Journeyman linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis has played on four different teams during his first six NFL seasons, including his first with the Bears in 2019.
Pierre-Louis went to the Super Bowl following the 2014 season as a fourth-round rookie and appeared in the AFC title game two years ago after his trade from Seattle to Kansas City. He's experienced a ton of team success as a reserve linebacker and special-teams stud, but this marks his second consecutive year of emptying out his locker on "Black Monday," rather than preparing for the postseason.
Pierre-Louis exceeded expectations as a spot starter on defense for the Bears this season, also playing a major role on special teams, where he was among the unit's leaders in tackles and snaps. Unfortunately, those contributions are likely to be overlooked because of two crushing running-into-the-kicker penalties, and Pierre-Louis' chances of re-signing with the Bears probably hinge on what happens to the two players ahead of him on the depth chart, fellow free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski.
But as a player who's already been on good teams and a a couple of bad ones in the NFL, he said Monday that from his experience, the Bears are squarely in the first category, a team more than equipped to rebound following a wholly disappointing year.
"8-8 is not what the Bears organization is. We fell a little short this year, and something special is here. I’ve been on a couple teams, and I’m able to realize what’s real and what’s not, and they have something that’s real here. Whoever is going to be here is going to be a part of something special."
Pierre-Louis' opportunity to start on 'D' with the Bears didn't come until late in the season after Roquan Smith tore his pectoral in Week 14. Thus, neither he nor fellow next-starter-up Nick Williams technically count among the mere two Week 1 starters who took time to talk to the media on get-away day, James Daniels and Bobby Massie.
But Williams, like Pierre-Louis, are among the few Bears who played over their heads in a season when too many clearly were in over their heads following last year's surprise 12-4 breakthrough. The hulking D-lineman Williams went from journeyman with 28 career appearances — including no starts and no sacks — in his first three-plus seasons to being the Bears' second-leading sack artist(6) and D-lineman in snaps played (49.4 percent).
“I think you see it in my play this year. I was given opportunity and I just made the most of it," Williams said. "But it’s [kind of] short-lived, going home 8-8, not making the playoffs. I just wanted to come in here and give this team a chance. We fell short, but I had a good season."
As a former street free agent, Williams said he'll likely have more fun in free agency this go-around, but his hope is to return to Chicago.
"I want to be a Bear. I love this organization. They’ve afforded me a lot of great opportunities. I like this locker room. I like my teammates. ... We'll be even hungrier next year."
Whether Williams, like Pierre-Louis and especially Kwiatkoski, priced himself out of returning obviously remains to be seen. Before the Bears can turn their attention to depth, they have far bigger decisions relative to their quarterback, offensive line and TE positions.
But in determining the value of some of their second-tier free agents, the Bears would be wise to consider the fact that they answered the bell when called upon, unlike a number of other Bears whose returns are assured if for no other reason than financially.
Accountability. How much of it will Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace have for their large parts in the offense's regression? Hopefully at least as much as Pierre-Louis, who was still focused on his bad special-teams penalties — the first dating back to Week 5 — as he emptied his locker.
"I definitely want to look at my two things I did on special teams that were pretty critical," Pierre-Louis said of his self-evaluation. "I have to focus on that and really see how I can correct those mistakes."
The Bears need more Williams and Pierre-Louis types, not fewer.