As expected, the Chicago Bears parted ways with both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy at the end of the 2021 regular season. The results didn't always present themselves on the field, and their personnel decisions were head-scratching at times.
So now the team is moving forward in a different direction. Ryan Poles, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, was hired as the new general manager on Jan. 25. Shortly after that, Poles hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be the team's new head coach.
The Bears have 24 pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (per Spotrac.com) and also have some decisions to make about veteran players that are under contract. It'll be the job of the new front office and coaching staff to decide which players will be a part of the rebuilding effort.
A handful of those free agents are on the offensive line, a unit that led the league in both sacks allowed (58) and sack yards lost (428). Opposing teams were able to rush the passer at such an efficient rate that Bears fans weren't able to see Justin Fields at his best, while Andy Dalton and Nick Foles were hung out to dry on most plays. The first step to improvement is making sure this team can win in the trenches. Here is how the Bears' O-line currently shakes out.
The 18-year veteran turned 40 last month and looked every bit of his age during this past season. He was signed halfway through the 2021 preseason as injuries mounted at offensive tackle (more on that shortly). He was slow off the line of scrimmage, was beaten by opposing pass rushers too many times for comfort (especially against the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Pittsburgh), and wasn't as explosive in his blocking technique as he was in his younger days.
He looked nothing like the player that went to nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro selection. Peters himself said that he was ready for retirement until the Bears called him last August, and it looks like that is where he's headed now. (Until then, he's the second-oldest active player.) It's hard to see the Bears bringing him back when they could get younger at left tackle.
He's played in 54 games (with 48 starts) since the Bears drafted him 39th overall in 2018, and he's more than held his own. The only blemish on his career was in 2020 when he only played in five games (all starts) before suffering a torn pectoral muscle, which ended his season. Daniels, 24, is still young, and his ability to play both guard and center at a high level will make him a commodity in free agency. The Bears will be wise to re-sign him, especially because of the stability that he provides.
Since Chicago selected him 56th overall in 2016, Whitehair has been the Bears' most dependable lineman. He's only missed two games in his career and has been a starter since Day 1 (95 in total). While mostly used as a center, the Kansas State alum has also played guard and tackle when called upon. His versatility earned him a five-year, $51 million extension during the 2019 season.
Despite the O-line struggles over the last two seasons, Whitehair has been the most consistent player in the trenches. The Bears have him locked up for another three seasons. And their best move would be to solidify the line around both him and Daniels.
The Bears selected the rookie from Oklahoma State with the 39th overall draft pick in 2021, but from the get-go, there were concerns about his health. He had some injuries during his days in Stillwater, which is why many believe he fell to the second round. He never suited up for the Bears during the preseason, as he was limited in training camp with a back injury that ultimately required surgery. Jenkins didn't take the field until Week 13 against Arizona.
For the most part, Jenkins held his own once he was finally able to play. Although he did pick up some unnecessary penalties in the Week 15 Monday night loss to Minnesota. He's under contract for three more years, but he needs to mature and prove that he can stay healthy.
The rookie out of Missouri was chosen three rounds after Jenkins, and he saw action in 10 games with eight starts. Although he was among the players who got bit by the injury bug last season, he managed to play a total of 633 snaps. He played 70 or more snaps in five of those 10 games and only committed four penalties all season. Borom is signed for another three seasons, and he'll contend for a significant roster spot in 2022.
From practice squad member to bench player to starter, Bars has certainly earned his keep after entering the league as an undrafted player in 2019. His ability to play both guard and tackle also helps in that regard. As this position has dealt with turnover through the last couple of seasons, Bars has been one of the few constants. Now he heads into free agency for the first time, but there is no question that the Bears should give Bars the payday he deserves.
The six-year vet is among those ready to hit the open market, but there are both positives and negatives and keeping Ifedi on board. The positives are that he can play both guard and tackle positions and that he has six games of playoff experience under his belt. The negatives, however, are a little more glaring. He's prone to penalties (56 in his career), injuries have kept him from playing a full regular-season slate in half of his six seasons, and he has had issues with consistency since joining the Bears. He is a big question mark heading into 2022.
Splitting time between tackle and guard last year, Wilkinson appeared in 13 games (one start) and provided much-needed depth as the injuries and COVID cases piled up. His ability to play both positions will certainly come in handy moving forward.
Now a restricted free agent, the 2020 seventh-round draft pick has mostly been used on special teams in a Bears uniform (appeared in 13 games last year) after spending his rookie season on the practice squad. He's capable of playing guard and tackle on both sides of the line, but he hasn't quite had a chance to showcase those skills yet. He's certainly a wild card heading into next season.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr.
The son of former NFL running back Tyrone Wheatley spent 2021 on the Bears practice squad, and he was given a reserve/futures contract for 2022. I would hope to see more of him next season.
He spent both the 2020 and '21 seasons as a practice squad player for the Bears and was also given a futures contract for next season. So far, he has yet to take the field in a regular-season game.
Mustipher followed the exact same path with the Bears that the aforementioned Bars, his college teammate at Notre Dame, did. And like Bars, Mustipher also provided much-needed depth for an often-injured O-line. His ability to play both center and guard (played in 26 games) is a major plus for a team that needs experience at this position. The question is whether or not the Bears will pay him what he's looking for to stay in Chicago, as Mustipher is also headed for free agency in March.
He was signed to a reserve/futures contract just recently, although he has yet to appear in an NFL game. He was a practice squad player for both the Cleveland Browns (2019) and Atlanta Falcons (2020-21) before the Bears picked him up.
Whether it's through the draft or free agency, this position group will be addressed this offseason. Expect three or more new faces to be added to the mix. Don't forget that Poles is a former offensive lineman himself and he played a critical role in the Chiefs rebuilding their line prior to the 2021 season.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.