight of the 11 positions, with a key backup to spare. A core of Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, Adrian Amos, and Eddie Jackson is unparalleled.

Again, however, there will be young players who will compete for spots in the defensive rotation and for special teams’ roles.  But the decisions must be made on the following free agents and veterans with large cap hits.

Defensive Line

Mitch Unrein has quietly been a solid acquisition. He was playing really well before injury this year, adding a little pass rush to already solid run defense. But with four guys younger than him already under contract, it’s time to give his snaps to the promising combination of Bullard and Robertson-Harris. Verdict: SWEEP

John Jenkins was active for eight games but only saw significant snaps at the end of the year when injuries piled up. He showed to be a marginal player at best. Rashaan Coward, who should get a shot in camp, showed just as much in limited action. Verdict: SWEEP

Outside Linebacker

Sam Acho has been an extremely reliable reserve. On a team riddled by injuries the last three seasons, Acho has played in every game since week two of 2015. He is a solid, but unspectacular player with versatility as a strong run stopper on the edge and a core special teamer. This year, Acho stepped up to an increased snap total and recorded three sacks after Floyd went down for the season. Acho is also a leader and a class act off the field. Verdict: KEEP

Pernell McPhee has been productive when healthy, but that hasn’t been often enough. For an $8,000,000 cap hit with very little dead money, it’s time for the Bears to move on. Verdict: SWEEP

Willie Young has also been productive when healthy with 26 sacks in 50 games as a Bear. But going into his age 33 season coming off a torn triceps this year and an Achilles injury in 2016, it’s going to be tough to keep him around, even with a modest 5.4 million dollar cap hit. Verdict: SWEEP

Inside Linebacker

Jerrell Freeman was a leader for the 2016 Bears, but after a major injury in the season opener and a second suspension for banned substances, it’s a no-brainer to cut ties with the soon-to-be 32-year-old linebacker. Verdict: SWEEP

Christian Jones started to come into his own this season, leading the team in tackles, after being forced into more playing time due to injuries. Jones is an unrestricted free agent, but shouldn’t require a huge contract commitment. Re-signing him would allow the Bears to continue their three man rotation inside with Trevathan, Kwiatkoski, and Jones. Jones’ ability to play outside and on special teams helps his cause. Verdict: KEEP

Cornerback

Bryce Callahan is a restricted free agent. Callahan is a starter in the nickel, who rated as a solid #31 overall at cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus. While it would be nice if he could stay on the field more consistently (missed at least four games in each year), he’s a no-brainer to bring back probably on a second round tender. Verdict: KEEP

Sherrick McManis is the lone survivor from the Lovie Smith era but is now on the wrong side of 30. He’s a long-time leader on special teams and when he was out, the Bears almost blew a game against the Ravens due to a pair of return touchdowns allowed. Even at 30, worth another small contract. Verdict: KEEP

Marcus Cooper signed a three-year deal this past offseason but includes an out with just a million dollar dead cap hit. Cooper is a below average corner, who continued to play below average after a decent start to the season. Not worth $5.5 million salary. Verdict: SWEEP

Kyle Fuller, the former 14th overall pick, finally lived up to his draft status in 2017. The Bears declined his fifth year option, making him an unrestricted free agent in March. Fuller responded to the decline with a great season, playing like a top 15 cornerback in the league. At just 25-years old, the Bears cannot afford to let him walk. Pay him whatever he wants. Verdict: KEEP

Prince Amukamara is the free agent that fans are probably the most torn about keeping. He was solid as a starter this year, but continued to be a non-factor in forcing turnovers. It’s hard to imagine he’d take another one-year deal or a pay cut from the $7,000,000 price tag he received this year, so I think the Bears should go younger at the position. Verdict: SWEEP

Safety

Quintin Demps was signed last offseason to be the starter at strong safety, pushing the previously ineffective Amos to the bench. Demps was lost for the season in week three, but Amos played well enough to make him an afterthought. Demps doesn’t have a huge salary with just a $3.9 million cap hit in 2018, but that’s probably too much for a reserve player. Verdict: SWEEP

Special teams

Placekicker

Mike Nugent/Cairo Santos: Nugent is a soon-to-be 36-year-old journeyman kicker. He doesn’t have a big leg and has never been extremely accurate. Santos is just 26, but is coming off of a bad leg injury. However, Santos does have a decent history of accurate kicking with experience in cold weather on a grass field. Verdict: SWEEP, KEEP

Punter

Pat O’Donnell finally started to come into his own in his fourth season in Chicago. He has a big leg and is a good five years younger than anyone else in his free agent class. This is another no-brainer re-signing. Verdict: KEEP

Long snapper

Andrew DePaola/Patrick Scales: No one is going to pretend to know a lot about long snapping. DePaola snapped in 2017. Scales was the guy in 2016, but got injured in the preseason this year. Neither is under contract for next season. Sign the healthy guy. Verdict: KEEP, SWEEP

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