The Chicago Bears desperately need better play in 2023 from their offensive line, and that will be a significant focus during free agency and the NFL Draft. At the very least, I expect two big-money free agent acquisitions, and then come draft day, their board will dictate their direction. But considering how this offensive line class is shaping up, and Chicago's potential for adding more picks via trade backs, the Bears could find some solid depth options that have the potential to become a starter down the line.
"I'm probably a bigger fan than most of this offensive line class," our Lead Draft Analyst Jacob Infante told me. "There's a noticeable drop-off at tackle, but the good thing is that there are about nine guys pushing Day 1-2 consideration. There isn't much high-end interior talent, but Rounds 3-4 will be the sweet spot there, especially at center. There have definitely been sexier classes of linemen, but the 2023 draft should still offer plenty of potential starting options."
A few new faces will surely be added to the o-line room, but even the returning players need to show improvement.
In this 12-part series, I'll list the contract status of all the current Chicago players on a position-by-position basis while speculating on some offseason moves that could happen.
Teven Jenkins - Signed through 2024 - Jenkins was one of the few bright spots the team had in 2022, and this is after the offseason drama and injuries kept him to just 11 starts and 13 games. While I think he could have remained at right tackle and been fine, I also see him as a good fit at right guard. He seems l have taken to the position change and thrived, and I'm excited to see him grow into the position. The neck and back injuries are concerning, so he'll need a big 2023 to get himself in line for a contract extension next year.
Cody Whitehair - Signed through 2024 - Whitehair's current contract technically expires after the 2024 season, but there's a $1.1 million void year special in 2025 thanks to Ryan Pace. If the Bears make Whitehair a post-June 1st cut, they'd have $9.9 million in savings, and a $4.2M dead cap hit. The soon-to-be 31-year-old is still a capable player and a good locker-room guy, but he had an inconsistent season and may not be worth it to the Bears at $14.1 million in 2023.
Ja'Tyre Carter - Signed through 2025 - I was hoping to see more from Carter last year, but he spent most of the year inactive and only played in 31 offensive snaps. This will be a big offseason for the 6'3", 311-pound former offensive tackle, and I'm looking forward to seeing how he looks at 2023's training camp.
Michael Schofield III - Free agent - Kudos to Schofield for getting 5 starts in 11 games for his hometown team, but his time in Chicago is likely over.
Dakota Dozier - Free agent - He missed all of 2022 with an injury, and I see no point in bringing him back.
2023 OUTLOOK - I went over Larry Borom and Alex Leatherwood in the tackle article, but both could factor at guard as well; however, neither has shown enough to be counted on for more than just depth. Kellen Diesch could also be in the mix for a reserve guard spot if the Bears kick him inside after playing tackle during his days at Arizona State. Lucas Patrick seems to be in line to start at center, but if he doesn't win that job, he could be a backup at any interior position.
A decision on Whitehair has likely already been made by Bears' brass, but it'll depend on what comes available this offseason. You never want to create a hole on the roster unless you have a ready-to-go replacement, so this may be on hold until after the draft. If they can find a younger upgrade in free agency, I think his starting days are over, and with the Bears having so much cap space, I could see a scenario where they keep Whitehair around in a reserve role. But that would be an expensive backup.
A few free agent options at guard are Philadelphia's Isaac Seumalo, Denver's Dalton Risner, Detroit's Evan Brown, and Tennessee's Nate Davis. The money they would save by cutting Whitehair would go a long way toward a deal on any of these players, but regardless of any veterans they add, they should dip into the draft too.
I think a rookie center may be more of a priority in the draft for the Bears, but a few guard options could be NDSU's Cody Mauch and Nash Jensen, Atonio Mafi from UCLA, Braeden Daniels from Utah, Andrew Vorhees from USC, and LaDarius Henderson from Arizona State.
What do you think the Bears will do at guard this offseason?