Kwiatkoski A Key Part Of Bears' Offseason Plan

INDIANAPOLIS (670 The Score) -- After Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski finished the final game of his breakout season in 2019, coach Matt Nagy felt pride for his player.

"I go to the appreciation of a guy that's a backup on a team that comes in throughout this whole year and is always very focused," Nagy said. "He's a guy that took major advantage of opportunities given to him.

"You always want to make tough decisions. That means that you have good players."

As the Bears prepare their plan ahead of free agency, they're ready for a tough decision with the 26-year-old Kwiatkoski.

The Bears are prioritizing Kwiatkoski as a top free-agent target, sources said. But they must balance the cost of a contract for him against their other needs -- namely quarterback, where Chicago is set on bringing in competition for Mitchell Trubisky, sources indicated.

With Kwiatkoski and a veteran quarterback among the Bears' top priorities on the open market, general manager Ryan Pace and his brass may need to be creative with the cap. And if the bidding for Kwiatkoski goes beyond the Bears' comfort, they could side with the lower-cost alternative in linebacker Danny Trevathan.

The Bears still value the veteran Trevathan, who turns 30 on March 24. Though he missed seven games last season due to a gruesome elbow injury -- and has played just two full seasons in the last seven years -- Trevathan's leadership and knowledge of the defense are important assets to the Bears.

Signed to a four-year deal in March 2016, Trevathan has posted 327 tackles, six sacks and three interceptions over 46 games with the Bears. A month after signing Trevathan, Chicago traded up in the fourth round of the draft to select Kwiatkoski. 

Kwiatkoski was drafted as linebacker depth in 2016, but as the Bears have endured injuries, Kwiatkoski has seen significant time as a starter. He has played in 57 games over four seasons, starting 22 times. Kwiatkoski started eight games in 2019 -- including the final seven contests after Trevathan's injury -- and posted career-best numbers with 76 tackles, three sacks and an interception.

"He took full advantage for his opportunities when he got them," Pace said. "You tip your hat to him. We talk about drafting and developing players. With him being a fourth-round pick, we’re proud of where he got to."

The Bears' offseason blueprint revolves around the quarterback position. Pace will be hoping the NFL Players Association votes to approve the proposed new collective bargaining agreement before the league's legal tampering period begins March 16. That new CBA would feature a higher salary cap and more wiggle room for the Bears, who can also create cap space by restructuring existing contracts. That's a more enticing option for established veterans given the new CBA will alter the value of their existing deals.

Once the Bears commit to a competing quarterback -- whether that's through free agency or trade -- they can look toward other needs on the roster.

The Bears could use the draft to address needs at tight end and edge rusher, and they feel confident in their internal options at receiver and cornerback. They must also find a starting safety, as free agent Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is unlikely to be re-signed. 

As the Bears prepare for a pivotal offseason, their plans for the defense center on Kwiatkoski and Trevathan.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.