Eben Britton Signing Could Be Worth the Risk for Chicago Bears

Andrew Dannehy@@ADannChiBearsCorrespondent IApril 17, 2013

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 19:  Eben Britton #73 of the Jacksonville Jaguars on the sidelines against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 19, 2010 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

When the Bears signed offensive tackle/guard Eben Britton on Wednesday (per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper), they either picked up another body for training camp or a starter.

The latter scenario made it worth the risk.

Britton has been labeled a bust for his work with the Jacksonville Jaguars, who made him the 39th pick of the 2009 draft. At the time, the Jaguars envisioned Britton as their right tackle opposite Eugene Monroe, who was their first-round pick that season.

Early on, it looked like they would be right, as Britton started 15 games his rookie season and finished with a grade of positive-3.4 on Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That season, he allowed just five sacks and committed only one penalty, according to Stats Inc. 

Although he wasn't a great pass-blocker—allowing a team-worst 40 hurries on 554 snaps according to PFF—he graded out positively as a run-blocker. That season, the Jaguars ran for 2,029 yards—averaging 4.5 yards per carry—and 19 touchdowns. 

Since then, it's been all downhill for Britton.

He played in just seven games in 2010 before suffering a torn labrum and injured his back in 2011 after playing in four games.

In 10 starts over those two seasons, he was credited with a total of four sacks allowed and two penalties.

He started relatively strong in 2010, as PFF gave him a grade of positive-7.8 in his first six games. However, he was terrible in his seventh game, receiving a grade of negative-6.1 on just 32 snaps before being injured.

He started the next season as a reserve, with Guy Whimper winning the starting job at right tackle. He managed to get on the field, starting three games—including two at left guard and one at right tackle—but was underwhelming, receiving a negative grade from PFF in all three before injuring his back and missing the rest of the season.

There was still hope for Britton at the start of this season. Scouts Inc. (subscription required) gave him a grade of 74 entering this season. That is the same grade they gave new Bear Jermon Bushrod and one point lower than J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi.

The site stated that he "has above-average foot quickness and agility" and that he "understands blocking schemes and angles and is quick to pick up games up front, like twists and stunts."

Still, as bad as 2010 and 2011 were for Britton, 2012 was a train wreck.

Even though he was mostly healthy, Britton played in just six games and 272 snaps, giving up the same number of sacks he had given up over the previous two seasons combined.

Part of the problem may have been his position change. For his career, Britton has a PFF grade of negative-19 in his eight starts at guard. In 24 games at tackle, he's received a grade of positive-3.4. That grade is better than any tackle currently on the Bears roster.

But it isn't as if he was behind great players at his original position. Both Guy Whimper and Cameron Bradfield struggled last season, giving up a combined eight sacks and committing nine penalties.

It's hard to blame the coaching staff for Britton playing out of position. Jack Del Rio's staff—with highly regarded Dirk Koetter as the offensive coordinator—determined Britton wasn't capable of starting at tackle. Then Mike Mularkey's staff came to the same conclusion.

If he couldn't break the Jaguars' lineup, it's hard to believe he will make an impact for the Bears.

Perhaps new Bears defensive coordinator, Mel Tucker, saw something his offensive counterparts didn't when he was on the staff? Maybe the Bears think new line coach Aaron Kromer can work some magic to get Britton playing at a high level again.

It's hard to tell what the Bears are thinking, but they don't have a lot to lose by giving him a chance.

Britton showed he could play tackle early in his career before injuries took their toll. It's possible he hasn't been fully healthy over the last two seasons. It's also possible he'll never be healthy again. 

Maybe Britton will just be another body at the Bears' training camp and won't last until August. Is he the player who was benched last season or the tackle who looked promising earlier in his career?

At this point, there's no real way of knowing, but the risk is certainly worth the reward for the Bears.