The next stop in former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s bizarre journey will be with the Bears’ practice squad.
The Bears signed him Tuesday to fortify their linebacker depth, and he has cleared coronavirus testing, which makes him an option for them Monday against the Rams. Veterans such as Te’o typically wouldn’t have auditioned for practice-squad spots, but the NFL has pandemic-related rules this season that allow teams to promote players temporarily.
Te’o established himself as a star at Notre Dame, where he was the 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up and helped the Irish reach the BCS National Championship Game.
It was an infamous run. During the 2012 season, Te’o was the victim of a catfishing scam in which a man created a fake identity online and began a relationship with him as his girlfriend. Te’o promulgated a story that his girlfriend died in September of that year, but Deadpsin exposed the hoax months later.
Te’o repeatedly denied fabricating the story, and Ronaiah Tuiasosopo confessed to the scheme.
The controversy damaged Te’o’s draft stock substantially, but he bounced back and has had a solid NFL career. The Chargers drafted him No. 38 overall in 2013, and he played three-plus seasons with them before tearing his Achilles tendon in 2016. He had 221 tackles in 38 games, then went to the Saints in 2017.
That was his last season as a full-time starter. He played in a combined eight games for the Saints in 2018 and 2019 but has not been on a roster this season.
The Bears gave Te’o and fellow linebackers Deone Bucannon (a former first-round pick) and Justin Phillips a tryout last week, and Te’o’s signing indicates he was the best of the trio.
The Bears are set at inside linebacker with Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan starting, followed by second-stringers Joel Iyiegbuniwe and Josh Woods. They promoted practice-squad linebacker Devante Bond for the game against the Buccaneers, but he got injured. That’s likely the spot Te’o will take for now.