Part 9 of an 11-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
It’s as if the Bears and right tackle Bobby Massie knew they had a good thing going.
Massie and general manager Ryan Pace pulled a mild surprise in the offseason when they quickly agreed on a four-year, $30.8 million contract that runs through the 2022 season. After an above-average but non-Pro Bowl season on a playoff team, Massie could’ve taken his chances in free agency with the possibility of striking gold in a relatively weak market. The Bears, a team on the rise, could’ve looked for an upgrade — though that same lukewarm market and the absence of a first-round pick probably limited their options.
But with continuity and chemistry even more important as they attempt to take the next step from playoff team to Super Bowl contender, the Bears and Massie signed a deal that seems to work for both sides. The first two years of the contract (2019 and 2020) are guaranteed.
Signing Massie assured the Bears of returning the five starters on the offensive line from last year’s 12-4 team.
Left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018, is signed through 2021. Right guard Kyle Long, who recently reworked his contract to give the Bears salary-cap room for 2019, is signed through 2020. Left guard James Daniels, who started as a rookie in 2019, is signed through 2021. And center Cody Whitehair, who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018, is on the last year of his rookie contract but is expected to sign a long-term extension, possibly before the 2019 season begins.
That gives the Bears the continuity every team likes to have. This will be the fourth consecutive season that Leno, Long, Whitehair and Massie will be together.
And, perhaps just as important, this will be their second year with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, who made a big impact last season. The Bears were ranked second in the NFL in pass-blocking efficiency by Pro Football Focus. They allowed an NFL-low 117 pressures on 519 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF.
Leno and Massie are far from the most heralded pair of tackles in the NFL, but coach Matt Nagy was quick to credit them as a solid foundation.
“We fully understand some of these bookend defensive ends that we’re going to be seeing in the future and the direction of speed and talent [there], so you better have those edges protected,” Nagy said. “We have two guys that we feel really good with on the edges. Credit goes to Pace and his guys for building that unit.”
Grading the Bears’ need: Low. The Bears return all five starters, plus swing tackle Bradley Sowell. Eric Kush, a valuable reserve who started seven games last season, signed with the Browns in free agency. But the Bears seem to have ably filled that hole by signing Ted Larsen, who filled a similar role to Kush in 2016.
On the roster: Tackles Charles Leno Jr., Bobby Massie, Sowell, Rashaad Coward, Dejon Allen and Cornelius Lucas, guards Kyle Long, James Daniels, Larsen and Willie Beavers and center Cody Whitehair.
The five best draft prospects: Florida tackle Jawaan Taylor, Alabama tackle Jonah Williams, Washington State tackle Andre Dillard, Oklahoma tackle Cody Ford and North Carolina State center Garrett Bradbury.
Keep an eye on: Don’t sleep on Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard, a former 6-2, 225-pound prep quarterback who grew into a 6-5, 322-pound offensive tackle over the last four years. With big hands and long arms to go with his natural athleticism, in the right hands, he has the makings of a quality NFL lineman who could be a great one.
Close to home: Former Downers Grove North quarterback David Edwards arrived at Wisconsin as a 6-7, 245-pound tight end and grew into a 6-7, 315-pound right tackle. He earned All-America recognition in 2017 and a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2018. “I knew that O-line was kind of the writing on the wall for me,” Edwards said at the scouting combine. “But this is a dream come true for me. I have always dreamed of playing in the league and competing at this level.”