Bears inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, one of the team captains, has been suspended for 10 games without pay after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the second time in less than a year.
Freeman, who is currently on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle from the season opener, was also suspended for four games late last season. He still led the Bears with 127 tackles in 2016 and was the team's leading tackler in 10 of the 12 games he played.
Under the current suspension, the six-year veteran will miss the remainder of this season and the first two games of 2018. The missed paychecks will cost him about $2.2 million.
Freeman signed a three-year, $12 million contract with the Bears as a free agent in March of 2016. He has a base salary of $3.5 million next year, when he will be 32, so the Bears might consider going in a different direction.
Because of injuries, four-year veteran Christian Jones has started the past five games at inside linebacker and played well. He is second on the team with 47 tackles, 5 behind Danny Trevathan, the other starter at inside linebacker.
Last year's fourth-round pick, Nick Kwiatkoski, showed promise in seven starts last year when he got opportunities because of injuries and Freeman's suspension. Kwiatkoski returned last week in a backup role after missing five games with a chest injury.
In addition to Freeman's chest injury in Week One, he also has been dealing with a concussion from the same game. He hinted in a statement he released Monday that the head injury is perhaps a more serious issue.
"I hate to (say) I am sorry again, but I am sorry," Freeman's statement read. "I've been on I.R. all year, and you try and stay out of sight, but sorry for the distraction. I had been lying to friends, family, and loved ones, when it came to the question of 'Are you OK?' Knowing my career may be over due (to) everything that came with the head injury (that's been purposely downplayed by me), memory loss and all has actually been a bit of a struggle.
"That being said, there's no excuse to cope with any problem by taking any kind of pills. I don't know my future, but a big thanks to the Bears and the NFL, if I would have used their programs and services earlier than I did I wouldn't be in this situation. Sorry again for the distraction."
Because Freeman is on I.R., coach John Fox doesn't have daily interaction with him, so he wasn't up to speed on the aftereffects of the concussion. But that didn't mitigate his disappointment.
"I've not seen Jerrell for a minute," Fox said. "I would respect what he has to say. But the reality is we're obviously pretty disappointed. It's really just like last year again. It's something that we talk about very, very consistently.
"(Players) are responsible for what they put in their body. I'll just leave it at that. From my perspective, that's just how I look at it. I haven't seen all the details."
Fox was asked if he had concerns that Freeman downplayed the severity of the concussion.
"That's really kind of way ahead of my pay grade," Fox said. "I'm not a doctor. I'm a football coach. We look, and we try to protect guys the best way we can. They don't put me in charge of doctoring."
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