Name: Cody Whitehair
Position: Offensive Lineman
Time with Bears: 5 seasons
“You just see a lot of smiles. We’re still playing for a lot, we’re still in that playoff race. We’re taking every game like it is a playoff game. That’s just what we got to continue to do these next two games and get into the show.” -Chicago Bears Official YouTube
If the Chicago Bears are going to stand a chance at making this 14-team playoff field, it’s going to be because their best players step up when it matters. Examining this roster, the national media often dwells on the defense. Names like Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Jackson, and Kyle Fuller come to mind as players who will be the reason this Bears team either puts up or shuts up. However, one of the biggest ailments of this 2020 squad, and a significant reason they’re fighting for a Wild Card as opposed to the division, is the sloppy play of the offensive line. A somewhat-lone bright spot of that offensive line has been Cody Whitehair. When the offensive line is terrible, Whitehair has been decent. When the offensive line has been good, Whitehair has been excellent.
Back in 2009, Bill Snyder returned to Kansas State for his second stint as head coach, and he immediately returned to his old habits of churning lower-rated recruits into future NFL_players. When he called 2-star recruit Cody Whitehair in 2011 and offered a scholarship at K-State, the young lineman heeded the call. After a redshirt in his freshman year, he began his first active season starting at right tackle. After 1 game, he was moved to left guard, performing well enough to earn a spot of the ESPN All-Big 12 team. The next year he was 2nd-Team All-Big 12, and the K-State coaching staff decided to move him to his third different position and arguably the toughest on the offensive line: Left Tackle.
Two more All-Big 12 appearances, excellent work at 3 different positions, and a body type suited for NFL play led to Whitehair being ranked by one GM as a likely day-2 pick, with a possibility of being drafted as high as the 2nd round. The Bears took a chance on Whitehair with their 2nd round pick at #56 overall. Whitehair immediately started for the Bears as he did after his redshirt season for Kansas State. The Bears had suffered poor offensive line play of late and wanted to overhaul the line, so Whitehair’s entrance corresponded with the exit of Matt Slauson. The Bears now had a young stud offensive lineman to build around.
The Bears scrambled when their starting center Hroniss Grasu went down with a season-ending injury, so the initial plan to play Whitehair at guard was halted. The Bears brought in veteran guard Josh Sitton, and Whitehair showed his excellent versatility at center, earning All-Rookie team honors. The Bears parted with their offensive line coach after Whitehair’s rookie season, and in 2017 Whitehair remained at center for most of the season. He did log 2 starts at left guard and 2 starts at right guard, meaning that between college and the pros Whitehair has logged starts at all 5 offensive line positions.
In 2018 the Bears drafted Iowa Center James Daniels with the idea of moving Whitehair back to left guard, but as a rookie Daniels didn’t progress at a fast enough rate to make it worthwhile for a Bears team actually contending for deep playoff action. A new head coach in Matt Nagy meant an almost entirely new staff altogether, including a new offensive line coach, Whitehair’s third in as many years. Whitehair had a stellar 2018 campaign, earning his first career Pro Bowl honor for the NFC North champs.
In 2019 the Bears gave Whitehair a 5-year contract extension and pulled the trigger on moving him back to left guard. The results were a mixed bag. The aforementioned Daniels wasn’t ready for the NFL quite yet, despite his elite athleticism his footwork was sloppy, his snaps were off target, and the entire offensive line regressed heavily from their 2018 selves. Midway through the year, Whitehair was moved back to center, and the Bears again tabled their efforts of giving him a chance to shine at left guard. After the season, the Bears parted with offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and hired Juan Castillo, who is currently Whitehair’s 4th offensive line coach in 5 years.
The Bears have shuffled the offensive line around as much as ever before in 2020, with injuries and COVID-19 protocols requiring flexibility from everybody involved. Whitehair is no exception, listed as the team’s starting center but also logging starts at left guard after Daniels went down with an injury. While Whitehair has played guard, the Bears have started undrafted free agent Sam Mustipher at center, who has impressed with his ability to play one of the toughest positions on the line. If the Bears can keep Mustipher around and he continues to play at a high level, they’ll have a very good problem when he, Whitehair, and Daniels are all healthy.
Whitehair missed his first game as a pro when the Bears took on the Saints in week 8, which was his first missed appearance since his RS freshman season at Kansas State in 2012. With such durability and flexibility, the Bears are in good shape having him suit up for them, regardless of which position he slides into.
Whitehair’s contract is officially through 2024, but according to Spotrac there is a built-in “potential out” in 2022, when the Bears can cut bait with an $8.1 million dead cap hit. As of now, there’s no reason to think the Bears would be interested in taking advantage of that, whether for cap savings or performance. Whitehair is the future of the Bears at offensive line, almost surely within the interior. He’s currently the 44th-highest paid offensive linemen according to Over The Cap, not bad for a player with a Pro Bowl under his belt and no durability or penalty concerns thus far. When Daniels is healthy and can play left guard, the Bears may try to play Whitehair at right guard while Mustipher is retained at center. Look for future years to show us whether the Bears have shored up a solid interior o-line in those 3.
In week 16, the Bears take on a Jaguars team which has a vested interest in losing the matchup, and the Bears should have little concern over the pass rush in Jacksonville. Whitehair has played the Jaguars once in his pro career, in 2016 where the Bears lost 17-16. Look for the Bears offensive line to get a good push as they have lately, and David Montgomery to have another solid day at the office.
Week 16 prediction: 0 sacks allowed, 0 penalties