After the Bears' foray into free agency, where they replaced at least a couple starters (safety, nickel, potentially RB1) and bolstered their special teams and O-line depth, most would agree that the largest remaining void is OLB3.
Aaron Lynch thrived as the Bears' third edge rusher last season prior to what ultimately was a season-ending elbow injury in Week 15 with eight QB hits, four TFLs, three sacks and an interception. That production might not jump off the screen, but he was really effective across 353 snaps on 'D,' also providing a bunch of pressure and setting a consistently strong edge on the NFL's No. 1 run 'D.'
Lynch remains unsigned but has made at least three known free-agent visits — Indianapolis, Seattle and Oakland — and is at best a longshot to return to Chicago, which might not be the specific root of some Bears' fans anxiety. But there has been some unrest regarding Ryan Pace's options to insure one of the league's best — and priciest — one-two OLB punches in Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd with the veteran alternatives dwindling and Chicago's well-documented dearth of draft ammo (league-low five total selections, the first at No. 87 overall).
The drop-off last season was stark from Lynch to Isaiah Irving, a proven preseason stud but still essentially an unknown regular-season quantity. Irving logged one sack — the first of his career — and three QB hits in 116 regular-season defensive reps and failed to crack the stat sheet in the wild-card round loss. It's worth noting, too, that more than 54 percent of Irving's snaps on 'D' came in two games, when Mack was out in Buffalo and the Bears' playoff seeding was already finalized in the regular-season finale.
It's possible Irving and/or last year's sixth-rounder Kylie Fitts will develop into a dependable piece in the OLB room, but they're not there yet. And although Matt Nagy caught more of the attention regarding potential Bears position switches this season when he said they're open to swapping C Cody Whitehair and LG James Daniels, Pace offered another hint at how the Bears potentially can bolster their OLB room ... from their current DL corps.
"I think if you look at our D-line depth, that can add to some of that too," he said Tuesday in Phoenix. "A guy like Roy Robertson-Harris, there are a lot of creative things we can do with him too. So it’s not just the outside linebackers. The pass rush and front in general, we feel pretty good about."
Remember, Roy Robertson-Harris entered the league as a 6-foot-7, 255-pounder out of UTEP with experience playing on his feet. After a couple years in the Bears' strength program and a move to the D-line, he's completely transformed his body, packing on nearly 40 pounds but maintaining a lot of the unique lateral quickness and speed that made him one of the best talents to go undrafted in 2016.
Robertson-Harris, like Lynch, was a handful as a rotational player last season, easily his best. Coincidentally, he and Lynch logged the exact same number of snaps on 'D' — 353 — which RRH parlayed into near-identical production: 11 QB hits, three sacks, three TFLs and two passes defensed.
Was the answer to the Bears' OLB3 riddle hiding in plain sight (not easy to do for a man of RRH's stature, mind you) all along? The Bears love Bilal Nichols, who looks like Pace's latest Day 3 steal, and fellow DE Jonathan Bullard is a valuable piece, if not the star some thought he might become after being picked No. 72 overall the same year RRH went undrafted. Throw in the Alpha Dogs Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman and the fact that the Bears also re-signed reserve nose Nick Williams, and the numbers suggest RRH might be poised to spend some time at outside linebacker this season ... and we're here for it.
Pace also beamed with pride in Phoenix about the contract Adrian Amos, formerly a fifth-rounder, commanded from the Packers, even offering up, unsolicited, the potential compensatory pick benefit the Bears might reap from it. Well, Robertson-Harris, who'll play on an ERFA tender in his potential walk year, could have the chance to show off the versatility and disruption that gets guys paid in this league, perhaps even factoring into the 2021 comp formula for a team finally in position to worry about the complex math that goes into it.
Could the Bears still sign another experienced vet outside backer or address the position by tapping into this rich draft class, even with limited picks? It's certainly possible, if not likely. But the scenario we laid out above could be a win-win for an increasingly versatile and creative club and Robertson-Harris and a potential solution to one of the Bears' few "problems" this offseason.