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New Deal: Bears reward Charles Leno, but have to expect more in 2017

Bears left tackle Charles Leno (battling the Lion's Ezekiel Ansah in 2015) was the only Bears player to play in every offensive snap last season. (Duane Burleson/AP)

In typical fashion for an offensive lineman, Charles Leno’s big media moment was overshadowed by … just about everything Wednesday at Halas Hall.

The Bears’ starting left tackle signed a four-year, $38 million contract with $21.5 million guaranteed. Leno made it to the interview podium adjacent to the practice fields. But the Mike Glennon-Mitch Trubisky quarterback story dominated the day. No surprise that Charles Leno’s deal was the 16th question asked of John Fox after practice Wednesday.

If Peyton Manning, visiting his former coach John Fox on Wednesday, had talked to the media, the Leno story would have been bumped down one more notch. In fact, on our very own web site, Manning’s brief conversation with Trubisky was one of four Bears stories ahead of Leno’s new contract. We know what people want to read.

Timing is everything, of course. When Willie Young signed a contract extension early in training camp last year, even general manager Ryan Pace made a rare media appearance to celebrate the moment. That wasn’t going to happen on Wednesday, as Pace would have been bombarded with Glennon-Trubisky questions he no doubt feels it’s too early to answer.

Instead, insight into the Leno deal was left in the incapable hands of Fox, who is almost as uncomfortable addressing good news as he is bad news. With Leno — an inconsistent player in his two seasons as a starter — getting the deal prior to a contract year, the key question for Pace is: “What did the Bears see in Leno in training camp and two preseason games that told them he would be more consistently effective? Fox was no help.

“I think we all have to answer that question,” he said. “But at the end of the day, he’s a guy we felt good about. We think we’re better with him obviously than without him. And we have the [cap] space available. Left tackle is a pretty critical position. We all have to improve.”

That’s not quite the ringing endorsement you’d expect after that deal, but it does put Leno’s new contract in the proper perspective. Despite Fox’s claim that “he earned every penny of it,” Leno has to be better and more consistent than he’s been to truly be worth it. As much as the Bears like him, Leno generally is rated as average at best among NFL offensive tackles. For what it’s worth, he ranked 44th by Pro Football Focus last season.

“[It’s] a testament to me,” Leno said when asked about the journey from seventh-round draft pick to $21.5 million guaranteed. “I never was handed anything in my life. I worked for everything I got. And I’m going to continue to work. Never going to step. Just take things day-by-day, step-by-step and always continue to get better and good things will happen to you.”

Leno’s extension isn’t mystifying. He’s a starting left tackle on a team that had a 1,300-yard rusher and ranked eighth in the NFL in sacks allowed per pass play. He turns 26 in October. He was the only Bears offensive player to played in every snap last season — 1,011 of 1,011. He’s a former seventh-round draft pick who was better in his second season as a starter than he was in his first.

The question is whether he’ll be better in his third season than he was in his second. Leno is still the fourth or fifth best starter on the Bears’ offensive line. It helps to be elite at left tackle, but you can win with Charles Leno — as long as he gets better this season and not worse.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com