Considering Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski both received three-year contracts within $250,000 average annual value of each other, the decision for the Bears truly did come down to keeping one or the other.
The Bears chose the older linebacker and there will be questions about this for a while, since Trevathan is now 30 and Kwiatkoski 27.
The statistical comparisons are difficult to make because Kwiatkoski hasn't even been a starter. His longest stint of playing time came last year and he earned an outstanding Pro Football Focus grade of 72.6 but Trevathan has also had high scores like this in the past, like 71.9 in 2018 and 80.4 in 2017.
The difference in the two is best brought out in the words of teammates and coaches when describing Trevathan.
"Just having a guy like that to depend on, show me the ropes, who's been through a lot and has a lot of experiences throughout this league; seen a lot of things from a lot of different perspectives," Roquan Smith said, when describing Trevthan's value. "So, just having that guy to lean on and just a guy that I can seek advice from is just great. I appreciate that guy a lot. So I'm very excited to have him back. We get to work this year, team up."
Leadership is a difficult quality to measure. It can't be measured by Pro Football Focus.
Trevathan was playing his position well and leading 10 other players on the field. Kwiatkoski was playing his position well but hadn't yet become the defensive leader in his 1,462 NFL defensive snaps played, less than a third of the snaps Trevathan has seen.
"I think Danny's leadership is special, I think it's unique and I think prior to his injury last year he was playing the best ball he's ever played," inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said. "So I think there was a lot of reasons to bring Danny back.
"I'm excited about that. I think from the room there aren't many other players that guys look up to like they look up to Danny. I think when he goes out and the way he practices and the way he plays I think it raises everybody’s level."
The problem with Trevathan is the injury DeLeone mentioned. Three times in his career he's missed big chunks of seasons with injuries. With the Bears he has missed 18 starts due to injuries, including the last seven games of 2019 due to an elbow injury.
When the Bears have Trevathan, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Roquan Smith on the field they are very difficult to run on.
Trevathan is less effective in pass coverage but still has been no worse over the course of his career than Kwiatkoski.
The age and injury past were all factors but defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano pointed out last year Trevathan is hardly an old player yet at 30. He was defensive coordinator for the Ravens when Ray Lewis was the leader at age 36.
"Year 11, 12, 13, 14 with Ray, we just kept saying, 'When's it gonna be over?' And it was never over," Pagano said last year.
Trevathan remains the main leader on a defense with so much of this quality apparent in others like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson and Khalil Mack.
"There's stuff left in there," Pagano said. "Don't ever count him out."
Danny Trevathan at a Glance
Key Numbers: Trevathan's 13.3 tackles per game was the second-highest average of his career, behind only the 13.5 he averaged in Denver in 2013.
2020 Projection: 14 games played, 149 tackles, 8 TFL