Bears general manager Ryan Pace artfully addressed a need for an upgrade at offensive tackle when he traded up to take Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins in the second round (39th overall) of the draft. Until then, the only other tackle Pace had drafted in six seasons as GM was Texas Christian’s Tayo Fabuluje in the sixth round of the 2015 draft.
Jenkins was rated a first-round talent by most draft analysts and was projected to go to the Bears with the 20th overall pick in some mock drafts — a plug-and-play replacement, presumably, for departed right tackle Bobby Massie, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Broncos on Wednesday. For Pace to get Jenkins at No. 39 seemed like a masterstroke that was a little overshadowed by his trade up to get Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at No. 11. When you’re hot, you’re hot.
But the next major move at tackle seemed to neutralize the upgrade. Two days later, the Bears cut veteran left tackle Charles Leno, who had started 95 consecutive games since replacing Jermon Bushrod in 2015.
Leno, who signed a one-year contract with Washington on Wednesday, was the ultimate good-but-not-great NFL offensive tackle. He was an overachiever as a seventh-round pick who made the Pro Bowl as an alternate in 2018 and missed only 16 snaps out of 6,229 in six seasons. But he wasn’t the stud you need at left tackle on a team that’s as shaky at quarterback — among other offensive positions — as the Bears have been. Leno didn’t make as many mistakes as his detractors think. But on the Bears, it seemed like every penalty and his occasional whiffs turned into glaring disasters that stunted the offense.
Still, it doesn’t seem like the Bears’ offensive line will be better without Leno than it was with him. Even if he’s an upgrade over Leno at left tackle, that still leaves a hole at Massie’s old spot, which Germain Ifedi took over for the final seven games last season (including the playoffs) after Massie suffered a knee injury.
Offensive line coach Juan Castillo thinks Ifedi can solve that problem. A 2016 first-round pick (31st overall), Ifedi underachieved as a starting tackle with the Seahawks, who let him go when his rookie contract expired after the 2019 season. In fact, when the Bears signed him last year, they played him at guard, which was his more natural position.
But Ifedi ended up moving to tackle after Massie was injured, and he played well enough to convince the Bears he could solve their offensive-line quandary.
“[He] improved tremendously from when he came from Seattle,” Castillo said. “You can just look at the stats — how many pressures [allowed], how many sacks he gave up when he was playing right tackle. Germain Ifedi is blessed with God-given talent. He was a first-round draft pick. My job is to get that out of him. I know he hadn’t been playing like that at Seattle. But I think he improved. He cut his penalties over half from what he had at Seattle [four last season after 13 in 2019]. And I think everybody would say that if you watched the tape, he played square, which was his problem at Seattle. I think he’s just gonna get better.”
Castillo said Ifedi would have competition for the job, but it was his to lose. In fact, the more Castillo talked about Ifedi, the more effusive he became.
“You need to talk to Germain one day,” Castillo said. “This is a big 36½-inch-arm, 345-pound guy. As we talk, he’s busting his butt in Texas in 100-degree weather. Works as hard as any guy I’ve been around. I don’t want to make predictions, but I would not be surprised if this kid made the Pro Bowl next year. Why not, right? Everything is possible.”