April 12, 2021


Hub Arkush: Mess at offensive tackle is not a recent phenomenon for Bears

If it seems like forever since the Bears have been at best slightly below average at offensive tackle, it’s not quite that bad.

After forging a Pro Bowl career at left tackle with the Saints, Jermon Bushrod arrived via free agency to provide very good play at the position for the Bears in 2013 and 2014 before injuries took their toll.

For the most part, however, it has been pretty awful.

Over the past 12 seasons, the Bears’ left tackles have been Orlando Pace on his way out of the league, Frank Omiyale, J’Marcus Webb, Bushrod and Charles Leno Jr., while on the right side they’ve had Chris Williams, Webb, Lance Louis, Gabe Carimi, Jordan Mills and Bobby Massie.

As much as anything, that is why the Bears have finished better than 21st in total offense only twice in those 12 season – 15th in 2016, and they actually were eighth in 2013, Marc Trestman’s first year.

On the flip side, they were 30th in total offense in 2010 and 2017, 29th in 2019, 28th in 2012 and 26th last year.

There was a time when the Bears knew what a left tackle was supposed to be.

Andy Heck (1994 to 1998), Blake Brockemeyer (1999 to 2001) and John Tait (2004 to 2007) were former first-round draft choices of other teams the Bears eventually snagged as free agents, and all did a nice job.

Right tackle, on the other hand, with the exception of a decent stretch from Fred Miller from 2005 to 2007 and Massie at least being less of a liability than Leno, has been a deep hole ever since James “Big Cat” Williams hung ’em up after the 2002 season.

It’s not as if the organization hasn’t made a few attempts at fixing the problem. They’ve just swung and missed.

Williams at No. 14 overall in 2008 and Carimi at No. 29 in 2011 in the first rounds were supposed to fix the problems. Both eventually were medical rejects and not much better than the recent parade of lesser talents.

OK, so those flops made them a little gun shy in the draft, although Kyle Long obviously worked out well. I was convinced when they took him it was to line him up at and make him a left tackle. It should have been.

Obviously, answers in free agency would work just as well, but what the Bears have done lately is find teams with as significant offensive line issues as theirs, such as Seattle and Denver, and gone for their castoffs in Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson.

How is that supposed to fix the problem?

There are four slightly older but quality veterans still on the street in free agency in Russell Okung, Eric Fisher, Alejandro Villanueva and Mitchell Schwartz.

All are between 30 and 33, Okung, Fisher and Villanueva play on the left side, and all but Villanueva are coming off injury-filled stretches over the past two seasons.

Villanueva hasn’t missed a start in five seasons and was a Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018 but did have a down season last year.

Schwartz missed the final 10 games of 2020 after never missing a start – 128 straight his first eight seasons. Many believe he was the best right tackle in the league the past few years before the back injury that sat him down a few months ago. Schwartz said he expects to be fully ready to go by Week 1, and, like Fisher, he has extensive experience playing for Matt Nagy.

Yes, their health and ages are risks, but each/any of these guys would be significant and instant upgrades over Leno, Ifedi and Wilkinson if they can pass a physical. The most frustrating piece of all of this at the moment is because of their current status, they could be swapped out for Leno and Ifedi with little or no impact on the salary cap this year. You might even save a buck or two, and none are in a position to command serious money.

So why are the Bears sitting on their hands?

This may be the strongest indication yet of what they’re really thinking about on the first two days of the draft.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media