2018 Offseason Outlook: Who's Protecting Mitch Trubisky?

Social Navigation


2018 Offseason Outlook: Who’s Protecting Mitch Trubisky?

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears’ offensive line figured to be a strength heading into the 2017 season.

Certainly, it was going to benefit Mike Glennon when he stepped under center behind a unit returning all five of its starters and projected to be one of the five best in the league. And in case Mitch Trubisky was thrust into action early, it was re-assuring to know that he would be in a situation where he was well-protected.

Unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it played out. Eight different linemen started in a year when the Bears used nine different players to fill in the gaps when injuries and under-performance reared their ugly heads.

The Bears could conceivably bring back the same group in 2018, but there is a growing likelihood the front five tasked with protecting Trubisky and clearing holes for Jordan Howard will look different than the one that started 2017.

WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?

Charles Leno Jr. could have been a free agent, but instead signed a lucrative contract extension prior to the season. Leno Jr. rewarded the Bears’ by playing every offensive snap and earning a career-best 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2017. Even though he earned a hefty raise, the total value of his contract ranks 13th among left tackles and the total guaranteed checks in at 18th, making his deal a relative bargain.

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Bobby Massie and Josh Sitton each enter the final season of their respective deals. Massie signed a three-year deal worth up to $18 million and featured $6.5 million guaranteed as a free agent in March 2016 the 2016 season. Sitton’s deal came later that summer after he was released by the Green Bay Packers. The Bears hold a team option that comes with a base salary of $7.4 million in 2017.

Cody Whitehair is in the second year of his rookie deal, but where he’ll play along the line will ultimately be determined by what the Bears do in free agency and the draft. Whitehair played all three interior line positions in 2017.

Kyle Long battled through another injury-shortened year and gutted out 10 games (nine starts) despite playing through numerous ailments.

The Bears will enter the offseason with center Hroniss Grasu and guard Eric Kush as their top returning reserves.

Cameron Lee and Brandon Greene were late-season call-ups from the practice squad who made it to the active roster. D.J. Tialavea is the only lineman listed on the current practice squad, while center Travis Averill and guard Will Pericak were given reserve/future contracts.

EXITING FREE AGENTS

Bradley Sowell and Tom Compton were added as depth pieces last offseason. Both started multiple games and each showed off versatility when called into action.

WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?

The Bears could save more than $5 million in salary cap space if they part ways with Massie. But as we noted in Bullets, it appears as though the Bears are leaning toward paying his roster bonus, which would likely secure his spot on the roster in 2018. Chicago has an option to pick up on Sitton, too. Declining the option would clear up $7.9 million in cap space. The team could also part ways with Eric Kush, a reserve lineman who spent the entire season on injured reserve with a torn hamstring.

Potential cap savings (if the Bears cut all three): $14,890,625 ($1,166,668 dead money)

HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?

Last year, the Rams used free agency to jump-start their rebuild by adding tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan. So if the Bears truly take the Rams’ plan to heart, they’ll make a free agent splash to add a top-tier offensive lineman.

Swapping Sitton for Andrew Norwell would raise some eyebrows. The All-Pro guard is arguably the best lineman who could hit the market and is five years younger than Sitton. Norwell, who earned Pro Football Focus’ highest pass-blocking grade in 2017, has started 32 straight regular season games and 45 of the last 48.

Nate Solder of the Patriots is the best tackle who could reach the free agent market, but he has already once taken a below-market deal to stay in New England. On the other side of the line, Cameron Fleming, who started at right tackle for the Patriots after injuries shuffled the line, could also be in play because of his upside. Pittsburgh’s Chris Hubbard is another tackle who could be on the Bears’ radar, as Pro Football Focus sees him as a fit for Chicago.

Because the Bears might be looking to clear cap room by parting ways with some expensive linemen in order to spend money elsewhere, it’s unlikely the Bears will jump into the free agent market to improve the line. However, I won’t count out the possibility of improving the line with a big-ticket signing.

And then there’s the draft, where Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson is the gem of this class. However, he’s not the only lineman from his school with a first-round grade. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey is arguably the draft’s best offensive tackle and could be a strong addition as a run blocker on the right side.

Texas’ Connor Williams was believed to be the draft’s top offensive lineman heading into the season, but his draft stock took a bit of a hit after missing time this season with injuries. Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown might have the most impressive tape among the tackles. His ability to clear space and protect a quarterback’s blindside was on display throughout Baker Mayfield’s Heisman-winning campaign.

This draft is littered with potential diamond-in-the-rough types. Humboldt State tackle Alex Cappa and North Carolina A&T’s Brandon Parker were Senior Bowl standouts who are mid-to-late round selections that could still be available later in the draft. UTEP’s Will Hernandez is a guard who could be plucked in the second round.


Latest from Bleacher Nation:


Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.