What was handwriting on the wall became official pink slips Sunday for two veterans regarded as leaders during the bumpy first-year regime of Ryan Pace and John Fox. The general manager and head coach, though, are all business when it comes to what’s turned into a high-speed turnover of their roster.
Safety Antrell Rolle and guard Matt Slauson were released early Sunday evening. Both had already hit the dreaded 30-year-old mark, but neither was sabotaging the team’s salary cap situation. Rolle, in fact, had used up all his guaranteed money following a disappointing first year of a three-year deal. He was limited to just seven games in his debut Bears season, but even when he was on the field, his struggles appeared to offset what leadership he might have brought to the defense. Slauson, on the other hand, was a savior on a taped-together offensive line that first moved Kyle Long to right tackle the week before the regular season, lost left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a back injury, lost center Will Montgomery to a broken lower leg in Week 4 and got substandard play at right guard from Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh. After his own injury-shortened 2014, Slauson was the glue in 2015. But whispers about his lack of athleticism at this stage of his career followed the signings of veterans Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen in free agency, and Friday’s second-round selection of Cody Whitehair turned up the volume in that rumor mill.
There’s been no indication from Pace, Alshon Jeffery, Long or the agents of those players that these moves coincide with long-term contract extensions for both, which can be front-loaded with guaranteed money given the Bears’ comfortable salary cap situation right now. It would certainly provide a better clue but won’t necessarily wind up being the answer. Conspiracy theorists will say the team will try to extend Long at guard money before switching him to the more lucrative right tackle position. But all of Long’s public comments since the signing of free agent right tackle Bobby Massie point toward a desire to stay put. Pace’s reluctance to clarify that over the weekend provides the sense yet another move for Long could be coming — like it or not, kid.
This is the crossroads draft for Pace’s long-term vision. The much-debated selection of Leonard Floyd outside of Halas Hall is met with a swagger inside that the coaching staff will make him well worth the No. 9 overall pick and that he won’t be the next Shea McClellin. It’s a confident group inside the Hall’s walls right now. Now the hard part: putting their belief into results on the field. Or maybe they think the hard part already took place the past two months in acquiring the pieces they have and that the next part will just happen.
We’ll have much more on the Sunday moves, as well as those from Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 p.m. tonight on Comcast SportsNet's hour-long edition of "SportsNet Central: Draft Central." Jim Miller, Dave Wannstedt and Pro Football Weekly’s Hub Arkush join me in studio to further discuss the draft picks and the moves that followed.