2022 Offseason Outlook: Teven Jenkins and the Offensive Line

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2022 Offseason Outlook: Teven Jenkins and the Offensive Line

Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears’ 2021 season is one we don’t mind leaving in the rear-view mirror. 

With that being said, we’re looking ahead to 2022 and beyond. The Ryan Poles Era is underway. And with a new-look front office and a fresh set of eyes at head coach, a clean slate is at everyone’s fingertips. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a position-by-position look at the team heading into the offseason for a franchise that should be excited about changes on the horizon under its new leadership.

Previous: Quarterbacks, Running backs, Wide receivers

Today: Offensive line

Offseason need: High

WHO’S UNDER CONTRACT?

Teven Jenkins (24) through 2024, Larry Borom (23) through 2024, Cody Whitehair (29) through 2024

The offensive line room might as well be a blank canvas. Jenkins and Borom combined to make 10 starts last year, while Whitehair is coming off a disappointing season (by the standards he set in years before) at left guard. At least Jenkins and Borom have youth on their side. Whitehair will play the 2022 season at age 30.

Overall, Jenkins is the most alluring of the linemen who are under contract. And I still believe in him:

A second-round pick in 2021 with first-round talent, Jenkins has size and skill that could allow him to play either tackle spot or one of the two guard positions. New GM Ryan Poles seems unsure where Jenkins fits in the grand scheme of things right now. However, I expect we (and Jenkins) will get some clarity on the matter after free agency and the draft shakes out.

In any case, it is safe to say to say this group will have some new teammates soon.

EXITING FREE AGENTS

UFA: Jason Peters (40), James Daniels (24), Germain Ifedi (27), Elijah Wilkinson (27)

RFA: Alex Bars (26)

ERFA: Lachavious Simmons (26), Sam Mustipher (25)

Three Week 1 starters (Peters, Daniels, Ifedi) are unrestricted free agents. Another player with starting experience (Bars) is a restricted free agent. And two others (Simmons, Mustipher) are exclusive-rights free agents. Meaning that the only team those players can negotiate new deals with are the Bears. Again, all signs are pointing to a wave of new players entering the trenches.

WHO COULD BE CUT BEFORE THE LEAGUE NEW YEAR BEGINS?

Designating Whitehair with a post-June 1 cut status would create $8.1 million in cap space. That would be nice, but it comes with a few caveats. Firstly, there would be another $4.2 million in a dead money hit that the Bears would take on. Secondly, GM Ryan Poles would be unable to use that newfound cap space until after June 1. And perhaps most important of all is that it would create yet another position for the Bears to fill along the offensive line.

Going down this path would give off some real robbing Peter to pay Paul energy.

Cap numbers via OverTheCap.com

POSSIBLE FREE AGENT FITS

(Age in parenthesis)

⇒   Terron Armstead, left tackle (30)
⇒   Ryan Jensen, center (30)
⇒   Laken Tomlinson, guard (30)
⇒   Ben Jones, center/guard (32)
⇒   Brian Allen, center (26)

One of the most intriguing things about this crop of free agent linemen is that there is something for everyone. You might need to do some digging to unearth what you want, but it is there. And even if you do, it might come with a notable “but” that comes along for the ride.

For instance, Armstead is a stud left tackle. And it’s not often when those types of players reach the market. But injuries limited him to just 8 games last season and kept the three-time Pro Bowler from starting a full-season’s worth of games in his career. Injuries have been a limiting factor for Allen, too. Trying to find offensive linemen in free agency is definitely a buyer beware scenario.

PFF’s TOP-5 DRAFT-ELIGIBLE PROSPECTS

⇒   Charles Cross, Mississippi State
⇒   Ikem Ekwonu, North Carolina State
⇒   Evan Neal, Alabama
⇒   Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
⇒   Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

Unfortunately, this collection of talent will be long gone off the board by the time the Bears get on the clock with their first pick (39th overall) of draft weekend. But if it is any consolation, players like Zion Johnson (Boston College), Jamaree Salyer (Georgia), Tyler Smith (Tulsa), and Nicholas Petit-Frere (Ohio State) are Day 2 options who could play their way into early starting roles.

HOW CAN THE BEARS ADDRESS/UPGRADE THE POSITION?

Addressing the position would be a step in the right direction. The offensive line was widely neglected throughout the Pace era. Investments like the ones made in Jenkins and Daniels early in the draft were too few and far between. Committing to spending money in free agency on linemen never came to fruition either. The hope is that the arrival of a new GM and top assistant who were college offensive linemen could steer the Bears in the right direction.

With free agency on the horizon, the Bears would do well by finding a tone-setting anchor. Perhaps someone like Ryan Jensen, a free agent center with championship experience coming off a Pro Bowl season makes sense. Or if the Bears were to go with a younger player in that mold, maybe Brian Allen makes more sense. I’m not sure the Bears have enough cap space to get splashy with multiple free agents along the offensive line. So it is possible Chicago pivots to someone like Joseph Noteboom, who started three games for the Super Bowl champion Rams and looked the part of a capable starter while in a limited role.

After adding in free agency, the Bears need to double down in the draft. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be with an early Day 2 pick. But this group could stand to get younger (in addition to lighter, leaner, and quicker as GM Ryan Poles said earlier in the week).


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Author: Luis Medina

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