The Chicago Bears’ money crunch claims another cap casualty.
And once again, it’s a productive starter:
The #Bears will be releasing LT Charles Leno, source said, their starter the last seven seasons. A surprise move. Chicago drafted OK St’s Teven Jenkins in the second round and plans to play him on the left side. Leno now available for LT-needy teams.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 3, 2021
NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport tweets the Bears are set to release left tackle Charles Leno Jr., which is a surprise on some levels … and on some other levels, not so much.
Leno has been Chicago’s primary starter since 2015 and hasn’t missed a game since the 2016 season. The 2014 seventh-round pick from the Phil Emery era was a Pro Bowl selection in 2018 and has been a symbol of steady play and durability throughout his time with the Bears. So, through that lens, it’s a bit of a surprise to see him let go — especially with protecting Justin Fields set to become a top priority.
But on the other hand, the writing was on the wall for everyone to see all weekend long.
For instance, when talking about second-round pick Teven Jenkins, GM Ryan Pace didn’t directly address which side of the line the Oklahoma State product would start:
Pace says Jenkins can play both tackle positions "and we've just got to sort that out."
— Larry Mayer (@LarryMayer) May 1, 2021
Bears GM Ryan Pace says Teven Jenkins can play both tackle positions. Says team was drawn to Jenkins’ toughness trait. Bears had a first round grade on Jenkins.
— Jeff Dickerson (@DickersonESPN) May 1, 2021
A day later, after drafting another offensive tackle, Pace skillfully dodged questions about Leno’s future:
#Bears GM Ryan Pace was just asked directly about Charles Leno's future and didn't answer the question.
— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) May 2, 2021
Leno, who turns 30 in October, was entering the final year of his contract.
Although today is just May 3rd, the cut will actually be designated as a post-June 1st cut, saving the Bears $9 million in cap space (with a $2.3M hit), as opposed to just $6.2 million in cap space (with a $5.1 million hit). As a reminder, teams can use post-June 1 cuts for only two players and the designation can be placed on players cut/released before June 1st.*
*This rule is meant to provide players with more time to find their next deal by disincentivizing teams to wait until after June 1st to make the cut.
In the end, I’m not sure the Bears should’ve even gone down this road. I realize parting ways with Leno is a popular sentiment in some circles. However, I struggle to see why. An honest assessment of Leno is that – while not a top-tier left tackle – he isn’t a bottom-of-the-barrel blocker either. While not outstanding in any one area, Leno is steady and reliable — and that should count for something. As should the fact that he hasn’t missed a game since the 2015 season. It’s a span of six seasons in which Leno hasn’t missed a start. It’s an ironman streak worth tipping your cap for once you realize it.
Creating cap space as part of a move to sign your draft picks is nice and all. But this opens up a can of worms on the offensive line. Clearly, the Bears have some sorting out to do throughout the offensive line room. We’ll tackle that issue soon.