The perception is that the Chicago Bears have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. However, the unit played well down the stretch and just needs a tweak and not an overhaul.
For nearly every year since the 1980s, the Chicago Bears have the perception of having weak offensive lines. Many fans use the line as an excuse for the lack of good quarterbacks on the team. That perception is so ingrained that if you asked the fans about the Bears’ offense and offensive line in Marc Trestman’s first season as head coach, many felt that the team suffered in both areas. In reality, however, the offense ranked second in points scored (behind only Peyton Manning‘s record-breaking Denver Broncos offense) and the line ranked fourth. Once a perception is set, it is difficult to erase it.
This is where we’re at with the current Chicago Bears roster. Many people feel that the offensive line is trash and everyone needs to be replaced. If the Bears could draft five offensive linemen this year they’d be all for it.
The truth of the matter is that the line is better than you think. Yes, I know that Nick Foles would vehemently disagree with that statement. When he was in there, though, the line was decimated. Injuries and COVID took a toll. In fact, things were so bad that Alex Bars started a game at center. Never in his football career, not high school, college, or professional levels, did he ever take a snap at center, let alone start a game.
Then the coaches found a pretty good combination, especially on the interior. They moved Cody Whitehair to left guard and put Sam Mustipher at center. Germain Ifedi moved to right tackle and Bars played right guard. Charles Leno remained at left tackle. That offensive line carved out holes for running back David Montgomery and protected quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on his second go-around as the starter. Despite having some low rushing totals during the early part of the season, Montgomery finished eclipsing 1,000 yards.
Many use the weak competition for the line’s improvement
A lot of people respond to what I’m saying by pointing out that the Bears played some weak defenses after their Week 11 bye. They played the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, and Jacksonville Jaguars so that’s a fair point. When they point out that they played better defenses in the Green Bay Packers (twice) and the New Orleans Saints and the offense struggled. Yes, that happened, but that was on the quarterback. The offensive line performed well, especially in the final regular-season game and the playoff game. Trubisky consistently had a clean pocket in both games, but he couldn’t get the offense into the end zone.
Yes, the line did what it was supposed to do against the weak defenses but it also did well against the better defenses they faced. While many kept complaining about the line, the players on the unit did their jobs well.
The line is pretty much set so an overhaul isn’t needed
One player who wasn’t a part of the line’s success down the stretch was James Daniels. He was the starting left guard before going down for the season with a pectoral tear in Week 5. He played well when he was playing and will be healthy when the 2021 season begins. He’ll likely move to right guard, where he did a good job in his rookie season in 2018. That means Bars likely becomes a swing lineman, splitting his time at guard and tackle. That adds good depth on the line.
Bobby Massie started at right tackle before he suffered an injury that cut his season short and he missed eight games.
With the interior of the line set, that leaves the tackles. Leno struggled again in pass protection and with penalties. When Massie was playing he played well. The problem with him is having him stay on the field. He missed a total of 14 games over the past two seasons.
Instead of blowing up the line, the Bears just need to address their tackle situation to help improve the line.
Just to give you an idea of how wrong the idea is of the Bears’ offensive line is, one of the selling points for Russell Wilson possibly coming to Chicago has to do with the line. This is what ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler recently wrote about Wilson to the Bears:
A source told me Russell Wilson likes that they have an emerging offensive line, a good solid offensive-minded coach in Matt Nagy, and they have an intriguing market in Chicago.
Those first two things may be a shocker to some, but most analysts believe the Bears o-line stabilized towards the end of the 2020 season, and with some health and a tweak here or there, they could be fine.
Bears need salary cap relief
If the Chicago Bears part ways with both Leno and Massie, they free up some much-needed salary cap space. They’ll carry over about $7.6 million from the 2020 season so they’ll be about just $500,000 under the cap. In order for them to re-sign some of their own players and add some free agents, the team has to restructure some contracts and let some players go. If they cut Leno and Massie, they save a total of $17 million. That’s an excellent start.
Don’t expect them to cut both. They probably cut one this year and, with a bigger salary cap next season cut the other. That means they likely cut Leno, saving $9 million. They can draft a left tackle early in the draft, but the question is whether they’ll have an early pick. The Bears are also in the market for a quarterback and if they trade for one, it’ll likely cost them at least their first-round pick, if not more.
With Bars helping out at guard/tackle, he is a good player to step up if something happens to Massie. Also, the team could re-sign Ifedi for even more depth. That gives the Bears a solid to a pretty good line. They accomplish that without overhauling the line. The unit has the pieces to be a good line and reverse all of the negativity of the past few decades.