Creating a competitive NFL roster in the salary cap era is one of the greatest challenges in sports. So, naturally, putting together the perfect roster is pretty much impossible in the real world.
But at ESPN, Bill Barnwell made it his mission to create the perfect NFL roster while also staying under the salary cap, you know … theoretically. And while the Chicago Bears’ roster is far from perfect, the team does have one representative on Barnwell’s perfect squad: Cody Whitehair.
The Bears’ center is the team’s lone representative on the list, though his inclusion makes sense considering his 2016 salary ($960,000), future contract (three more years on a rookie scale deal), performance in his first season (quite literally among the best performance by a Bears offensive lineman in years), and projected future performance (which could be so good, it leads to breakout years from his teammates).
Joining Whitehair along the offensive line are three tackles (Taylor Lewan, Titans; Mitchell Schwartz, Chiefs; Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins) three guards (Zack Martin, Cowboys; Brandon Scherff, Redskins; Taylor Moton, Panthers), and fellow center Weston Richburg of the New York Giants. Altogether, Barnwell spent $25.3 million to assemble this offensive line – or approximately 15.1 percent of the salary cap.
Barnwell’s construction of this offensive line should be of particular interest because it does provide perspective on how important getting it right on draft weekend is – especially when it comes to winning battles at the line of scrimmage. Let’s note how this group has four first-round picks (Lewan and Martin in 2014, Scherff in 2015, and Tunsil in 2016) and four second-round selections (Schwartz in 2012, Richburg in 2014, Whitehair in 2016, Moton in 2017) anchoring the unit. It’s a pretty young group, with Schwartz (27) representing as the senior member.
If Barnwell’s end goal was to create the perfect team in a realistic way, it’s worth pointing out the way he put this line together is accurately representative of how great offensive lines are formed in modern football. Each of these linemen are still with the team that drafted them, proving once again young players who are chosen early in the draft and can start and be insanely productive right away are worth their weight in gold.
Whitehair, Lewan and Martin each graded out in the top-10 at their respective positions over at Pro Football Focus, while Schwartz, Scherff earned above average grades last year. Tunsil and Richburg received average grades from PFF, making theirs the lowest grades in the group. Still, Tunsil is starting his second season as a professional in 2017 and Richburg is just 25. Both players have high floors, and it’s fair to suggest the sky is the limit for both.
It’s a tough task to do for teams in the NFL, so it should go without saying Barnwell had his share of hurdles to clear when piecing together this 53-man roster. There were caveats and exceptions that Barnwell accounted for in order to make the process as realistic as possible. For example, each team must be represented – but no more than three players can come from one team. There were four undrafted free agents and seven rookies – one from each round of the 2017 NFL Draft.