March 06, 2021

2021 Bears position needs: Free agent and draft options at offensive tackle

Talk quarterbacks if you must, but offensive tackle is the Bears greatest need

Matt Nagy continues to struggle to deliver on the offensive promise he brought from Kansas City when he was hired as the Bears head coach. The main reason: his depth chart has barely been average at offensive tackle in 2018 and below average the past two seasons.

For all the focus on the quarterbacks, poor offensive line play – more so at tackle than on the interior – significantly has hampered Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles and will be a problem for the next guy too until the Bears get better at tackle.

Bobby Massie has been a tad underrated at right tackle – solid in the run game but needing help in pass protection – and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy the past two seasons, missing 14 starts after starting 76 of 80 games over the five previous seasons.

Charles Leno Jr. has been badly overrated at left tackle, lacking the bulk and strength to be a consistent factor in the run game, struggling with top speed rushers while unable to handle bull rushers, and let’s not even talk about the penalties.

Who is on the roster in 2021?

Leno Jr. and Massie are on the roster theoretically, but more on that in a second. Outside of those two, Lachavious Simmons and Badara Traore will be the only tackles under contract with the Bears when the new league year begins.

Who are the pending free agents?

Jason Spriggs along with Rashaad Coward and Germain Ifedi, who both could play guard or tackle, all are unrestricted free agents.

Thoughts on the internal options in 2021?

The Bears have salary cap issues, and in addition to being average to mediocre at best Leno Jr. and Massie both are expensive.

Leno Jr. will have an $11.3 million cap hit in 2021, including $5.1 million in dead cap money, and Massie’s cap hit will be $9.3 million, which includes $3.9 million in dead money.

The $6.2 million the Bears could save against the cap by cutting Leno Jr. and potential $6 million cap savings on Massie would come in handy this offseason. There are any number of journeyman out there who wouldn’t be any worse and would come a lot cheaper.

Alex Bars, who made eight starts on the interior of the Bears line in 2019, previously started 12 games for Notre Dame at right tackle as a sophomore. He has the athleticism and feet to give left tackle a shot if the Bears are so inclined.

If Sam Mustipher is going to be the starting center, which appears to make sense, James Daniels and Cody Whitehair have Bars blocked at guard, so he’s worth a look outside.

Whitehair started every game his junior and senior years at Kansas State at left tackle, but he is better suited to play inside in the NFL.

Who is available in free agency?

The pickings are slim but Jacksonville’s 26-year-old Cam Robinson is worth looking at, and while Trent Williams and Russell Okung both are 32, both have been Pro Bowlers at left tackle and would be significant upgrades.

Carolina’s Taylor Moton is the only right tackle to get excited about, but the Panthers are anxious to re-sign him.

Who is available in the draft?

Day 1 talent includes Oregon’s Penei Sewell and Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, who both will be gone well before the 20th pick, and Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw, USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker, Oklahoma State’s Tevin Jenkins and Michigan’s Jalen Mayfield, any or all of which could either be gone or available when the Bears pick at 20.

Nice Day 2 options include Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, North Dakota State’s Dillon Radunz, Cincinnati’s James Hudson, Clemson’s Jackson Carman, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi, Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, Stanford’s Walker Little and Northern Iowa’s Spencer Brown.

Primo left tackles usually are first rounders and often Top 10 or Top 15 picks.

What’s your best guess?

It will be inexcusable if the Bears don’t draft a tackle in the first three rounds. I suspect if they pick at 20 in the first round one of the top players available will be a left tackle and the Bears will take him.

They’ve stayed comfortable with Leno Jr. for a long time, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be a cap casualty, but he should be.

My best guess is that the Bears will move on from both Leno Jr. and Massie for the cap savings, and in search of upgrades, they will sign at least one veteran in free agency, draft a plug-and-play guy in the first or second round and probably draft at least one more prospect on Day 3.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is the director of football content for Shaw Media