Ryan Pace is a fantastic general manager. The Chicago Bears have the best football mind leading their team in at least thirty years and he continues to build a team loaded with young talent that is going to help build this team into a winner.
But no general manager is without their flaws. Some struggle with money management, some struggle scouting college athletes while others struggle recruiting veterans in free agency.
It might be time to question Pace’s ability to scout offensive linemen.
Of course, Pace has an army of scouts providing information and recommendations as to who the Bears should sign and who the Bears should draft but in the end, it’s Pace’s decisions as to who he signs to the roster that are ultimately judged.
As Pace continues to build this roster, it is now becoming fair to wonder if the offensive line is lagging behind.
Before you snap at this analysis, please finish reading.
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One of the first major decisions Pace (and John Fox) made when they started running the franchise was to move Kyle Long to tackle. Admittedly, criticizing this move is a complete hindsight armchair comment, but despite wide speculation that the Bears should try Long at tackle it was the Bears that ultimately made the decision to make the move and one that, a year later, the Bears decided was an error and moved him back to guard. The Bears felt that Long’s future was at guard not tackle, and even Long admitted he much prefer to play on the inside. While not a major error, it was still a decision that did not fair well in 2015.
Last season the Bears also brought in Patrick Omameh and Valdimir Ducasse to help with their interior blocking. While Omameh had a solid season, Ducasse struggled frequently during the season and was flagged constantly hindering the offense. The Bears decided to let both players test free agency, and both players signed low-end contracts several months after free agency began.
As for the 2015 rookie offensive linemen, while it’s not fair to judge Hroniss Grasu at this point, he was overpowered frequently by defensive linemen and struggled often when on the field. He did show promise at times before his season was lost due to injury, but by no means can you be very comfortable with Grasu at center. The Bears aren’t either, which is why they signed veteran Manny Ramirez who is no worse than fair at the position and can play center if Grasu isn’t ready to play in season two. While there are still questions to be answered about Grasu, the Bears are done searching for answers with Tayo Fabuluje. The Bears cut ties with last year’s sixth round pick marking him the first of Pace’s draft picks to find the unemployment line.
While, Pace’s first two offensive line draft choices are questionable, there really should be no criticism for Cody Whitehair, the Bears 2016 second round draft choice, who appears to be in prime position to start as a rookie and could give the Bears potentially the best pair of guards in the NFL.
But Pace’s decisions with veteran linemen this year have been questionable at best. While Ramirez is a decent choice at center, Ted Larsen is not at guard. Larsen was graded as the worst offensive linemen for the Arizona Cardinals last season by PFF (Pro Football Focus) and was in the bottom portion of the guards in the NFL. The Bears paid Larsen and Ramirez combined roughly what veteran Matt Slauson was making. PFF graded Slauson as the Bears top linemen in 2015 and Slauson also proved his versatility to play multiple positions up front. Larsen will most likely be a depth piece now for the Bears line, but keep in mind that Pace signed Larsen to start before Whitehair fell to him during the draft. I can’t think of one talent evaluator that would rather have a Ramirez/Larsen combination over Slauson, but this is where the Bears sit.
That leaves the tackle position where Charles Leno is coming off a nice finish to the season at left tackle but some have questioned if his 2015 finish was just a surge of good play and not truly indicative of his talent. However, the Bears have no real depth behind him if he struggles which would leave Jay Cutler frighteningly exposed. Bobby Massie will start at right tackle next to Long and the Bears hope playing next to a talent (and friend) like Long can help Massie tap into the potential that has not been able to materialize yet in his career.
After releasing Fabuluje, the Bears needed tackle depth and signed former Panther Nate Chandler who was one of the worst graded offensive linemen in the NFL in 2013 and 2014 and missed all of 2015 with an injury. Not exactly the best security blanket for the Bears questionable tackles.
To be fair, the offensive line has a chance to prove this doubt wrong. Grasu and Massie could develop into solid starters, Whitehair could be an all-rookie lineman and Leno can prove that 2015 wasn’t a fluke. If that all occurs the Bears will have a solid offensive line that’s going to open holes for the running game and keep Cutler upright.
But those are serious ifs. Ryan Pace has focused on rebuilding the defense, but he’s largely ignored the offensive line and it could potentially open the line up to a lot of struggles in 2016.
The facts don’t lie: a failed attempt to move Long to tackle, the signing of Ducasse that didn’t work out, two draft choices in 2015 with one up in the air and one already off the roster, the release of Slauson and the signing of a couple questionable veterans in 2016 makes you wonder if there were better moves available for Pace to make.
Again, despite this criticism, I think Pace is an excellent GM that has the Bears in the right direction, but his decisions on the offensive line are questionable at best and if this unit struggles, the breakthrough many hope is coming for Chicago in 2016 will still be at least one year away.