Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garofolo, the Bears are “likely” to place right guard Kyle Long on injured reserve, a move which could potentially end a disappointing season for the 30-year-old former first round pick.
If Long indeed lands on injured reserve before Week 7, he could theoretically return for the Bears’ final three games of the regular season (players designated to return need to spend at least eight weeks on injured reserve). But if he were to miss the rest of the season, it would be a particularly brutal way for Long’s seventh year in the NFL — and potentially his time with the Bears — to end.
Long re-structured his contract earlier this year, leaving it with only $1.5 million in dead cap for 2020. The Bears could save $8.1 million in salary cap space by releasing Long after the 2019 season, per Spotrac.
Long talked in the offseason of finally feeling healthy after not having to undergo offseason surgery following three injury-plagued years. A Pro Bowler in his first three seasons in the NFL, Long played in eight, 10 and eight games from 2016-2018, and has started four of the Bears’ five games in 2019.
The Bears listed Long as being limited or out of practice over the last few weeks with a hip injury, which was why they held him out of their Week 4 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Long did not play well in the four games he started this year, with his team-worst PFF grade of 37.5 matching the eye test. On the “Football Aftershow” on NBC Sports Chicago following last week’s Bears-Raiders game, longtime Bears center Olin Kreutz said of Long:
"You could make an argument that they have to take a good, long look at Kyle Long, and where he’s at, and does he need weeks off… does he need to go on IR, is Rashaad Coward a better option. If you take a really good look at the film, and this is hard for me to say, because I am a big fan of Kyle long, and I’ve watched him for a long time play a high level of football, where he was a dominant right guard… What I’ve seen in the first 3 weeks, and in this week, I wonder about his body, I really do, and I wonder where he is in his career.”
Placing Long on injured reserve, though, would be an attempt for the Bears to fix an offensive line that’s lagged in both pass protection and run blocking.
Long’s replacement could be either veteran Ted Larsen or greenhorn Rashaad Coward. Larsen did not travel to London with the Bears due to a knee injury suffered in Week 4, so depending on his status after the Bears’ off week he may not even be an option in a week when the New Orleans Saints come to Soldier Field.
That would leave Coward, who played his first snaps as an NFL offensive lineman after Larsen’s injury against the Minnesota Vikings. He possesses intriguing athleticism, but also was developed almost exclusively as a tackle after switching positions (he began his NFL career as a defensive lineman) back in the spring of 2018.
Another option for the Bears could be to promote undrafted free agent Alex Bars from their practice squad. Bars — who was recruited to Notre Dame by Bears’ offensive line coach Harry Hiestand and played under him for four years there — had a good preseason, and was regarded as a likely mid-round draft pick before his 2018 season in South Bend ended in September with a torn ACL and MCL.
Better play from Hiestand’s right guard wouldn’t solve everything that’s ailed the Bears’ offensive line this year, but it would be a start. Placing Long on injured reserve certainly would not be an easy decision made inside Halas Hall, given how much he’s sacrificed and fought through to be on the field over the last few years.
But, rather unfortunately, it might be a path the Bears need to take.
Kyle Long played his ass off for Chicago. When healthy top 5 Guards in the NFL. These decisions suck for everyone.— Olin kreutz (@olin_kreutz) October 13, 2019