ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickerson reports that the Oakland Raiders have signed former Bears linebacker Nick Roach:

The Oakland Raiders agreed to terms with Chicago Bears free-agent linebacker Nick Roach, according to an NFL source.

Terms of the deal are unknown but it's believed the Raiders offered a multi-year deal worth between $3 million and $4 million per year.

Reports are that Roach will be the starting middle linebacker for the Raiders:


The Bears did make an effort to keep Roach, but money of course was the issue, especially with the team hoping to re-sign Brian Urlacher as well:



According to the Chicago Sun-Times' Sean Jensen, the Bears have $5.6 million available in cap space. Add in that they'll have to pay their rookie class somewhere in the neighborhood of $3-4 million, and they don't have much money to work with. Keep in mind that, along with Roach and Urlacher, the Bears had hopes of being able to re-sign players such as defensive end Israel Idonije, guard Lance Louis, offensive tackle Jonathan Scott, cornerback Kelvin Hayden (the Bears don't have a nickel back), etc. And then there's the money that will be needed for practice squad contracts.

As we've talked about on here and as Jensen points out in the article, the Bears can create more cap space with extensions and restructures aside from just cuts (the team has already released Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, and will release Matt Toeaina). Jensen writes about logical extension candidates:

The most obvious and logical, in my opinion, would be to sign cornerback Charles Tillman to an extension. He enters the final year of his deal, which is due to pay him $8 million. With an extension, the Bears could slash his cap number in half.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, of course, is another obvious candidate. He signed his franchise tender of $8.45 million earlier this week.

Cornerback Tim Jennings also enters the last year of his deal and makes some sense.

You'd think Phi Emery will certainly consider all of those options (particularly the Tillman and Melton long-term deals). 

But, back to Roach- I absolutely hate to lose him, and think his value has been highly underrated by many Bears fans. The 27-year-old been a rock-solid starting strong side linebacker for the Bears since 2008, and did a nice job in replacement of Urlacher at middle linebacker in the final four games of the 2012 season. He's also been a solid contributor on special teams. It's hard to find linebackers fully capable of starting at middle linebacker, strong side linebacker, and are quality performers on special teams.

Now, the Bears are left with only one starting linebacker, in Lance Briggs (at least he's really, really good) on the weak side. Blake Costanzo, Dom DeCicco, and J.T. Thomas are still around, but Costanzo (especially) and DeCicco are on the team mainly for their special teams contributions, and Thomas is still a project that only made five tackles in 2012 after being on injured reserve for his rookie season in 2011. So, unless the Bears believe in Thomas much more than I think they do at this point, they need two more starting linebackers. And again, they're not going to have much money to spend.

Re-signing Urlacher would certainly seem more likely now, but the Bears aren't going to cave and meet his contract demands either (nor can they likely afford to). I don't see him getting much interest elsewhere, so there's a good chance he'll cave at some point and take what the Bears are willing to pay (or the sides will simply meet somewhere in the middle of what they each want).

Another possibility that I suggested on Twitter is that the Bears trust Urlacher won't sign anywhere else, select a linebacker with their first or second draft pick in April, tell Urlacher's camp that they're just fine with the newly drafted player starting at middle linebacker if need be, and get Urlacher to settle for less money than he wanted because he has little leverage. Then, you'd start the draftee at strong side linebacker alongside Urlacher, and potentially make that player the middle linebacker when Urlacher retires (or just keep the player at strong side linebacker long term, of course). Georgia's Alec Ogletree is a guy that makes a lot of sense with this scenario, for example.

On the free agent market, one player that makes a ton of sense as a strong side linebacker for the Bears is Daryl Smith, a guy that has been very underrated for the Jacksonville Jaguars for years. Smith, who just turned 31 yesterday and is 6'2", 249 pounds, played for new Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker over the last four years in Jacksonville. In 2011, Smith had 107 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and one interception (and put together similar seasons from '05-'10), but only played in two games in 2012 due to a groin injury. Given the fact he only played two games in 2012 and given his age, there's some thought that Smith could be affordable, but could the Bears afford him AND Urlacher? Seems unlikely.

But, the bottom line is the Bears now need two starting linebackers, and it would appear that neither of those guys are currently on the roster. Linebacker is without question the No. 1 positional need for the Bears now.

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