The Chicago Bears already have one of the best young linebackers in the NFL in Roquan Smith, and now, the team has an opportunity to add another via free agency.
The Seattle Seahawks made six-time All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner a salary cap casualty, officially releasing him on March 9. Wagner has made eight consecutive Pro Bowls and is widely regarded as one of the best in the league. The veteran LB was in the final year of his $54 million deal, and a cap hit of $20.6 million forced the team to let him go.
Wagner turns 32 in June, but he has shown no signs of slowing down. He set a career-high with 170 tackles in 2021, and he also had an interception, a forced fumble, five passes defensed and 1.0 sacks.
Naturally, after his release, Bears fans couldn’t help but wonder what a Smith-Wagner pairing might look like.
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Wagner-Smith Duo in Same Conversation With Urlacher-Briggs, Analyst Says
One of the best linebacker tandems in recent memory — and perhaps in NFL history — played for the Bears in the form of Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and Hall of Fame nominee Lance Briggs from 2003-2012. In the 10 seasons they played together, Urlacher and Briggs had five first-team All-Pro selections, made a combined 15 Pro Bowls and amassed 56 sacks and 38 interceptions between them.
While Smith has yet to make a Pro Bowl, he has been a second-team All-Pro selection twice, and is widely regarded as one of the most underrated young linebackers in the league. He finished his 2021 campaign with 163 tackles (95 solo, 12 for loss), an interception, three passes defensed and 3.0 sacks.
With Bears veteran Danny Trevathan likely to be released after June 1 as cap casualty himself, some couldn’t help but dream of what a Smith-Wagner pairing could look like:
Analyst Lorin Cox noted that while Smith and Wagner aren’t on the same level as Urlacher and Briggs were, they’d be in the conversation:
Cox wasn’t the only one to make this comp, either:
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Wagner Has Been Epitome of Durability Since Entering the League
Wagner has missed just 10 games in 10 years, and he hasn’t missed more than two games in a single season since 2014. He may be getting older, but his play on the field sure doesn’t show it. He also has tons of experience playing in a base 4-3 defense, which is what new Bears coach Matt Eberflus will be installing.
“I don’t see myself stopping playing,” Wagner told the Seattle Times in December of 2021. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of room to grow as a player, to grow as a leader. I feel like there’s a lot of new technology that’s going to let me play a little bit longer, so I’m excited to dive into that stuff and we’ll see how it works out.”
Money may be the only major roadblock for the Bears. Smith is due for a contract extension and is projected to earn around $17.5 million per year, according to Spotrac, which also has the Bears at $23,004,286 in estimated cap space.
Sure, Chicago can cut players like Trevathan and Goldman, which would free up around $10 million, but the Bears still have major needs on offensive line and at wide receiver, and those needs should be addressed first. Still, this would be a dream pairing for the Bears, who have a history of storied players at linebacker.