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 wide receiver/kick returner Deonte Thompson earlier today, I’ll take a look at linebacker Sam Acho’s chances of returning to Chicago.
Who: Linebacker, 27-year-old from the University of Texas
2015 contract: Played on a one-year, $745,000 deal
Last off-season, Sam Acho joined a large group of free agents who reached a one-year, prove-it deal with the Bears and first-year general manager Ryan Pace. Acho was one of my favorite signings from last year as he showed that he could be a solid linebacker in a 3-4 front for Arizona over the past four years.
He excelled at Texas and was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, racking up 13 sacks, three interceptions, seven forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries from 2011-14 with the Cardinals. Acho finished with 39 tackles, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 15 games, making seven starts in his first season donning the orange and blue.
Signed to fit the Bears’ 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Acho failed to record a sack or make much of an impact as a pass rusher, but he proved to be a core special teamer and is a solid run defender when playing in base packages.
Acho is a model citizen on and off the field and can help any NFL locker room really gel. He’s a very smart guy and last off-season when I sat down to talk everything football and life with him, he proved that he will be making an impact in this world well after his NFL career is over.
Regardless, Acho fits the mold of what it means to be a Chicago Bear especially under the new regime with Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox.
For what it’s worth, Acho ranked 56th overall out of 127 total linebackers by Pro Football Focus in 2015. He had an overall rating of 69.9 with a 76.8 rating in coverage and a 71.2 rating against the run.
The 6’3″, 257-pounder played the fifth-most snaps of any Bears linebacker a season ago and finished third in terms of snaps at outside linebacker behind Pernell McPhee and Willie Young with 446 snaps (43.3 percent). He also took the field for 287 special teams.
Why he’ll be back
The Bears have eight linebackers under contract, but just three are reliable outside linebackers in veterans Pernell McPhee, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston. Acho is both versatile and gifted in terms of staying in his gaps defensively and holding down his assignments on special teams. He can move inside if need be, an area where the Bears struggled at times. Acho won’t be too pricey to bring back and if the Bears were smart they’d give him a two or three-year extension to keep him here as a core special teamer and top rotational piece for year’s to come.
Why he won’t be back
It’s all about production and the Bears need outside backers who can pressure the quarterback and get into the backfield in a hurry. Acho didn’t make many impact players in that department and that diminishes his value. His special teams value and overall high football IQ will likely keep him in town, but the Bears know they need to bolster the position and that could leave Acho off the roster once the draft and free agency is over.
Acho will be back next season
Up next: Cornerback Tracy Porter
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