Kyle Long has always been one of the Bears' most devout soldiers in his five years with the team. Long has experienced individual success while making the Pro Bowl in the first three years of his career, but never any on a team-wide level. Of course, the closest to that team accomplishment (by far) was his rookie 2013 season where the Bears were a fourth down defensive stop away from clinching an NFC North title at home. Instead, Chicago finished the year a disappointing 8-8. Long then vowed to continually grind away while voicing the team mantra of change. He hasn't broken his promise.
Somehow, as the Bears have won a grand total of 18 games in the past four years, Long's voice and commitment to the organization has never wavered. The persistent futility Chicago has experienced of late can understandably wear on the mind of any solid professional athlete in a team sport. That for all they do, it still isn't enough. For all the culture changes, rebuilds, talent influxes, whatever else, the team still isn't excelling in the midst of your own play.
Yet there Long has been working, forever being a face of the team on social media such as Twitter. Or changing positions along the Bears' offensive line three times when asked. Or being a public spokesman when asked to face the music in the press. And of course, last but certainly not least, playing through injury.
Long's greatest quality, his toughness and perseverance through ailments, also now might be his biggest detriment considering what lies ahead for the 29-year-old guard.
On Tuesday night, Long revealed through multiple social media channels, that he was having surgery on his neck. His neck, per Long, only became an issue because of a complication that resulted from a torn labrum he elected not to have surgery on last off-season, a labrum that is still torn and was part of the reason he was placed on injured reserve earlier this month. One thing always leads to another as the reason Long didn't repair his labrum was only because of a gruesome ankle injury he suffered earlier in 2016. Long's primary focus coming into his this year was on fixing his shoddy wheel first with surgery and full rehabilitation, while planning to play through the pain of his ailing shoulder.
An endless and exhausting timeline, no doubt.
In hindsight, this was a perfectly fine mindset for Long, provided his ankle would be allowed to fully recover. Provided the Bears kept him patient, no matter how he tried to rush back and help the team being the good teammate he that desperately wants to win immediately. Instead, given that his labrum was firmly his decision, Long's timeline of cascading and consequential injuries in return in the past year can only be primarily blamed on the Bears in tenfold regards to his ankle. That's for gross mismanagement of one of their best assets.
With the amount of wear and tear and needed repair on Long's body, it's difficult to see him being ready for training camp in July 2018. Let alone the start of the season, barring more incompetence.
This is mismanagement that may again create another roster hole sooner than the Bears would prefer. Now, they may have to bring back Josh Sitton at a pay cut. They could hope rookie Jordan Morgan is ready to contribute next season. There's the possibility they have to dip into the free agent market or use one of their seven precious picks in April's draft on an interior lineman. All because they appreciated a player giving his all, instead of taking the ball out of his hands and thinking of his long-term viability for the organization.
This is mismanagement that most importantly given medical odds, will rob a player who has given the Bears everything the maximized prime of his career. Who may never be able to give his true best again, or be ready to participate at all by the time Chicago is a playoff team once more. That's essentially the most prominent reason for Long's sacrifice and now there's legitimate question as to whether he'll be able to have the experience.
Do you remember late in camp this past August when Long fought with some of the Bears on the last day in Bourbonnais? Well, tensions and frustrations arise when your ankle recovery isn't going as expected. Better said, when you return to the field too quickly and press on an ankle injury that still needs time to recover.
From the Bears' perspective, Long should've never participated in camp so early this year. Since that didn't happen, given his injury setback in mid-August, he should've been on the physically unable to perform list to start the season, instead of letting him push for his eventual Week 3 return against the Steelers. Since that didn't happen, he should've clearly been placed on injured reserve at least a month before his actual December 5th date.
A domino effect that was easy to see from the outset. One that had a player understandably have his emotions clout his judgment, as he's justified in doing so, but inexplicably have no one step in as a voice of reason. Availability is the best ability, only when it makes sense.
No, the Bears wanted to have their cake and eat it too, as well as let Long have his cake. Misguided? Shortsighted? How about all of the above?
Now as Long works to return fully healthy for the 2018 season under a new coaching staff, you can't help but wonder at what physical state he'll return to whenever he's prepared to play. That's if he'll ever be the same high caliber guard. At this juncture, all you can hope for is that he recovers relatively well to have a solid remaining career and that he has his sacrifices amidst the Bears' consistent disappointment eventually rewarded.
Unfortunately, the Bears' sloppy fingerprints are all over this tenuous situation with Long, so that health sentiment's firmly up in the air. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.