Kyle Long has had a star-crossed career in the NFL, but he was more blessed than cursed as a football player. The son of Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long, Kyle would be the first to acknowledge that the bloodlines, upbringing and guidance of family and friends that nurtured his wayward path to the NFL far outweigh any of the trials, disappointment and heartache that followed.
Still, there was a sense of sadness among those who had been with him since his NFL start with the Bears in 2013 that it appears to be over so quickly — at the very least for another season and very likely with the Bears after seven seasons.
A career that started with three consecutive Pro Bowl berths in 2013-15 at guard and tackle, but was short-circuited by a series of debilitating injuries — labrum, triceps, ankle, hand, shoulder, foot — is in jeopardy after the Bears put Long on season-ending injured reserve Monday with a hip injury. It is the fourth consecutive season Long has been put on IR.
“It’s the tale of the league for you,” longtime teammate Charles Leno said. “He’s been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and that’s just how the league goes. You never know when that time is going to come. His happened so fast. So abrupt. It’s like, ‘Damn. He’s not going to be here.’ So it just sucks. That’s how I look at it — it’s just gonna suck.”
As Leno related from a conversation he had with Long after the IR decision was made, Long seemed to acknowledge the end of his career with the Bears. “This is his words — he said he’s a Bear for life,” Leno said. “[Those are] the words I remember him saying. That’s how he wanted to end things.”
Unlike previous seasons, there was no singular incident of injury that put Long on IR. After participating fully in training camp and playing every snap against the Packers and Broncos to start this season, Long was a sudden addition to the injury report on Sept. 21 — two days before the Bears played the Redskins at FedEx Field — with a hip injury. He played every snap in that game, but did not play against the Vikings the following week.
Long returned against the Raiders in London on Oct. 6, and played every snap, but his subpar play elicited speculation the injury was worsening. Apparently, the Bears didn’t feel Long’s hip was going to sufficiently improve with rest. His injury history at 30 — Long turns 31 on Dec. 5 — probably factored into the decision as well.
“There’s wear and tear,” coach Matt Nagy said when asked how the injury occurred. “He’s been in the league a little while, too. It’s something that, for him — for where we were at — it was the best decision we can make. It was collaborative for all of us.”
Putting a player on injured reserve after he played every snap of the previous game is a rarity. But Nagy implied Long was on board with the decision.
“He understands,” Nagy said. “We do all this stuff together. He wants to be able to be healthier. It’s just where we’re at. It’s something that’s been nagging him. It’s nothing that’s crazy significant, but it’s at a point where that’s what we need to do.”
Rashaad Coward, an undrafted free agent signed as a defensive tackle in 2017 who switched to offensive line in 2018, appears to be first in line to replace Long after starting in his place Monday at practice. Coward played 30 snaps at right guard against the Vikings in place of Ted Larsen, who started for Long but suffered a knee injury.
Long’s career with the Bears is far from a tragedy — he’s a three-time Pro Bowl player who signed a four-year, $40 million extension with $30 million in guarantees in 2016. But you couldn’t blame him for cursing his luck. The 20th overall pick out of Oregon by former general manager Phil Emery in 2013, Long was at his best when the Bears were bad — 8-8, 5-11, 6-10 in his Pro Bowl seasons. When the Bears became a contender, he was not the same player after all those injuries.
If this indeed is the end of his Bears career, Long’s legacy is that he was a team player. He was one of the best guards in football — a second-team All-Pro in 2014 — when he agreed to switch to tackle at the start of Week 1 in 2015 to fill a void. He always backed Jay Cutler. He never cracked when dysfunction ended the Emery/Marc Trestman era. And he took a pay cut last year to stay with the team.
“He’s just trying to be a team guy and help the Bears win,” Leno said.
And once upon a time, Long was among the best players in the NFL — regardless of position — with a bright future.
Leno remembers that Kyle Long.
“He was dominant,” Leno said. “When he was healthy and he was on, he was a dominant football player. I told him plenty of times, ‘Get back to that [2013, 2014, 2015] self.’ It just sucks because so many times he would try to get back to it and had to take a step back. When injuries compile, it’s just really [crappy].”