The Bears weren’t lying when they talked about the importance of continuity in all forms to start this off-season. On Tuesday they officially restructured the contract of long-time stalwart offensive lineman Kyle Long, according to the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs. Long, who was set to count as an $8.5 million cap hit to the Bears, agreed to move around the parameters of his deal. Exact details of Long’s restructure have not yet been released, but a good bet is on it being heavily incentive laden.
Long, ever the active Twitter user during off-seasons, had the most appropriate of reactions to the news:
Bear for Life— Kyle Long (@Ky1eLong) February 26, 2019
The promise of staying in Chicago — the place where Long was drafted in 2013 and has since carved out a role as a prominent leader — no doubt played a huge role in this compromise. That the 30-year-old right guard agreed to make his stay on the Bears’ roster more palatable to the organization speaks volumes. Long has been a team-first player for the duration of his six-year professional career and clearly wanted to play with a contender rather than risk the open waters of free agency.
It’s meaningful a veteran of Long’s mold wants to stay in one place as well as enjoy the benefits of finally playing on one of the NFL’s best teams. It also means the Bears will bring back all 11 offensive starters from 2018 next season. If you can’t remember the last time that happened in Chicago (I don’t blame you), it’s probably a good thing. The best way for any new and growing offense to take the next step is to stay together. You don’t have to reteach play concepts. You don’t have to establish a foundation of chemistry and comfort when it’s already there. The Bears have brought back the collective band for Matt Nagy and are prepared to make the leap.
The challenge now on an individual level for Long is staying healthy.
He’s been plagued by a variety of injuries over the past few seasons and hasn’t featured in a full 16-game season since 2015. To be more clear, Long hasn’t even started double-digit games in the same span. One of the biggest reasons why the Bears wanted to restructure his contract was purely because they couldn’t reasonably stomach keeping around a player they might not be able to trust to consistently stay on the field. A three-time Pro Bowler that might never reach the same level of play again as he sits on the wrong side of 30 is not someone you want to have an $8.5 million cap hit; especially when you’re already up against the wall financially. This move between both sides at Halas Hall has long (no pun intended) had the writing on the wall.
If Long hadn’t agreed to the Bears’ demands, they could’ve very well cut him as he would’ve incurred a mere $3 million in cap space while saving Chicago $5 million. Instead, he gets the opportunity to attempt play out three more seasons on a sizable contract signed back in 2016. It’s significant, then, that this off-season will be the first time since that fateful 2015 that Long enters an off-season without any nagging injury issues.
It would behoove the veteran to take advantage of his new uncommon health to strengthen his body and core as to be able to last through a Bears’ Super Bowl window. Until further notice, the Bears don’t have a quality replacement in place for Long. Until they do, he’ll have every chance to give his playing career a second wind on a championship contender.
EDIT: Some financial info has leaked...
As part of Kyle Long’s restructured, Chicago created $2.9M in cap space, per source. Long agreed to drop his base salary to $2.5M with bonuses/incentives bringing his cap hit to $5.6M for 2019.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) February 27, 2019
Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for many fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.