D.J. Williams, linebacker
2014 pay: $645,700 ($645,000 base salary, $700 workout bonus).
By the numbers: Played in 12 games with 10 starts, and contributed 73 tackles, a pass breakup and two quarterback pressures, but was placed on the injured reserve on Dec. 11 due to a nagging neck injury that forced him out of the team’s sixth game. Williams participated in 412 snaps last season.
The case for keeping him: Williams provides an experienced veteran presence in the locker room, and has played in the past for new coach John Fox. An 11-year veteran, Williams played two seasons (2011-12) in Denver with Fox before signing in 2013 with the Bears. Williams projects as an ideal fit at inside linebacker in the team’s new 3-4 front, but hasn’t produced in the 90-tackle range since 2011, Fox’s first season in Denver. Williams won’t command much when he hits the market, and he could serve as a bridge player in the team’s transition to a new scheme.
The case for letting him walk: Williams turns 33 before the start of the 2015 season, and he’s finished the past two years on injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle in 2013, and the neck injury in 2014. Williams seems to be more of a two-down linebacker at this point in his career but could be rejuvenated playing again for Fox. Williams likely won’t have many options in free agency and won’t be able to command a huge salary. But Williams’ recent injury history could scare off the Bears. He’s played in 18 games over the past two seasons.
Prediction: The Bears will look for younger upgrades at the position this offseason, which means it’s likely Williams won’t be brought back. Like many free agents his age, Williams will likely have to wait until after the draft to sign with a team looking to fill out its final training camp roster. Williams, no doubt, can still play. But he won’t be a high priority in free agency for the Bears.