Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
For example, Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 21 Cody Whitehair
Position: Left guard
NFL experience: Seventh season
Last year’s ranking: Missed top 25
Looking back: Along with Sam Mustipher and James Daniels, Bears left guard Cody Whitehair played every offensive snap in 2021. Although he has experience at center, Whitehair has carved out a role as a guard over the past two seasons. The Bears drafted Whitehair with a second-round pick (56th overall) in 2016. He rarely has missed a start since then. In six seasons, he missed only two regular-season games and was a Pro Bowler in 2018. The Bears didn’t have much consistency on their offense at all in 2021, but the interior of the offensive line was the one place where they did. Whitehair started all 17 games at left guard.
The Bears gave him a five-year, $52.5 million contract extension before the 2019 season. He remains under contract through the 2024 season.
Looking forward: Although there has been much change at Halas Hall over the offseason, Whitehair will remain an integral part of the offensive line moving forward. The Bears added center Lucas Patrick in free agency. Patrick and Whitehair might be the only offensive linemen who can feel secure in their starting jobs in 2022. They both made the move to the NFL in 2016, and they represent the elder statesmen on this Bears’ O-line. The Bears are counting on them to be the leaders of this offensive line, especially when everything seems to be in flux at the tackle positions. While the Bears play musical chairs with Larry Borom, Teven Jenkins and Braxton Jones at tackle, they need Whitehair and Patrick to be solid on the interior.
New general manager Ryan Poles is looking for grit on the offensive line. Whitehair certainly embodies that. Whitehair and Patrick are the types of veterans who will hold their younger teammates accountable as the Bears shift to a new run-blocking scheme.