G Amini Silatolu (6’4 | 311 | 5.23) – A big run-mauling guard who moves surprising well for his size. His 10-yard split time of 1.86 is pretty solid for a 300+ pounder and on tape Silatolu gets to the second level quickly and has a knack for pancaking linebackers.
I don’t know how this guy is still unsigned as he was one of my top ten free agent offensive linemen. The former 2nd round pick in 2012 has struggled with injuries but started 15 games as a rookie and 28 games in his four year career. He’s been a plus run-blocker his whole career and has shown gradual improvement as a pass blocker as well.
The Bears have already added a lot of depth on the interior line this off-season but the 27-year-old Silatolu has more upside than any of the Bears recent additions, except maybe Cody Whitehair. If Silatolu is recovered from his late season ACL tear, he could be a valuable depth option by the second half of the 2016 season, could push Whitehair for the starting left guard position, and could even back up Charles Leno Jr at left tackle since Silatolu played the position for a few years in college.
Silatolu may not be ready to start the season on the active roster, but is a very talented run blocker with the movement skills necessary to excel in a zone-blocking scheme and is young enough (27) to be a valuable interior linemen with starter potential sometime during the next few seasons.
Here is a scouting report from Wes Bunting of the National Football Post:
"Is a dominant run blocker. Not only can he coil up into his stance and really snap through his hips into contact, extending his arms and gaining leverage, but he also loves to finish. Showcases a strong set of legs and can run through contact and routinely get a good push. He’s very impressive on the move. Showcases “plus” range for his size when asked to pull as a backside tackle, lead the power play and reach defenders in space. Plays with a nasty streak, loves to finish and his combination of range/athleticism and balance makes him dominant when trying to kick out defenders. Loves to block down field as well, routinely plays till the whistle and his range in space is very impressive, especially the way he covers ground and breaks down so quickly, dropping his pad level and/or cutting defenders in the process."
Silatolu has the ability to be an above-average run blocker in new OC Dowell Loggains zone-blocking scheme and if healthy can be a Pro Bowl caliber player at the guard position. The fact that he’s still available leads me to believe Silatolu’s price tag is either unreasonable or his medicals are risky. Either way he could be a steal for the Bears if they are willing to be patient while Silatolu recovers from his ACL tear last season.
G Louis Vazquez, Broncos (6’5 | 335 | 5.12) – The Bears new leadership of GM Ryan Pace and HC John Fox have shown a tendency to bring in players they are familiar with from their previous stints in New Orleans and Denver. Fox is familiar with Vazquez who was an All-Pro for the Broncos in 2013.
Vazquez struggled in his first season under Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. He’s a mauling run-blocker who works best in a phone booth, but he isn’t a liability as a zone blocker and can be a valuable reserve. The release of Matt Slasuon (it hurts still) perhaps opens a spot for one more veteran linemen.
The Bears may not need an extra guard this season, but Vazquez also has made multiple starts at right tackle. Vazquez, still just 29 years old, has actually started 101 of 102 games he’s appeared in his during his seven-year career. He may not be mobile enough to be an interior linemen in the Bears new blocking scheme, but could be an excellent fit at right tackle.
The Bears did just sign right tackle Bobby Massie, but I’ve watched a ton of Cardinals games living in AZ and at times Massie reminded me way too much of J’Marcus Webb. Vazquez would give the Bears a quality back-up to Massie, just in case his improvements last season were a mirage.
Unless Vazquez is holding out for a huge contract, it makes a lot of sense for the Bears to add a versatile guard/tackle like Vazquez who the coaching staff is familiar with and is just a couple of seasons removed from an All-Pro nomination.
OT Jake Long (6’7 | 322 | 5.22) – Former #1 overall pick and four-time Pro Bowler who has had two ACL injuries in the last three years and is nearing the end of an impressive 8-year career, but may have a little left in the tank at left tackle. The fact that Long is still unsigned makes me think that either he’s retiring or that he isn’t willing to sign a veteran minimum deal to be a back-up somewhere.
If Long were to take a back-up role it would probably be on a team like the Patriots or Broncos that have legit Super Bowl aspirations, but perhaps he likes his chances of beating out Charles Leno Jr for the starting left tackle gig (as most of the commenters on this site would agree on).
Long is not an ideal fit for the Bears new zone-blocking scheme, but if healthy could be a valuable back-up and in his prime was an elite pass blocker. If Leno Jr were to get hurt, the Bears really don’t have any experienced left tackle to take his place. Long could be that safety-valve at left tackle, while providing the type of locker room leadership that John Fox is looking for.
G Jahri Evans, Saints (6’4 | 316 | 5.15) – At 32 years old Evans is nearing the end of his career but was still a useful guard for the Saints last season. Last year ended his consecutive six-year Pro Bowl run, but Evans still graded out as the 38th best NFL guard according to Pro Football Focus.
The Saints tried to keep Evans but asked him to take a pay-cut for the 2nd year in a row and Evans refused making him a free agent. He’s been one of the best guards in football over the last half-decade. Evans is not an ideal fit for a zone-blocking scheme, but he’s still better than most guards in the league and would give the Bears solid insurance if Cody Whitehair isn’t ready to start as a rookie.
Injuries happen every year and last year they forced the Bears into starting both Patrick Omameh and Vlad Ducasse at guard for half the season. If they were to use some of their excess cap room on an experienced, successful guard like Evans it would give them a back-up who could step in and perhaps make the line better instead of being a glaring weak spot like Omameh and Ducasse were last season.
The Bears also have Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen at the guard position, but teams can never have enough quality linemen on either side of the ball and I think Evans is a better player than either of the Bears free agent guard additions.
Next: Tight End