John St. Clair Signs With Cleveland Browns, What Are the Bears' Options?

Jacob NitzbergAnalyst IMarch 18, 2009

On Tuesday, former Chicago Bears offensive tackle, John St. Clair signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Browns worth up to $9.1 million.  The deal guarantees St. Clair $1.25 million, and will pay him $2.85 million in the first year of the deal. 

By comparison, the Bears offered a three-year deal worth $4.5 million, meaning St. Clair will receive 63.3% of the Bears' total offer in his first season in Cleveland.

For a team that made re-signing St. Clair a "priority," this does not seem like it was a very sincere effort to do so. 

Anyone can do the math, the Bears' offer was less than half of what the Browns gave St. Clair.  Why would he even think about re-signing with Chicago in that situation?

So now the Bears are left with few options to man the outside of the offensive line.  It appears that the left tackle position will be handed to second-year player, Chris Williams, the Bears' first round pick last year out of Vanderbilt.

New free-agent signing, Frank Omiyale is a possible candidate for right tackle, but the Bears started mini-camp yesterday with undrafted free agent Cody Balogh as the first-team player at that position.

Free agent options are slim.  One idea that has been tossed around is signing former Ram (and seven-time Pro-Bowler) Orlando Pace, to play left tackle and shift Williams to right, but the Bears don't seem to be considering this. 

Other FA options include former Eagle Jon Runyan and former Brown Kevin Shaffer.  However, based on the Bear's offseason so far, it appears unlikely that the pocket books will open for any of these free agents.

So that leaves the draft.  There is a lot of talent at the tackle position in the draft, with Jason Smith out of Baylor, Eugene Monroe from Virginia, Andre Smith from Alabama, Michael Oher from Ole Miss, and Eben Britton from Arizona, all projected as possible first-round picks. 

However, more than likely, all of them with the exception of Britton, will be gone by the time the Bears are on the clock at pick 18.  Since we know that the Bears will never trade up in a draft, can they take the risk that someone like Britton, Steven Beatty from Connecticut or Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma will fall to them in round two?  If not, will the Bears be forced to reach for someone who clearly won't be NFL ready at that point? 

By not re-signing St. Clair and not making an effort for any free agent tackles, the Bears have left themselves very thin on the offensive line for next season.  The Bears are one step away from bringing back Fred Miller, which if you're a Bears fan, should scare the life out of you.