By Bryan Dietzler
If you have been paying attention to the latest news out of the NFL lately, you may have noticed that several well-known players are being let go. Some of these players are being released due to salary reasons. Others are being let go because of age and declining ability. Some have reached the end of their careers and are bound for retirement.
The Chicago Bears need a lot of talent at several positions. One that you hear mentioned often, and a position that has been much maligned over the course of the last few seasons, is the offensive left tackle position. That spot has seen a lot of turnover and a lot of “struggle” over the course of the last few seasons.
Chicago had Charles Leno, Jr. there to end the 2016 season. While Leno was not a failure, he was not spectacular and he is not elite. He is serviceable though and remained completely healthy last season. Still, the Bears need something more at the position.
The draft may not be the place to get a good left tackle. Sure, maybe they could draft someone and then develop them over time but, for the here and now, free agency could be the way to go. And with the players that are hitting the open market now, the Bears may have some good options.
Chicago may not need to take a serious look at some of the free agent offensive tackles that are (and will be) available heading into March. But who is available? Who should they go after?
The following is a list of offensive tackles that should be under consideration by the Bears heading into free agency. These guys could help bolster the left tackle position even if it’s for a season or two while the team looks for a long-term replacement. Or, perhaps, they could squeeze even more time out of one of these guys and stabilize the position for the future.
Let’s look at a few of the prospects:
Ricky Wagner-Baltimore Ravens-The Bears don’t need a project at the left tackle position and while Wagner has been productive he hasn’t been consistent. If Chicago could get some reassurance that he could be steady and play at the same level all the time, they might be interested in signing him. He would be an upgrade over Leno and could help improve the line. And they might be able to get him for a good price.
Andrew Whitworth-Cincinnati Bengals-Whitworth is getting up there in age (he is 35) and will not be a guy that plays for too many more seasons. He could be a temporary addition to the line, at left tackle, while the Bears develop a long-term solution. He can pass block very well and has been one of the most consistent and statistically competent tackles in the NFL for several seasons. Could he find a home in Chicago and help, temporarily, solidify the left tackle position? Whitworth may also come cheap.
Ryan Clady-New York Jets-The Jets are letting Clady walk because he is getting up there in years (30) and has lost a step or two. He could end up being someone that the Bears are interested in because he can still play. He could be a temporary fill-in while the Bears develop someone if Chicago would choose to go that route. But just how long could Clady hold up? Would he be another Jermon Bushord?
Matt Kalil-Minnesota Vikings-The Vikings have had some success developing offensive linemen and Kalil is a product of that success. Kalil will be coming off a hip injury but should be fully healed by the start of the season. Could the Bears convince him to come “down south” and play for them? He is only 27 years old so he has plenty of playing time left in him. In addition, with his coming off an injury, he might be had for a less than someone else his age and with his talent. That could be good for the Bears.
Riley Reiff-Detroit Lions-Like Kalil, Reiff comes from a division rival and could make the switch and come to Chicago, Reiff has been a steady and consistent during his time in the league and at 28, has some time left in him. Could he be the Bears’ left tackle for the next four years? Perhaps. He may not command a high price and could be willing to come to Chicago if he’s the starter. He would be an upgrade over Leno Jr., and is one of the better free agent left tackles.
Kelvin Beachum-Jacksonville Jaguars-Beachum is a 27-year-old left tackle who has had some injury problems. Since coming into the NFL in 2012, Beachum has played only one full season. Last year, he played with a nagging knee injury which limited his effectiveness. Can the Bears afford to roll the dice with a guy who can’t stay on the field? Not really. But if they wanted to try him out temporarily and let someone else develop, they could do that. But he would have to come very cheap.
You never know who else might get cut and land in the free agent pool. And left tackle is just one of many positions the Bears could use help with in free agency. And it’s just one of several trouble spots on the team. Will they fill it this off-season? We will soon find out.