There are more prolific inside linebackers — look no farther than his injury fill-in last season — and there are certainly more durable.
Danny Trevathan’s leadership ability, the respect he commands from Bears teammates by the way he conducts himself on and off the field, is second to none. It trumped his injuries and age as arguably the leading reason the Bears made the eight-year veteran their first priority of free agency with a new, three year-deal before Trevathan could hit the open market.
Will his reported contract that promises $14 million and maxes out at $24 million be as lucrative as the one Nick Kwiatkoski signs, likely at free agency’s opening bell next week? No. It’s a really nice payday, to be sure.
From NFL Now: The #Bears agreed to terms last night with veteran linebacker and leader Danny Trevathan, and he'll get a 3-year deal worth $21.75M base value and a maximum of $24M. Trevathan gets $14M in guarantees, as Chicago locks up a core piece. pic.twitter.com/wpnEYVQVrH— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 13, 2020
But unlike Trevathan, who turns 30 later this month, Kwiatkoski is an ascending 26-year-old who’s appeared in 42 consecutive games, including the last seven of 2019 as a starter, when he stepped up after Trevathan went down with a dislocated elbow and produced at an even higher level than his predecessor who was building on his Pro Bowl-caliber ’18 form.
Perhaps, then, the second (if not No. 1) reason Trevathan returns and Kwiatkoski soon will depart is financial. After all, the Bears are extremely tight on cap space, and locking up “Kwit” probably would’ve prevented another big splash like the one they potentially still could make somewhere on offense, likely behind center. Reports suggest Kwiatkoski could command at least $10M annually (and likely $20M guaranteed), with fellow free agents Cory Littleton and Christian Kirksey poised to soon drive the entire position's earning power up. Keep that in mind if you're suffering from Trevathan sticker shock, because the deal admittedly still is a bit bigger than many foresaw.
It’s also possible that choosing Trevathan — who missed essentially the final seven games last season — over Kwiatkoski (seven games missed in his first four seasons combined) magnifies the need to re-sign Kevin Pierre-Louis or a similarly valuable ILB insurance policy. Trevathan has also missed time with a torn patellar tendon and calf injury, in addition to suspension for an illegal hit, since joining the Bears, and his running mate, Roquan Smith, had his turbulent sophomore campaign halted by a torn pectoral that required surgery.
Still, let's not forget that many viewed Kwiatkoski as a roster question mark as recently as last summer; Trevathan's only question remains availability. The latter has shown no signs of diminished speed and explosiveness — his hallmarks — and his instincts are even better than the former's, who still must prove that he can play on three downs at a high level for a full season. Sure, Trevathan technically has only done it twice, but the first time in 2015 culminated with him as the leading tackler and defensive captain on a Super Bowl champion, and the second ended in the Bears' only playoff berth and his lone Pro Bowl nod in the past decade.
Indeed, we asked Matt Nagy in November following the coach's first full week of practice without his rock on defense about Trevathan's credentials and the effect he has on his teammates. We didn't realize the linebacker had continued to attend every practice and meeting, which is pretty rare for injured vets.
"Danny is one heck of a leader, especially vocally," Nagy said. "He’s that guy that does all the talking. He’s in the middle of the huddle, so guys look to him. He has been out there, and he has been present. So I think just his presence, seeing him on the sideline and understanding that he’s there watching and helping and mentoring can be just as big. There’s sometimes when we pull him out of play here and there for reps, and it’s kind of similar to that."
The Bears are betting that Trevathan will spend the majority of his time leading in between the white lines over the next few years. It's certainly a risk, but their calculus should be surprisingly easy to understand.