When Kyle Long was asked about the journey that got him here today — a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with a four-year, $40 million contract extension that makes him the second-highest paid guard in the NFL — he knew it was not as simple as thanking his dad for passing on Hall of Fame genes.
Long didn’t get this far by bloodlines alone. Not even close. Six years ago he was a fledgling junior college defensive end with a checkered past at Florida State. Five years ago he was a 22-year-old sophomore at Saddleback Community College learning to play left tackle. Even at Oregon in 2012, he only started four games.
Long had many opportunities to fall off the football map and didn’t. So his father, Howie Long, was only the start of a long list of thank you’s when Long met the media Wednesday at Halas Hall. Including:
- His brothers, Chris and Howie: “For always being there for me through the ups and downs — and there have been a lot of them — and just that undying love that brothers share.
- Mom and Dad: “For always telling me to work as hard as I can whatever I do and make sure I’m having fun doing it.”
- His high school coach, John Blake.
- His junior college coach, Mark McElroy: “Somebody who took me under his wing when I was going through a lot of tough things. Coach Mac, if you read this, I appreciate it. You’ve impacted me in ways you’ll never know.”
- Former Bears general manager Phil Emery, who stepped out to take Long with the 20th pick of the 2013 NFL draft, and his staff: “I’ll never be able to repay Phil, but I’ll shoot him a text to thank him.
- Current GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.
- And “all the guys I’ve played with” including former linemates Matt Slauson, Roberto Garza, Jermon Bushrod, Jordan Mills, Eben Britton: “The list goes on and on.”
And then he looked to the future. “And to the guys who are in the room today,” the 27-year-old Long said. “I’m going to be here for a long time. I’m going to retire as a Chicago Bear. And that’s what I’m excited about.”
Long still had two years remaining on his rookie contract, but opted for an extension rather than trying to max out in 2018 with two more Pro Bowl seasons — and the Bears responded by paying top dollar. The extension, which runs through the 2021 season, includes $30 million in guaranteed money — the most ever given to a guard in NFL history. Long’s prudent approach — having the Bears’ interests as well as his own at heart — probably had something to do with the Bears stepping up to get it done.
“It’s important to understand how these work — the longer you wait the uglier those things get,” Long said. “I’ve known since Day 1 that I wanted to be a Chicago Bear for life and play for the best franchise in football in the best city in America.
“When the talk started, I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be a part of the talks. But what I do want you guys to understand is that I want to be here forever and get it done.’ So that’s what they did.”
Though he is the son of a Hall of Famer and a first-round draft pick, Long’s journey has helped him develop the mentality of a player fighting for everything he gets. So he responded predictably when asked about motivating himself when he is set for life financially.
“Nobody’s set for life,” Long said. “If life is measured by finances, then what is life? For me, life is improving every day, making those around you better and improving the mind-set of those around you.”
Long returned to practice this week after missing the third preseason game with a shoulder injury. He was limited Wednesday, but gave no indication he would not play in the regular-season opener against the Houston Texans.
“Feel great. Ready to roll,” he said.
In fact, he seemed even more excited to be playing again than he was about the new contract.
“The first thing I’m going to do is play some football,” he said when asked what he would splurge on with all that money, “because that’s what I’ve wanted to do the past few weeks. It’s fun to get out there and hit some people.
“So we’ll see how this thing goes. It’s a long season. We’re really excited to get after it. This [contract] is one less thing I have to worry about — not that I was losing sleep over it. But I will say this: it’s nice to have it done and I can go play football now.”