Sam Mustipher is gone. His career in Chicago is finished. Fans from Gurnee to Decatur celebrated. So how should Bears fans remember Sam Mustipher? His case is an interesting one.
First of all, let’s start this conversation by saying the obvious: addition by subtraction aptly fits here. The Chicago Bears offensive line has improved because Mustipher is no longer a part of it.
And it’s worth noting that while Mustipher “went home” to Baltimore, he chose a team that has a second-year center in Tyler Linderbaum who had a fantastic rookie year and didn’t miss a snap. Linderbaum is set to be the Ravens center for the next decade, and if he’s as durable as he appeared as a rookie, Mustipher probably won’t even see a snap on Sunday at center for the Ravens. What does that mean for Sam? It would certainly suggest that a center with 40 career starts didn’t have many takers if the team he selected doesn’t really have a path to playing time for him.
Here’s the most difficult issue with Mustipher. For a UDFA, he is wildly successful. The percentage of UDFA players that reach the active roster is small, but to make the active roster and start 40 games in his four years after college is a remarkable feat.
But just because you are a wildly successful UDFA, doesn’t mean you should be counted on to be the team’s starting center for three years. The Bears put Mustipher in a position to fail, and that’s really at the core of fans’ frustrations with him, it’s not just that he performed poorly, but that he was seemingly the only option the Bears had.
Perhaps Mustipher’s background at Notre Dame didn’t help either. Mustipher’s profile was high as a UDFA. So when he eventually made the team and found his way into the starting lineup, expectations for him were probably much higher than they should have been. If Mustipher had been someone fans and local media had never heard of because he was a two-year starter at Memphis, his poor performances wouldn’t have surprised many.
But the Bears committed to Mustipher, and that didn’t help. Ryan Poles at least wanted Mustipher to be a depth piece last year, but injuries hit Lucas Patrick early, and Mustipher found himself starting once again.
The problem was never really Mustipher, it was the Bears’ commitment to him. He never should have been relied on as a starting center, and if he was, there certainly should have been a stronger option backing him up. When Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy committed to him in 2020, originally it was out of desperation due to injuries, but doubling down with him as the starter in 2021 was a horrible decision and one that exposed Mustipher’s weaknesses that he simply doesn’t have the talent to overcome.
Mustipher is a smart player, and he absolutely gets the most out of his body. But it’s a body that lacks the strength and athleticism to be a quality center at the NFL level.
So Sam Mustipher, Chicago Bears’ fans bid you adieu. For many of them, they are rejoicing your departure. But in the end, Mustipher’s failures weren’t on him. He was simply a UDFA looking for a chance to play in the NFL. In the end, the failures of Mustipher are on the Chicago Bears’ franchise. He was a limited player with a limited ceiling (one he did in fact reach) and never should have been considered a starting center by an NFL franchise. Pace and Nagy’s mistake has been remedied. The Bears, their fans and Sam Mustipher can all move on, and we will all be better off.