This is the first part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the Chicago Bears' top free agents.
The Bears have 23 free agents, including 18 unrestricted free agents this off-season and with free agency officially opening up next Wednesday, March 9, it's time to dig deep.
After breaking down cornerback Alan Ball's chances on Tuesday, I'll take a look at Shea McCellin here today.
Who: Linebacker Shea McClellin, 26-year-old from Boise State University
2015 contract: In the final year of his four-year, $8.263 million deal, earning $775,600 last season ($2.69 cap hit)
The Bears took the undersized defensive end with the No. 19 overall selection in 2012. McClellin racked up just 6.5 sacks at the position in his first two seasons before making the switch to outside linebacker in the 4-3 defense in 2014 under Mel Tucker.
This past season, McClellin found a home at inside linebacker, his third position in three years. He fared rather well at times but struggled with injuries and looked to be limited in his cover ability in the middle of the field. The Bears declined his fifth-year option at $7.751 million last April and that likely gave him plenty of motivation to improve his game.
“I’d love to be back if they want me,” McCellin told the Sun-Times on Jan. 3. “If not, I’ll move on.”
McClellin recorded a career-best 81 tackles in 12 games, making 11 starts. He also had two tackles for a loss, two quarterback hits, a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Youngsters Jonathan Anderson, Jon Timu and Christian Jones and even special teamer LaRoy Reynolds all saw time at inside linebacker in 2015 as defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was forced to make changes.
A knee injury kept McClellin out of four games a season ago and opened the door for other inexperienced inside backers to earn playing time. He also had elbow and ankle injuries along with a concussion during the course of 2015. For what it's worth, McClellin finished 11th overall out of 127 ranked linebackers last season by Pro Football Focus. He had an overall ranking of 78.1 with a 79.4 ranking against the run and a 72.1 ranking in pass coverage.
"I don’t want to move positions again,” McClellin told the Sun-Times. “I feel like that’s the right fit. Hopefully I can stay around here and do that.”
McClellin played the fifth most snaps on the Bears' defense last season at 673 (63.5 percent) behind only safety Adrian Amos, cornerback Kyle Fuller, cornerback Tracy Porter and linebacker Christian Jones.
Why he'll be back
McClellin hasn't panned out to be the player the Bears chose back in 2012 in the first round, but he's smart and earned the trust of the new defensive coaching staff rather quickly, last off-season. He knows the defensive scheme and can communicate the plays in and out of the huddle. At the very least, he'll be a top backup, who can play special teams and spot defensive duty. McCellin shouldn't be too pricey and that's something the Bears could assess in terms of bringing him back. A one or two-year deal with him makes sense for both sides.
Why he won't be back
The Bears were enjoying McClellin's play until his injuries piled up last season, but you have to stay healthy to have true value in this league. With two undrafted rookies in Jonathan Anderson and John Timu showing promise alongside second-year man Christian Jones, the Bears have some nice pieces to work with moving forward. McClellin likely won't be a full-time starter even if he is re-signed. Plus, the Bears have nine picks in April's draft and adding a stud inside backer is a necessity. McClellin still has a chance to return, but merely for depth purposes as the team knows they need to upgrade the position this off-season.
McClellin will be back with the Bears next season.
Up next: Wide receiver Marc Mariani
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