The Bears continued to clear cap space on Wednesday as the team announced that they had released defensive end and outside linebacker Willie Young. Young spent four seasons with the Bears and was a prominent veteran on defense due to his consistent production. The move should be questioned as the release may due to more harm than good for a Bears team in need of playmakers.
Young was signed by previous general manager Phil Emery provide depth to a defensive line that failed to produce pressure in 2013. Before the 2014 season, he had only six career sacks during his four-year tenure with the Detroit Lions. The Young singing paid huge dividends as he recorded 10 sacks and a forced fumble in 15 games before suffering a significant Achilles injury.
When the Bears transitioned from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense in 2015, many believed that new general manager Ryan Pace would choose to either release or trade Young as he did not appear to fit the scheme. He was able to transition from the defensive end to the outside linebacker position and produced at a high-level once he fully recovered from his achilles injury. He registered five and a half sacks and an interception in second half of the season.
In the 2016 season, he increased his sack total with seven and half sacks and last season had two before suffering a season-dending injury in Week 5. His release leaves just Leonard Floyd as the only outside linebacker on the roster and the only consistent pass rush threat. The team will now have to find multiple pass rushers this offseason with a draft and free agency class that are low on pass rushing talent.
The move also may hinder Vic Fangio’s defense going forward from a talent and continuity standpoint. The released of Young and Pernell McPhee removes two players that had three seasons of familiarity in the defensive scheme and who had provided constant pressure. The defense made it difficult for opposing offenses to account for the vast amount of rushers the Bears defense could bring. Whether it be Floyd, Young, McPhee, Lamar Houston, or Akiem Hicks with just two of them under contract with the team now.
From a 2018 standpoint, the decision is questionable on Pace’s part because Young’s contract is the most affordable of players they have cut this off-season. He was also under contract for just one more season and could have provided a significant trade chip if the Bears underperformed midway through the 2018 season. His versatility to produce whether in a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme would garner a respectable draft pick in return if traded.
Many of the players released by the Bears so far this offseason have been warranted due underperformance or health conditions. Young had proven he could respond from injuries before and had shown production on a regular basis. Pace’s goal is to overhaul the roster this offseason, but this latest move may be more costly than cost efficient.