The Bears began shaping their 2018 team Tuesday by making their most difficult roster decision, as well as their easiest, in the span of a few hours.
Guard Josh Sitton, one of only three Pro Bowl players during general manager Ryan Pace’s three-year stint with the Bears, won’t return. The team told him it will decline his $8 million option for 2018, making the soon-to-be 32-year-old a free agent.
RELATED STORIES John Fox says Bears are ‘closer than people think’ Will the Bears give CB Kyle Fuller the franchise tag? Window opens Tuesday
Earlier, the Bears decided to cut inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who was suspended for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug rules twice in as many years with the team.
After tearing a pec muscle on the Bears’ first defensive play of the season, Freeman went on injured reserve. He received a 10-game suspension midway through the season, sealing his fate.
Outside of quarterback Mike Glennon, perhaps no veteran was less likely to return than Freeman. The Bears were pleased with Nick Kwiatkoski’s performance in his place, playing alongside Danny Trevathan.
The Sitton decision, however, was much more nuanced. The Bears signed the former Packers star to a three-year, $21 million deal before the 2016 season, and he responded by posting his fourth Pro Bowl season. Considered one of the game’s best pass-blocking offensive linemen, Sitton allowed only six pressures in 2016 but gave up twice as many last year. After missing only two games to injury in seven years as a starter for the Packers, Sitton started 25 of 32 games with the Bears and finished last season with an ankle injury.
The window to decide on Sitton’s option opened five days after the Super Bowl and was set to close March 9.
To replace Sitton, the Bears could eye Notre Dame star guard Quenton Nelson, who played for new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand in college, in the draft. The Bears figure to interview Nelson, who is likely to be taken in the top 10, at the NFL Scouting Combine next week.
The Bears also could consider moving center Cody Whitehair, who struggled with snaps early last season, back to guard, the position he played before the Bears signed Sitton. Right guard Kyle Long is recovering from offseason surgeries.
Cutting Sitton and Freeman will save the Bears more than $11 million in salary-cap space, but the team already had plenty of money to spend — about $40 million before the moves — in free agency.
The Bears need an infusion of talent. With Sitton gone, they have only two players on their roster who have reached the Pro Bowl: Long and running back Jordan Howard. The Bears had no players in this year’s Pro Bowl for the first time since 1999.
Hall gets probation
Bears defensive back Deiondre’ Hall was given six months probation earlier this month after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and public intoxication during a bar fight last March. He entered the plea on Feb. 6 and was sentenced three days later, according to the Black Hawk County (Iowa) Clerk of Courts.
Hall was tased, arrested and cited for three counts March 26 after he was removed from Sharky’s Funhouse in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Follow me on Twitter