Ever since tweeting about the health issues he was dealing with on top of his eventual release from the Bears earlier this off-season, the writing was on the wall. Jerrell Freemanretired from the NFL today, per a personal statement from Freeman himself.
Freeman, 32, had been with the Bears for two seasons before injuries and multiple suspensions eventually derailed his career in Chicago. After signing as a free agent in 2016, he never quite lived up to the expectations originally set upon him next to Danny Trevathan and in the Bears’ defense.
Freeman was once a Division III athlete out of Mary Hardin-Baylor that went undrafted in 2008. After unsuccessfully attempting to catch on with the Tennessee Titans’ practice squad, he moved on to Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the next three years. His patience and hard work was finally rewarded when the Colts signed him to a contract in 2011. That perseverance paid off with a six-year career where he amassed 415 tackles, 12 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, and four interceptions.
For a man that was once completely overlooked by every NFL team, that is remarkable production. As someone that was a quiet leader in every locker room he stepped in, that reflects well on Freeman.
With his family and health as the primary stated focus, Freeman moves on from football to take care of his top priorities. The journey with the NFL and playing a dangerous game professionally ends now, but the rest of Freeman’s life that he has to take care of is still on the horizon.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.
LAKE FOREST — Dating back to one year ago Friday night and the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace, who in his fourth season is still the youngest GM in the NFL, has created more excitement around his football team than the city of Chicago has seen from it since the Bears played the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC title game.
It started that evening when he traded the third pick in the draft, his third-round picks last year and this year and his fourth-round pick last year to draft QB Mitchell Trubisky.
It continued New Years Day this year when he decided to replace head coach John Fox and ultra aggressively out-hustled five other teams to hire one of the hottest young head-coaching prospects in the league in Matt Nagy, and then assembled an all-star coaching staff including Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell, Mark Helfrich, Brad Childress and Harry Hiestand.
With a huge splash in free agency that included signing WRs Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, TE Trey Burton and retaining his own star CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, he put an exclamation point on his commitment to building an explosive and dynamic Bears offense for the first time in decades and maintaining a top-10 defense.
Now in the last 24 hours, he’s added three more outstanding college football players in ILB Roquan Smith, C James Daniels and WR Anthony Miller, setting the local Twitterverse on fire.
Pace is on a roll, and those are things we know.
What we think we know is Trubisky showed enough in 12 starts as a rookie to suggest the Bears have finally found a franchise quarterback for the first time since 1985.
I believe Smith, along with Bradley Chubb and Minkah Fitzpatrick, is one of the three best defensive players in this draft and the Bears got him at eight. Daniels was the best center in this draft, although Pace says the Bears will start him out at left guard, and almost no receivers in this draft have had more buzz around them than Miller.
It is all really exciting, but let’s go back for a few minutes to what we actually know.
From Pace’s first three drafts, only Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, Pro Bowler Jordan Howard, Leonard Floyd, All-rookie C Cody Whitehair, a projected starter this year in Jonathan Bullard, Trubisky, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and maybe, maybe Adam Shaheen appear to have a chance to be part of the nucleus of a contending Bears team.
Free agency has been even tougher for Pace. On the current roster only Bobby Massie, Benny Cunningham, Dion Sims, Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Amukamara and this year’s three receivers are likely to be important contributors.
So based on what we actually know, how close are the Bears to actually being legitimate contenders again?
I believe Trubisky, Howard, Cohen, Long, Whitehair, Shaheen, Hicks, Goldman, Trevathan, Floyd, Fuller, Jackson, Robinson, Gabriel and Burton will all be better players this year — and some will be very good because of Nagy and this coaching staff.
I am really excited about Smith, Daniels and Miller, who I think can all be excellent pros and appear to be even better young men, and I think the Bears will be a much improved football team this year that will win eight or nine games.
But I know that they still won’t be close to the talent of the NFL’s best teams and they will now enter next year’s construction handcuffed with the absence of a second-round pick.
I continue to be a Ryan Pace fan, but he’s celebrating Nagy’s honeymoon right now, his is over, and I fear I know the quality of this roster is not equal to the excitement and buzz surrounding it.
The question now is can it catch up in time for this current regime to get to celebrate it?
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Arizona Wildcats RB Nick Wilson signs with Chicago Bears as free agent Justin Spears / Arizona Daily Star
Another player from the Arizona Wildcats player pool signed with an NFL as an undrafted free agent. This time, senior running back Nick Wilson agreed to a deal with the Chicago Bears, he announced on Twitter. Wilson becomes the fourth Wildcat to reach a deal as an UDFA, joining Jacob Alsadek (Packers), Gerhard de Beer (Bills) and Zach Green (Bengals). Wilson also becomes the first UA player to play for the Bears since running back Ka'Deem Carey, who last played in the NFL in 2016.
In 2014, Wilson set Arizona's single-season freshman rushing record, recording 1,375 yards with 16 touchdowns. Throughout his career, Wilson dealt with a plague ankle, knee and foot injuries. Wilson finished with 3.045 career yards and was seventh player in UA history to reach that mark.
Looking ahead to his pro career, Wilson joins a running back room of Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Taquan Mizzell and Benny Cunningham.
Over the summer, Wilson will have a chance to fight for a spot on the Bears' 90-man roster. The preseason training camp schedule will be announced in June.
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CHICAGO – The word around the NFL in recent months has been that the Bears are one of the league's most improved teams.
The biggest reason folks are focusing on them is a growing belief the team has found its franchise quarterback, based on his 12 game audition in 2017 and the possibility that Mitch Trubisky’s ceiling is extremely high and gaining altitude as talent and weapons are added around him.
Additionally there is a prevalent perception that rookie head coach Matt Nagy is an upgrade over John Fox and the addition of assistants Mark Helfrich, Brad Childress and Harry Hiestand, along with the retention of Vic Fangio, Ed Donatell and Dave Ragone, makes for a dramatically improved coaching staff.
The Bears also appear to have accomplished the most of the four NFC North clubs in free agency, with the additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, Cody Parkey and Aaron Lynch, and re-signing of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara.
With that as the landscape, the Bears entered the 2018 draft this weekend looking to improve their pass rush and offensive line play, add playmakers on the back end of the defense, depth at receiver and confirm their ability to leapfrog the Lions, Packers and perhaps even Vikings in the division.
On Day One the Bears appeared to knock one out of the park, selecting the best linebacker in the draft, who happens to be a perfect fit in Vic Fangio’s scheme, perhaps even the best defensive player debuting in the NFL this year in Roquan Smith.
Day Two went swimmingly as well with the addition of one of the top three or four interior offensive linemen, James Daniels, and one of the best slot receivers in Anthony Miller, albeit at the significant cost of Chicago's second-round pick next year.
But set to clinch their crown as NFC North runaway winners of the offseason, the Bears on Day Three instead became a bit of a head-scratcher and left some wondering just what exactly Ryan Pace had in mind.
If there is one unassailable rule in the NFL, it’s that you don’t ever try and judge a draft in less than two or three years. Perhaps the Bears' fourth-, fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks will prove to be a jackpot.
But the selection of Joel Iyiegbuniwe in the fourth round out of Western Kentucky, a prospect from a tier-two FBS school unknown to many and considered a seventh-round pick or priority free agent by most who had scouted him significantly, slowed the Bears' roll.
The kid may prove to be a steal, but the fact that he is a poor man’s clone of first-round pick Smith and is slated to compete at the same position while players rated by many significantly higher at other positions of need were still on the board was disappointing.
The fifth-round pick took the Bears back to the FCS, where they struck gold last year with Tarik Cohen, to select an intriguing interior defensive lineman in Bilal Nichols out of Nagy’s alma mater, Delaware, but a player who did not dominate at that level in nearly the fashion Cohen did.
Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is a desperately needed edge rusher from Utah, a player with some nice traits who Pro Football Weekly actually rated a round higher as a potential fifth-rounder, but a player who missed significant time each of the past two seasons to injury.
The Bears ended their 2018 draft with another receiver in the seventh round, Javon Wims out of Georgia, who is big at 6-4, 205 but over 4.5 in the 40-yard dash and an extreme longshot to make anything but the practice squad as he and 2015 seventh overall pick Kevin White will almost certainly be competing for the same roster spot.
Again, let me say as emphatically as possible that these kids deserve a chance to come in and compete before they are judged.
But Day Three of the draft feels like at best a speed bump for now and left few asking for more.
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The Chicago Bears waited a long time before finally grabbing an edge rusher, selecting Kylie Fitts in the sixth round. Could Fitts turn out to be this year’s Ryan Pace draft steal and become an important player on the Bears’ defense?Going into Day 3 of the 2018 NFL Draft, Ryan Pace stressed the importance of not reaching for an edge rusher in spite of the Chicago Bears’ obvious need at the position.
To be sure, they tarried quite a long time before taking one, finally grabbing Utah edge defender Kylie Fitts with the No. 181 pick in the sixth round.
To some, waiting that long to take an edge rusher seems like a tremendous miss.
Why take someone like James Daniels in the second round or Joel Iyiegbuniwe in the fourth instead of the top remaining edge prospects?
And as much as everyone loves Roquan Smith, why not shoot for a top edge talent in the first round, especially given the lack of surefire prospects in that group?
Perhaps the Bears believe that they got one after all.
Though Fitts comes with injury concerns, he also carries the upside of a legitimate top-10 edge defender in this year’s draft. And his athleticism and size as an outside linebacker could position him to make a difference right away for the Chicago Bears if he can remain healthy.
In fact, if you look at Fitts’ profile more closely, you’ll see that he projects nearer to the top of the edge rusher heap than you might think.
If he actually plays that way, he could be a draft steal after the manner of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen before him.
CHICAGO BEARS NEWS Chicago Bears select Roquan Smith + Mitch Trubisky interview (WSCR 670 AM reaction)