The Chicago Bears have decided not to waste any time getting younger, releasing two key veterans—safety Antrel Rolle and guard Matt Slauson—after drafting nine new players and signing several free agents.
The Bears also released defensive end D’Anthony Smith who played in two games and registered two tackles last year, but the Rolle and Slauson cuts are the ones that are making waves the day after the draft concluded.
Rolle only managed to play in seven games last season before landed on injured reserve with ankle and knee issues and even then clearly was not playing up to his usual standard at age 33. The addition of three safety prospects via the draft—two in the fourth round (Miami’s Deon Bush and Northern Iowa’s Deiondre’ Hall) and one in the sixth round (DeAndre Houston-Carson)—added younger, more athletic competition at the position, putting Rolle’s status with the team in doubt.
In hindsight, the Bears made a savvy move by paying him all of his guaranteed money ($4.9 million) his first year, meaning the Bears save $2.7 million in cap space with no dead money.
#Bears thought Antrel Rolle could help them last season but 1 reason they were looking for speed this year was b/c of signings like him.
— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) May 1, 2016
With Rolle’s release, the Bears could look for another veteran free safety to join the club and provide mentorship for this suddenly very young, inexperienced position—second-year free safety Adrian Amos now has the most career starts of any safety on the roster (16) after starting every game for the Bears last season.
One interesting option that’s been discussed often could be Donte Whitner, who played with under Vic Fangio in San Franscisco. Whitner made the Pro Bowl (2014) with the Cleveland Browns, and while he may not have the range he had now that he’s 30 years old, he can still deliver a blow and help in the run game. Another top free agent safety could be James Idehigbo, who had a nice season for the Detroit Lions last year and appears to still have some productivity in him.
All in all, the Bears won’t overly miss Rolle’s on the field production, as there was essentially none. On the other hand, Chicago could possibly miss Slauson steady presence a bit more.
This move was a bit more surprising due to the timing. The drafting of Kansas State’s Charlie Whitehair in the second round of the draft, as well as rumors that the Bears were looking to trade Slauson for an extra pick, certainly indicated that Chicago was willing to move on from him at the right price. And yet, given Slauson’s productivity when healthy (he missed most of 2014 with a torn pectoral) and his ability to play center as well as guard, it seemed as though there was still a place for him on the line even if the Bears wanted to move Whitehair to guard immediately.
Spoke w/ a source about the Matt Slauson cut & cited health concerns for the reason for cut. #Bears
— Aaron Leming (@AaronLemingNFL) May 1, 2016
Given the doubts about Hroniss Grasu‘s readiness to step in as the Bears’ starting center, I thought the Bears could possibly wait until training camp to decide Slauson’s fate after evaluating Whitehair against NFL competition to ensure that another such situation didn’t arise.
That said, I think Whitehair looks like a better player than Grasu at this stage, and there is sufficient competition along the interior line already—Grasu, Whitehair, Manny Ramirez, and Ted Larson can all vie for center and guard positions—to make sure the Bears have a competent offensive line. It certainly seemed like Slauson’s days were numbered in Chicago no matter what, and cutting him now saves the $2.5 million in cap money and ensures that his $835,000 worth of dead money isn’t split between this year and next year.
Both moves show that the Bears are aggressively trying to get younger and more athletic across their roster and that this new regime is confident enough in their talent evaluation and development skills that they’re not afraid to turn a few veterans loose—saving money in the process—if they think their young players are ready now.