For the second straight season, Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman will not complete a full season with the team, as Freeman was suspended for 10 games on Monday for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace has to be wondering if a Jerrell Freeman injury — a torn pectoral muscle in Week 1 against the Falcons — and back-to-back seasons with a PED suspension are a worthy price to pay for what the veteran ‘backer brings to the field.
When healthy, Freeman offers both leadership and production, as he led the team in tackles last year despite his four-game ban for PEDs. He was named a defensive captain this year, proving just how highly his teammates think of him.
But ever since Freeman has been nursing his pec injury, the Bears defense hasn’t seemed to miss their veteran captain. Through eight games, the Bears rank eighth in total defense, including 10th against the pass and 12th against the run. They’ve also allowed just 21.4 points per game, which puts them in the top half of the league.
Part of the reason the Bears have been able to chug along fine without Freeman has been because of the emergences of Christian Jones and Nick Kwiatkoski. The two have shown solid improvement while playing alongside a tenacious Danny Trevathan, a surging Leonard Floyd, a mostly healthy Pernell McPhee, and while being protected up front by defensive linemen Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks.
Not to mention, the secondary is much improved from last year. The overall success of the defense has been able to minimize any mistakes Jones and Kwiatkoski might make.
While in an ideal world, Freeman would be suiting up next to Trevathan and the two would be wreaking havoc on a week-to-week basis, the reality is that Freeman is becoming more difficult to count on because he can’t stay on the field.
As Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk says, “Freeman won’t be eligible to play again this season unless the Bears make a deep playoff run, although his description of life post-concussion makes one wonder if he’ll be playing again at any point.”
Jeff Dickerson of ESPN notes: “Freeman is under contract through 2018 and scheduled to earn $3.5 million, but he is out of guaranteed money.” Which means, the Bears aren’t exactly on the hook should they decide they have enough without him.
“By cutting him after this season, the Bears would not have to pay his $3.5 million base salary next year, and he would count $500,000 against their salary cap,” Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune writes.
I think I’m ready to move on from Freeman, personally. While his 2016 performance showed what he can do when on the field, it’s not the like the Bears need him to be a good defense. They’ve proven otherwise.
And with this being Freeman’s second violation in as many seasons, that age-old adage comes to mind: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”