The 2022 Chicago Bears plan to run the ball and play strong defense, but the lack of upgrades along the offensive line could make that hard to do. While the weapons surrounding Justin Fields aren’t ideal, one can certainly make arguments for Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney as being high-level players at their positions. Add in David Montgomery, Byron Pringle and Velus Jones Jr. and, well, you get the argument.
But the offensive line? Ryan Poles has left the team in a tricky position.
The most glaring hole on the entire roster right now is right guard where Sam Mustipher could potentially start. Nothing against Mustipher — who showed flashes of being a pretty good center in 2020 — but he has never played the position before and doesn’t seem to be a fit in any way. The team did sign Dakota Dozier, a player who didn’t even make the Vikings roster last year. (And that was a bad offensive line too.) The other options are rookies who were taken late on day three.
Poles can’t even claim to disagree with the assessment of the right guard position. He signed Ryan Bates to an offer sheet, only to revert back to ignoring the position once the Bills matched it.
The most likely bet is that the player who starts the season at right guard for the Bears isn’t on the roster. They have to be hoping that either a viable player becomes available, or an existing player lowers his price tag. Otherwise, we’re looking at flat out negligence and it’s the worst kind of negligence because it could get the team’s young quarterback hurt.
As much as they like Patrick at center, he was set to be a backup in Green Bay and would’ve been a reserve last year if not for injuries to rookies at center and right guard. The Packers are masters of the same scheme the Bears are going to run and have a long history of drafting and developing offensive linemen, so we can safely assume they know what they’re doing. This isn’t necessarily to say the Bears valued Patrick more than the Packers did. The Bears only guaranteed the center $4 million on a two-year deal — the 15th most amongst interior offensive linemen who changed teams this offseason.
An obvious move, at this point, would be for the Bears to sign J.C. Tretter and have Patrick play guard. There are no signs that they’re going to do that.
Then, there is the tackle position.
It is certainly fair to expect a player who was picked 39th overall, like Teven Jenkins was, to be a starter in his second season. But when you add in a back surgery that made that player miss almost his entire rookie season, well, it’s risky. There were times when Larry Borom looked like a long-term starter last year, but it’s also hard to forget how badly he was worked in Week 17. All things considered, it’s fair to have him compete for a starting job.
But they didn’t bring in any actual competition for Borom or Jenkins.
The team signed Julien Davenport for just over $1 million with no guarantee. He has played and figures to be the competition, but if he ends up playing for the team, they’re going to be in big trouble.
The team could’ve spent an extra $1 million and signed Billy Turner, who can play four positions along the offensive line. He could’ve played either tackle spot if Borom or Jenkins don’t work out or guard if they couldn’t find anybody better — which, it appears, they can’t.
The Bears don’t know for sure if Borom or Jenkins can get the job done because they have yet to actually see them move people with pads in this scheme. They’re purely projecting at this point. At the very least, they would’ve known they’d have an adequate starter at one spot somewhere along the line if they had signed Turner.
Once the Bears didn’t make any major investments in the offensive line, the draft strategy of adding ideal athletes made sense, but they’d still have to be thrilled if even one of the rookies panned out. They can’t reasonably expect any of them to play in 2022.
The Bears entered the offseason with three major question marks, and they still have three major question marks. While Poles excused his inaction by citing a lack of resources, there is just very little reality in that.
Yes, the team did lack draft picks. Though one could certainly argue that finding a starting offensive lineman was more important than a cornerback or safety, especially after looking at the pool of players still available in free agency. Sticking to their draft board and still filling needs is perfectly reasonable, but they still had other avenues they could’ve used to fill the needs they couldn’t in the draft.
The team still has more than $14 million in salary cap space and a seemingly infinite amount next year — more than they’ll be able to spend. Austin Corbett, for example, would’ve been a good, young starter who costs $3.188M against the cap in 2022. Brian Allen carries a cap hit of $1.8 million in 2022 and a guarantee of $6 million.
Couldn’t they have signed Allen and Patrick?
There were plenty of moves the Bears could have made that would’ve put them in a better position in 2022 and beyond. They just didn’t make them. Instead, Poles appears to be relying on blind luck and hoping players they’ve never seen play in this scheme with pads on turn out to be good.
When a young quarterback’s health is at stake, that is just not a good process.