The Bears went into last offseason knowing they needed to improve at offensive tackle. In 2022, rookie Braxton Jones played better than expected at left tackle, but right tackle was a serious hole. Larry Borom and Riley Reiff manned the position, and neither was good enough.
General manager Ryan Poles knew he needed to find a solution at right tackle. The Bears were reportedly in the mix for Mike McGlinchey, widely considered the best right tackle in free agency, but the Denver Broncos blew everyone out of the water with a five-year, $87.5 million offer.
So the Bears pivoted. They drafted Tennessee tackle Darnell Wright in the first round of the draft and Wright wound up playing nearly every snap in all 17 games this past season. Jones, who missed time with a neck injury, started 11 games at left tackle.
Here’s a look at how the tackles fared, and what the Bears might look to do at those positions moving forward.
Wright was a rookie, so he made his share of mistakes. Overall, though, his transition to the NFL was seamless. He’s only going to keep improving. He earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers of America.
“He’s out there just using his natural ability,” Poles said after the season. “In a lot of games, that was good enough, but there were some games and some reps where it wasn’t good enough, and he’s got to continue to get better. And I know he’s going to put the time in.”
When healthy, Jones fared well, too. Over the past two years, he proved that he can be a starting left tackle in the NFL. Jones allowed only two sacks on the season, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF graded Jones slightly higher than Wright.
As a rookie in 2022, Jones played every offensive snap across all 17 games. That consistency changed, however, when he suffered a neck injury in Week 2. Jones missed six games with the neck injury. His absence forced Borom back into the starting lineup.
Borom did a nice job holding things down until Jones could return. Jones later said it took him several games before he really felt like himself again.
Wright committed 11 penalties over the course of the season, per PFF, which tied for sixth among offensive tackles. Jones had nine penalties in 11 games.
1. An April workout: Poles and Bears offensive line coach Chris Morgan flew to Knoxville, Tennessee, to work out with Wright ahead of the draft. The workout was difficult. Poles said they “brought him in deep water to see if he could swim.”
Wright passed the test. Poles and Morgan left Knoxville highly impressed with Wright. That solidified Wright as a viable option for the Bears with their first-round draft pick.
2. Draft night: The Bears went into draft night with the hopes of landing Wright with their first-round pick – and that’s exactly what happened. The Bears moved down from No. 9 to No. 10 in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles and selected Wright with the 10th pick. They passed on Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who could win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year this week. Carter faced significant off-the-field questions. Poles said he doesn’t regret that decision.
“Get the human being right and their character,” Poles said. “That’s always going to be important.”
3. Week 2: Jones injured his neck in the Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Jones spoke with members of the media after the game and appeared to be fine. Days later, however, he did not return to practice ahead of Week 3 and the Bears placed him on injured reserve later that week. It was a significant setback for Jones.
Wright has three years remaining on his rookie contract, and the Bears have a fifth-year team option as well, which could keep him on the team through 2027. Jones has two years remaining on his rookie contract. Borom has one year remaining on his contract. Additionally, the Bears signed tackles Aviante Collins and Roy Mbaeteka to futures contracts.
Shaw Local Grade: B
Overall, Wright was a huge success for a rookie. Jones had a decent season, but needs to stay healthy.
You can pretty much pencil in Wright as the starting right tackle for the next three years. As for left tackle, it all depends how Poles feels about Jones. In his end of season news conference, Poles said he felt Jones “did a good job.”
Poles also offered this: “I do believe he’s a starting left tackle, but if it comes down to a situation to increase competition and that’s what’s best for us, then we’ll do that.”
The evaluation of Jones will be crucial. The Bears hold the No. 1 and No. 9 overall picks. It’s quite likely that there will be a highly talented tackle on the board at No. 9. But would the Bears use a first-round pick at tackle for the second year in a row?
It seems more likely that Poles sticks it out for another year with Jones and Wright, two young players who have room to grow. They could also look for another tackle later in the draft.