Bears Have Need To Address At Outside Linebacker

Leonard Floyd hasn't produced as hoped. Could the draft provide an answer?

Chris Emma
February 27, 2020 - 5:12 pm
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INDIANAPOLIS (670 The Score) -- Since the Bears traded up to No. 9 overall to select outside linebacker Leonard Floyd in the 2016 NFL Draft, they've spoken of his potential. 

But with Floyd entering his fifth NFL season and set to make north of $13 million, the Bears may begin putting more weight into his performance level.

"Leonard wants to be more productive as a pass rusher," general manager Ryan Pace said at the NFL Combine on Tuesday. "We want him to be more productive there too."

Floyd has recorded 18.5 sacks over his first four seasons. That includes just three sacks in 16 games in 2019, when he saw an increased role in coverage as a Sam linebacker. He hasn't produced to the desired level, and with the cash-strapped Bears set to pay Floyd a haul as part of his fifth-year option, they need him to measure up to his paycheck.

Floyd's future beyond 2020 is uncertain. One option could be for the Bears to sign him to a team-friendly contract extension that creates additional cap space for this offseason, when they have a handful of needs to address -- including at quarterback.

Another possibility is that Floyd is facing his last season with the Bears, who need to add depth at outside linebacker for 2020 and beyond. It's why the Bears could prioritize drafting an edge rusher -- perhaps even with one of their two selections in the second round.

There should be a number of intriguing outside linebacker prospects available for the Bears at No. 43 and No. 50 overall. Penn State pass rusher Yetur Gross-Matos, who posted 9.5 sacks last season, could still be on the board. Florida product Jon Greenard, who also had 9.5 sacks in 2019, may fall to the Bears' position as well.

Notre Dame's Julian Okwara, Wisconsin's Zack Baun and Alabama's Terrell Lewis are also possibilities for the Bears on the second day of the draft.

"I'm confident in my strength," Okwara said. "I like to release somebody, run through somebody's face, throw them into the quarterback's lap, have the quarterback feel that pressure.

"I can take over games. I just got to keep that mindset every single day."

Floyd's inconsistent play has taken a toll on the Bears' defense and star pass rusher Khalil Mack in particular. The Bears need a bigger threat opposite Mack, who posted 8.5 sacks in 2019, his lowest mark since his rookie season of 2014. Mack's drop in sacks came as opposing offenses diverted more of their attention to him as the Bears suffered injuries and Floyd didn't produce at a high level.

When the Bears made their blockbuster acquisition of Mack ahead of the 2018 regular season, they did so believing it would help bring out Floyd's best. He has just seven sacks over the last two years with Mack.

The Bears have Mack under contract through the 2024 season and hope to create a dynamic tandem on the edges. Without the Bears boasting a second rushing threat at outside linebacker, foes can continue to focus their blocking schemes on containing Mack, which frustrates him and the Bears' defense as a whole.

Floyd will get one last opportunity to become the pass rusher that the Bears believed he can be, but they also need to start looking for alternatives.

The answer could come in the draft, where the Bears will have the chance to bolster their edge rush.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.