Chicago Bears Free Agent Options: O-Line

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My Recommendation:

The Bears biggest weakness on their O-line is at tackle. Both starting tackles were in the bottom ten at their respective positions last season. The best tackle on the roster is most likely Kyle Long, who might be moved there as soon as this season. Long’s size and unique athleticism make him an ideal fit for the left tackle position and moving him there would free up a guard position for promising rookies Ryan Groy, Michael Ola, or Charles Leno Jr.

Another option at guard should be current right tackle Jordan Mills. He is a powerful run blocker who struggles in space against speed rushers. Mills would be much better suited to the guard position and worst case would give the Bears good depth at the position. As for his former right tackle position, it could be filled by:

G/T Orlando Franklin – His familiarity with new coach John Fox, his versatility to play either guard or right tackle, his proficiency as both a run and pass blocker, and a reasonable salary cap hit are all solid points in Franklin’s favor as a free agent target. If the Bears are going to move Kyle Long to tackle and perhaps Jordan Mills to guard, than a versatile player like Franklin could fill either guard spot or the right tackle position and be an upgrade over Mills and any of the Bears rookie guard options. The potential combination of Franklin and Long on the same side of the O-line would give the Bears a powerful core to run behind.

If the Bears don’t end up moving Long to tackle, Franklin would still be a significant upgrade at right tackle over the sub-par Jordan Mills. Franklin was one of the best right tackles in the NFL under John Fox in 2012-2013 and if recovered from his leg injuries should be able to regain his old form at the position.

At center the Bears need an upgrade over 35-year-old Roberto Garza. Ex-GM Phil Emery re-signed Garza a week before he was fired as either a loyalty move to Garza or an F-U to the Bears organization. Either way, Garza looked like a below average center last season and the Bears need to either re-sign Brian de la Puente, find a replacement in the draft, or sign a free agent like:

C Stefen Wisniewski – He’s been a starter since his first day in the league due in the most part to his elite intelligence and ability to read defenses and call audibles. He sounds like the perfect center for Jay Cutler who struggled to recognize defensive schemes according to multiple sources. Wisniewski is not just smart, but a blocker with sound technique and the mobility to get to the second level on pulls and traps. Surrounded by bruisers like Long, Slauson, Groy, and possibly Franklin, Wisneiwski’s lack of power would be less of a concern and his leadership on the line and in the locker room would be a welcome asset.

As a final low-cost, no-risk signing the Bears should bring G Ben Ijalana in for a try out. There was a reason he was a second round pick in 2010. He has the size and tools to be a dominant guard, but has only played a few snaps in the NFL due to two severe injuries. Ijalana is only 26 years old and still has time to convert his considerable tools into a starting guard if finally given a chance to play. His lack of playing time will keep the cost near the veteran minimum which makes it a no-risk move for the Bears.