This is the second part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the top Chicago Bears free agents. The defense will be the focus in this second part.
The Bears have 26 free agents, including 22 unrestricted free agents this off-season.
On Thursday, we took a look at defensive end Corey Wootton's future in Chicago. Today, we examine the status of defensive tackle Nate Collins moving forward.
Who: Defensive tackle Nate Collins, 26-year-old, University of Virginia
2013 contract: one-year deal, $630,000
Collins turned out to a pleasant surprise in 2012 and was expected to compete for a starting job next to Pro Bowler Henry Melton this past season.
Unfortunately, Collins tore his ACL in his left knee during a Week Five home loss to the New Orleans Saints. He was expected to ease the pain of Melton's loss just two weeks prior to the same injury.
He finished the 2013 campaign with two starts in five appearances along with one sack and 14 tackles. In his first season in Chicago, 2012, he fit right into the defensive tackle rotation playing a total of 420 snaps, adding 11 tackles in nine appearances.
“I just feel confident that I’m gonna be ready,” Collins said, ‘‘that I’m not gonna miss anything too major when it comes to training camp and being ready for next season.”
Collins also noted that after his October surgery he learned to love the game that much more watching from the sidelines.
He plans to rehab with the Bears until the very first day of free agency on March 11th.
Head coach Marc Trestman was very disappointed at the time of Collins' injury and knows that the former undrafted Virginia product has a role on this defense.
On a defense that is looking for athletes all over, the 6-foot-2 Collins certainly belongs. He appeared in 13 games from 2010-11, recording 10 tackles, a half-sack and a fumble recovery with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Bears' defense was battered and bruised last season and without a presence in the middle of the line it really suffered.
Collins could be a very cheap option this off-season. He could be brought back on a veteran's minimum contract and compete for a starting job with the future of Melton up in the air.
He ranks as the 35th best defensive tackle by Walter Football, which doesn't mean much, but he is an athletic pass rushing defensive tackle who would be a fit in any team's defensive line rotation.
Why will he be back?
25-year-old Stephen Paea is the only defensive tackle under contract in 2014. He is really a nose tackle, who hasn't played up to his potential since being drafted in the second-round out of Oregon State in 2011. With that being said, Melton and mid-season signing Jeremiah Ratliff are also key free agents that the Bears have to make decisions on at the position. Collins will be the cheapest out of the three options and won't demand a hefty payday. He is a fit for this defense that will be looking to add more playmakers all-around after ranking at the bottom of the league in most categories.
Why won't he be back?
He is coming off major surgery much like Melton and the rehab process is long and grueling. The question remains to be seen whether Collins will be as effective moving forward. We saw first hand what knee injuries did to former Bears star Tommie Harris in year's past. Luckily this is the first major setback in Collins' career due to injury. The Bears will be adding an influx of young talent to this defensive unit and if they don't value you him as high as he thinks he won't be back in the mix. The draft will be an area where the Bears look to bring in a young stud early on in the process. The only way Collins doesn't return is if he isn't back to 100 percent by this summer, hence losing his true effectiveness as a pass-rushing tackle.
Up Next: Defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff
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