Chicago Bears: Examining the Offensive Line Options This Offseason
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Some things you guess at but other things you just know. So the news from Pro Football Focus (PFF) that the Bears have the second-worst offensive line in the NFL should hardly come as a surprise to any of us.
It is difficult for the average fan to determine the play of an offensive line. Fortunately, PFF grades every play during each game for us (you can find more information on their grading here).
One of the things that I especially find nice about PFF's methodology is that it takes into account sacks and pressures which are the primary fault of the quarterback or due to solid coverage. Even the best offensive lines can't hold off an opposing defender forever.
For example, Aaron Rodgers has been sacked more than any other QB, yet the Green Bay Packers line ranks 11th overall. In Chicago, we know how bad the line is, yet it is also said that Jay Cutler sometimes holds onto the ball too long.
Well, even if Cutler doesn't get rid of the ball quick enough, the rankings account for that and still have nothing but awful news. But, once again, it is not surprising news to anyone who has watched this team over the past couple of years.
Two things have been true about Cutler since his arrival from Denver. First, his weapons weren't good enough. Well, GM Phil Emery took care of that by going out and stealing Brandon Marshal from the Dolphins over the summer.
Second, Cutler's line did not protect him. Yet that problem persists to this day and remains the main threat preventing the Bears from being a true contender. For even if they make the playoffs, I can't see them winning a game.
So, you ask, why not just fix the line? Well, it isn't as simple as it may appear. For one thing, there aren't players on the street worth signing, or they would already have been signed. Look, it's not as if Chicago just discovered their line play stinks.
Plus, there are lots of teams looking for improvement on the line. Good left tackles don't come up in free agency very often and the ones that do will be in high demand.
So what does this mean for the future?
Emery will need to address the line as his top priority this offseason. I would expect that he spends at least two draft picks on a lineman, including the first round.
As for free agency, a left tackle to replace J'Marcus Webb would be nice. Though teams seldom let good LTs walk, let's take a look at a couple who might be available.
The one name that keeps getting discussed is Jake Long. But he will likely be too expensive, and he is injured. Plus, Miami will want him back, so they could tag him.
Ryan Clady, if he is not franchised by Denver, will be another name out there. But he, too, will be looking for big money. This report claims he is looking at Joe Thomas cash (seven-year, $84 million).
Clady turned down a five-year, $50 million offer from the Broncos prior to this season, so he won't come cheaply.
The Chiefs have Branden Albert, though they will probably keep him wearing red. He could be the best all-around LT in the game.
Sam Baker of Atlanta is a wild card, because when healthy he is very good but there have been times when he's been a liability.
I don't know if it's his knee stability that's the issue, but Gabe Carimi was flat on his back a lot so far this season playing tackle. His future could be at the guard position, where he is playing now.
Sebastian Vollmer of New England can be a free agent after this season, though health concerns exist, as he missed the 2011 season with a back injury.
Cincinnati's Andre Smith is another name, and though he hasn't lived up to being a sixth overall draft selection, he is a decent right tackle.
Max Unger will be an unrestricted free agent who can play either guard or center, although teams will look at him primarily as a center, and I feel that Roberto Garza will return one more year under center for the Bears.
The Jets Brandon Moore (guard) is getting long in the tooth but can still play at a high level. Buffalo's Andy Levitre is another solid guard who could be a free agent this offseason.
The top OTs on the draft board are underclassmen. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Joeckel's teammate Jake Matthews are juniors who could be first-round picks at the tackle position.
Joeckel, in particular, will be one to watch, though he may be picked long before the Bears turn comes up. QB Johnny Manziel gets all the attention, but Joeckel is his protector. As a true LT, he may go among the top five selections.
Lewan is projected to stay at LT in the pros, and he has a nasty mean streak on the field. He will be another first-round pick who may be gone before the Bears turn, however.
Matthew's father is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, and though he will play on the strong side in the NFL, he is stronger and more stout than Joeckel, though he lacks Joeckel's light feet (which explains why he isn't a LT).
The No. 1 senior OT in the draft will be Eric Fisher, a 6'7" out of Central Michigan, who will likely be a late first-round pick.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Lane Johnson is projected to be a late first-round, early second-round pick. He moved from the right tackle to LT and he may have a future at either on the next level.
Other tackles to watch: Dallas Thomas (Tennessee); Oday Aboushi (Virginia), D.J. Fluker (Alabama)—a junior—and Oregon's Kyle Long.
Of course, a lot of these projections will change once the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine take place.
According to this report, Emery will have about $13 million of cap room in 2013. If they sign Cutler to an extension as expected, that means they won't have a lot of money to work with. So I wouldn't expect free agency to be the best route for the Bears this offseason.
But if they don't draft some linemen, they should have their collective heads examined.
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