As the Bears work their way down the list of problems to fix in the offseason, beginning with what to do about quarterback Mitch Trubisky, it won’t take long for them to hit the offensive line.
General manager Ryan Pace handed out extensions left and right over the last few years with the belief that he had all the pieces in place, but the line seriously underperformed this season.
“There’s a lot of disappointment,” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “We just kinda took a step back from the year before. We worked our asses off all offseason, OTAs, training camp. It just didn’t fall our way.”
There were issues across the board, beginning with the shelving of mainstay Kyle Long. After four games of watching Long struggle at right guard, the Bears stuck him on injured reserve.
Long was playing through pain and described his play as “awful,” but was that really a season-ending injury?
“I played every snap of my final game before being put on IR,” Long tweeted Sunday. “I’m no genius . . . but I can take a hint.”
If the hint the Bears dropped was that they’re done with Long, a three-time Pro Bowl player who they drafted 20th overall in 2013, they’ll have to eat a dead salary-cap hit of $1.5 million to release him.
That’s pennies compared to what they’ll pay Massie, left tackle Charles Leno and center Cody Whitehair to keep playing. Those three signed extensions totaling $121.3 million over the last three years, and Spotrac has the Bears eighth in the NFL with a $38.8 million in offensive-line spending for 2020.
That’s fine if they get the eighth-best offensive line, but it’ll undo them if that group has a repeat of this season.
Leno struggled to the point that by October he said he needed to “do some real deep searching and see how I can get better.”
He never got where he wanted to be. Leno was the fourth-most flagged player in the NFL with 12 accepted penalties, including seven holdings, according to NFLpenalties.com.
The Bears beamed in the offseason about the brilliant switch of Whitehair to left guard and James Daniels to center, but that swap lasted eight games before coach Matt Nagy reversed it.
Massie missed six games, including the last five with an ankle injury. That was unexpected from a player who started 76 of 80 games over the last five seasons.
Massie doesn’t need surgery, but will rehab in Arizona before starting his offseason training program.
“It’s been real frustrating,” he said. “Something you’d think was so minor, but it kept me from playing the last five games.”
For a variety of reasons, not all of which can be pinned on the offensive line, the Bears allowed the 12th-most sacks (43) and had the sixth-weakest ground attack (91.1 yards per game). That’s a 30-yard dip in rushing and a 136 percent increase in sacks.
Because of their limited draft capital, the Bears have some tough choices about which position groups to address with their picks. Their only selections in the first four rounds are Nos. 44 and 51 overall.
They’re in a similar spot when it comes to revamping the offensive line through free agency because of their aforementioned commitments on the line and a tight overall budget.
That means there’s a good chance the same crew responsible for this season’s flop will remain mostly intact. Is it possible the same players will simply play better?
“Oh, absolutely,” Massie said. “Next season will be totally different.”
The Bears have lost all benefit of the doubt on promises like that. No one, including Pace and Nagy, can blindly base their 2020 plans on that assumption.