Bobby Massie

The Bears' offensive line was not the problem with their run game in 2018

The Bears' offensive line was not the problem with their run game in 2018

The Bears and Kyle Long agreeing on a re-structured contract not only had the benefit of saving a little under $3 million in cap space, but it also meant the team’s starting offensive line will remain intact in 2019. 
 
That’s the same offensive line that was one of the NFL’s better pass-protecting groups in 2018, allowing the NFL’s fewest pressures and second-fewest sacks, per Pro Football Focus. Keeping that continuity in front of Mitch Trubisky is important — he felt comfortable with his offensive line, and Matt Nagy trusted that group to keep his quarterback clean. 
 
“We fully understand some of these bookend defensive ends that we’re going to be seeing here in the future and the direction of speed and talent that goes on on that front, so you better have those edges protected,” Nagy said. “We have two guys right now that we feel really good with on the edges. Credit goes to Ryan (Pace) and his guys for building that unit there now. And then also for Mitchell, it’s that trust factor for him, that confidence in knowing all the communication that goes on that front line of how to do things.”
 
But working to keep Long and right tackle Bobby Massie, who signed a contract extension in January, underscores something else about the Bears’ offensive line: The team believes those five returning players are the right guys to block for a running game that lagged in 2018. 
 
The Bears could’ve blown up the right side of their offensive line, releasing Long and letting Massie walk in free agency, if they weren’t convinced they had the right personnel for the run game there. That wasn’t the case. 
 
From a cost standpoint, rebuilding the right side of the line would’ve been an expensive move, though, one that could’ve wound up costing the team more than the $9.4 million cap hit for which Long and Massie combine. Money, certainly, is a factor here — but the Bears, too, wouldn’t have committed nearly $10 million in cap space to two guys they didn’t think could contribute to fixing their inconsistent run game. 
 
Nagy may tweak his scheme a bit, but the Bears largely showed what they’ll be in 2018: A team that wants its running backs to run inside zone with speed and decisiveness, while also being comfortable catching passes out of the backfield. What it’s not: An offense that’s designed to get its running backs 20-25 carries per game, which is where Jordan Howard generally finds his groove. Nagy listed vision and the ability to make defenders miss as key traits he wants out of a “hybrid” running back, which doesn’t exactly describe Howard. 
 
So the Bears will move forward feeling confident in their scheme and offensive line when it comes to the run game. Nagy, notably, lavished praise on offensive line coach Harry Hiestand at the NFL Combine, too, believing that his teachings can make the group of Massie, Long, Cody Whitehair, James Daniels and Charles Leno Jr. better in 2019. 
 
“They believe in what he teaches them,” Nagy said. “He’s hard on them, but yet he loves them. They understand watching film how can they get better. You see that with every one of our guys right now.”

Bears grades and needs: Is offensive line consistency a good thing?

Bears grades and needs: Is offensive line consistency a good thing?

2018 depth chart

Tackles

1. Charles Leno
Usage: 16 games, 99.3 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.9 million cap hit

Leno’s steady improvement since being picked in the seventh round of Phil Emery’s final draft continued in 2018, with the 27-year-old allowing 32 pressures on 634 pass blocking snaps — roughly in line with pressure rates of veterans like the Rams’ Andrew Whitworth and the Giants’ Nate Solder. Leno was solid as a run blocker, though as is the case with the rest of the line (and the coaching staff, and the running back unit) there’s room for improvement. 

His durability is important, too: The only snaps he missed in 2018 were in that season-ending win over the Minnesota Vikings, when Matt Nagy pulled a number of starters in the fourth quarter. The last time Leno didn’t play 100 percent of his team’s offense snaps in a game previous was Week 3 of the 2015 season. 

Meanwhile, Leno’s 2019 cap hit ranks 20th among left tackles, per Spotrac. The contract extension he signed prior to the 2017 season looked even better in 2018, as Leno continued to build on the upside he showed early in his career. 

2. Bobby Massie 
Usage: 16 games, 99.5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $3.8 million cap hit

Only three tackles with over 1,000 snaps allowed fewer pressures than Massie — those being the Chiefs’ Mitchell Schwartz, the Seahawks’ Duane Brown and the Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley. That’s good company in which to be. 

Additionally, only four tackles with over 1,000 snaps committed fewer penalties than Massie’s four, and he allowed just one sack, two hits and 23 pressures, per Pro Football Focus. With that backdrop, Ryan Pace’s move to sign Massie to a contract extension looks smart — especially given how his contract is structured, keeping his cap hit low in 2019. With Leno and Massie together again, the Bears can move forward with confidence their tackles will keep Mitch Trubisky upright again this season. 

3. Bradley Sowell
Usage: 16 games, 4.7 percent of offensive snaps, 17.7 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1.8 million cap hit

Sowell fits well as a swing tackle who was used in a few different ways last year: As a sixth offensive lineman (30 snaps, one of which was on “Santa’s Sleigh”), as a fullback (eight snaps, all in Week 17 against the Vikings) and in the slot (one snap). The question for Pace, though: Do all those traits make him worth keeping in the face of a potential $1.5 million in cap savings by cutting him?

The answer is, probably, yes. Sowell played well in 2017 as both a guard and a tackle, and his athleticism does allow Nagy to do some outside-the-box things with him. But without much cap space available, perhaps Pace will roll the dice with an unproven backup for cheap. 

4. Rashaad Coward
Usage: 0 games
2019 status: Exclusive rights free agent

Coward had a trial by fire in 2018, when he had to learn how to play right tackle while largely lining up against Khalil Mack during mid-week practices at Halas Hall. He’s an intriguing prospect, one the Bears weren’t willing to risk losing by trying to sneak him onto the practice squad last year. Depending on the kind of growth he showed under the tutelage of Harry Hiestand, he could be back in a reserve role in 2019. 

5. Cornelius Lucas
Usage (with New Orleans Saints): 1 game, 5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Lucas is a five-year veteran who’s appeared in 37 games in his career, but only played in once in each of the last two seasons (lone starts with the Rams in 2017 and Saints in 2018). If the Bears were to part with Sowell, he’d have an opportunity to compete to be the team’s swing tackle this year. 

6. Dejon Allen
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Allen spent 2018 on the Bears’ practice squad, and the 6-foot-3, 290 pound Hawaii alum will have a shot at sticking around as a practice squad player again in 2019. 

Guards

1. James Daniels
Usage: 16 games, 70.9 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,579,581 cap hit

Daniels steadily improved throughout his rookie season, and acquitted himself well as the Bears muted the impact Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald had on their 15-6 win over the Rams in December. His future looks bright as the Bears seem to move forward with Cody Whitehair as their center and Daniels locked in at left guard. 

“We like where he's headed,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said last month. “He's a guy that again is kind of a quietly confident, he's naturally a quiet guy and the more you're around him, I think he just has that calmness. … We believe in him. It's not a situation where we are going 'Hey we have to turn this way or that way or the other.’ He's going to have some tough matchups and we expect him to win them."

2. Kyle Long
Usage: 8 games, 47.5 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $8.5 million cap hit

Long seems like a candidate to have his contract re-structured, as the Bears value his presence but also may not be keen on committing $8.5 million to a guard — and a guard who hasn’t played a full season since 2015. The Bears declined to pick up Josh Sitton's $8 million option a year ago, opting to replace him with a combination of Eric Kush and James Daniels. 

When healthy, Long is critical to the Bears’ success running the ball. The good news is he said on locker cleanout day he feels confident in his health — “no knives this offseason,” he quipped. “It’s gonna be pretty awesome. Jettisoning Long, too, would leave a significant hole in the right side of an offensive line that otherwise is returning all of its starters from 2018. How the Bears approach Long in the coming weeks and months will be an important storyline to follow. 

3. Bryan Witzmann
Usage: 10 games, 49.6 percent of offensive snaps, 10.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Witzmann lent a steady hand in place of Long from Weeks 8-16, allowing only 16 pressures in 306 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. He didn’t allow a pressure against the Rams in Week 14, and the Bears’ offensive line didn’t fall apart after he swapped in for the injured Long. He played in all five of the Bears’ games in December, which represented Jordan Howard’s best stretch of the season, too. The Bears could do worse with a backup guard. 

4. Eric Kush 
Usage: 15 games, 32 percent of offensive snaps, 14.9 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Kush began the season as the team’s starting left guard and struggled to run block consistently. He began rotating with Daniels in Week 4, then rotated with Witzmann in Week 9 and didn’t play an offensive snap after that. Based on that lack of usage, the Bears will likely move on from him this offseason. 

5. Willie Beavers
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Beavers, a former fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2016, has bounced around practice squads over the last three years, including the Bears’ in 2018. 

Centers

1. Cody Whitehair
Usage: 16 games, 100 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $1,344,180 cap hit

The Bears will need to work out an extension for Whitehair, who played every single one of the Bears’ offensive snaps in 2018 and earned a trip to Orlando as a Pro Bowl alternate. His steady presence, ability to read opposing defenses and good relationship with Trubisky is important for the Bears’ offense. 

What Whitehair’s extension could look like will be interesting to see, presuming he indeed signs one sometime between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season. Perhaps something similar (and a little richer) than the three-year, $27 million extension signed by Seahawks center Justin Britt (a 2014 second-round pick) will be the starting point. 

2. James Daniels
Usage: 0 snaps at center

Daniels played 122 snaps at center during the preseason but didn’t play at all there during the regular season. He’ll likely remain the team’s backup center going forward, though. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 5. Teams can always use quality offensive line depth, and the Bears will need to address their interior reserves, whether that means bringing back Witzmann or looking elsewhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears draft an offensive lineman, as Pace has done every year as the team’s GM (Hroniss Grasu and Tayo Fabuluje in 2015, Whitehair in 2016, Jordan Morgan in 2017 and Daniels in 2018). 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 5

Teams can always use quality offensive line depth, and the Bears will need to address their interior reserves, whether that means bringing back Witzmann or looking elsewhere. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears draft an offensive lineman, as Pace has done every year as the team’s GM (Hroniss Grasu and Tayo Fabuluje in 2015, Whitehair in 2016, Jordan Morgan in 2017 and Daniels in 2018).  

Previous needs & grades: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs 

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Bears still have salary cap wiggle room even with Bobby Massie’s contract extension 

Bears still have salary cap wiggle room even with Bobby Massie’s contract extension 

The Bears’ efforts to upgrade their roster with a relatively meager amount of cap space won’t be hamstrung by right tackle Bobby Massie’s contract extension, as it turns out. 

The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs reported the details of Massie’s contract on Monday, which you can find here. For 2019, though, the important detail is this: Massie’s cap hit will only be $3.8 million, which is low for a solid veteran. 

It’ll rise in 2020, when the Bears will have some players hitting free agency and/or will have the option to save cap space by releasing others. 2020 is also the last year the Bears will have with Mitch Trubisky at a bargain (his cap hits the next two years are around $7.9 million and $9.2 million). 

Spotrac estimated the Bears will have about $9.3 million in cap space for 2019 before Massie’s contract. That’ll drop to about $5.5 million after Massie’s deal, but will rise to around $11.5 million after the expected release of tight end Dion Sims that’ll save $6 million against the cap. Something to keep in mind with these cap numbers, though: They’re exceedingly fluid and can be manipulated by releasing players or re-structuring contracts. 

Still, if $11.5 million is the ballpark figure the Bears will work with when free agency opens in mid-March, it would seem likely the team won’t be able to retain both cornerback Bryce Callahan and safety Adrian Amos. General manager Ryan Pace won’t be able to go on the spending spree he did last year, but that’s also intentional — he did his 2019 spending in 2018, adding Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, Cody Parkey, Chase Daniel and Khalil Mack with an eye on the future (Parkey is the only one of those guys who didn’t work out). 

The Bears still may want to re-sign Callahan and/or Amos, but both are first-time free agents (unlike Massie) who may be wise to test the open market. Plus, if the Bears are looking at getting better in 2019, keeping the status quo doesn’t necessarily accomplish that. 

So with the Super Bowl over and the NFL’s attention shifting to the combine and free agency, the critical question facing Pace is this: How does he improve an NFC North-winning roster without the benefit of loads of cap space or first- and second-round draft picks? 

Bringing back Massie while keeping his 2019 cap hit low does serve to accomplish those goals: Massie’s steady, reliable presence at right tackle should benefit Trubisky’s growth in Year 2 running Matt Nagy’s offense. But this contract is merely the first step for Pace, who still has plenty of moves to make over the next three months.