The writing is very likely on the wall for Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski. After the Bears signed veteran linebacker Danny Trevathan to a three-year contract extension this week, it looks as though Kwiatkoski will be testing the open market — and if early word is any indication, he’s about to cash in.
The Athletic’s Dan Pompei thinks the market for Kwiatkoski “is expected to be strong.”
The Bears selected Kwiatkoski in the fourth round (113th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, and he has proven to be quite the steal. He started 13 games at linebacker in his first two seasons before losing his starting spot to first-round draft pick Roquan Smith in 2018.
He has served as a solid role-player ever since, but he truly broke out in 2019. Filling in for an injured Trevathan and subbing in for Smith for a game, Kwiatkoski started eight games and will likely go on to be a starter elsewhere as a result. In his eight starts, he recorded eight tackles for loss, three sacks, a forced fumble, and had his first career interception, along with his first safety. He also had 76 tackles on the season.
Because of his play-making abilities, Kwiatkoski will have several suitors very soon, and due to their lack of salary cap space coupled with their numerous offensive issues, the Bears very likely won’t be able to match Kwiatkoski’s top offers. Here are the top five fits for the Bears’ top free agent.
Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer wrote in February he saw a reunion with Vic Fangio in Denver as a definite possibility. Fangio worked with Kwiatkoski for his first three seasons in Chicago, and the two know each other well.
“The fourth-year former fourth-round pick started Chicago’s final seven games and showed that he can play the middle for someone, and he could get paid after guys like Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert come off the board. And maybe that someone will be his old coordinator, Vic Fangio in Denver,” Breer wrote.
Kwiatkoski would pair nicely with Von Miller on a Broncos defense that had a top 10 unit in Fangio’s first year with the team.
Green Bay has been tied to Kwiatkoski in free agency rumors already, and the Packers are no strangers to adding former Bears to their roster in recent years. After trying and failing to poach All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller in 2018, the Pack signed former Bear Adrian Amos the following season. Kwiatkoski could very well be next.
Several signs point to Green Bay parting ways with current starting linebacker Blake Martinez, including Packers GM Brian Gutekunst saying recently he was looking for a speed upgrade at inside linebacker. Kwiatkoski started half the games Martinez did in 2019 and had more tackles for loss, more passes defensed, and just as many sacks. Kwiatkoski also has twice the forced fumbles Martinez has had in half the time, so Green Bay’s interest in him is likely very real. The leader of the Pack is also a fan.
The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr. recently tweeted about the talk swirling around the Cincinnati Bengals signing Kwiatkoski to a handsome deal as they attempt to re-vamp their franchise on both sides of the ball.
Kwiatkoski would be a great fit in the Bengals defense, and he would pair well alongside Germaine Pratt. Cincinnati can also absolutely afford him, so don’t be shocked if the Bengals swoop in and snag him up.
Marquel Lee. Tahir Whitehead. Ukeme Eligwe. That’s the current essence of the Las Vegas Raiders linebacking corps, and their lack of depth at the position must be addressed this offseason. Nicholas Morrow, Kyle Wilbur, and Will Compton are all free agents and could very well be wearing other jerseys next year.
Adding Kwiatkoski to the mix would instantly improve the group ten-fold, and he’s exactly the kind of player Jon Gruden covets: tough, physical, and excellent against the run. Look for the Raiders to do more than a little sniffing around Kwiatkoski.
After the unexpected retirement of Luke Kuechly at the end of the 2019 season, the Panthers have been left with a major void at the position. Enter Kwiatkoski, who isn’t a player the caliber of Kuechly, but he has plenty of upside.
Kwiatkoski is young (he turns 27 in May) and he has never truly had a full-time starting opportunity, so his potential is untapped and unknown. He has to be an intriguing option for any team looking for a run-stuffing linebacker, and that’s the Panthers. New head coach Matt Rhule may very well throw Carolina’s hat into the Kwiatkoski sweepstakes.
Wherever he lands, with Roquan Smith and now Danny Trevathan firmly in place for the next several years, it probably won’t be in the Windy City.