Louis due for a contract extension

Lance Louis has been Chicago's best offensive lineman this year. His contract is up after the season. With the way the rest of the line has played, it's time to lock up Louis for the long term.

The Chicago Bears are one of the worst pass blocking teams in the NFL. The club currently ranks second in sacks allowed (34) behind only the Arizona Cardinals.

And this isn't a new development.

The front office has tried and failed over the past three seasons to build a front five that is, at the very least, serviceable. In the past two years combined, no team has allowed more sacks, and 2012 has been no different. The club currently ranks 30th in the league in passing and much of that has to do with the lack of protection up front.

Jay Cutler's ability to scramble and extend plays with his legs has masked some of the O-line problems. We saw last week with Jason Campbell how dangerous it is for a pure pocket passer to stand in behind Chicago's porous line. So it's safe to assume that, if Cutler wasn't as adept at scrambling, the numbers over the last few seasons would be far worse.

Coordinator Mike Tice spoke yesterday about his level of frustration in play calling with an offensive line that won't give the quarterback time to throw.

"What we've got to do is block better," Tice said. "It really doesn't matter who is calling the plays. If you're not blocking people, we'll bring Joe Gibbs out every time and have him call the plays. He couldn't call the plays. So you've got to block. At the end of the day, you've got to block. If you're assigned a guy to block, you've got to block him. Bottom line, that's what it is."

Yet it's not all bad. Tice said there is a player around which he can build a quality offensive line going forward.

"We have a couple of guys that are solid, not spectacular but solid, that we can win with. That's what we look for," said Tice. "Does the guy have a winning performance that enables us to have an opportunity to win? I would fathom to say that this week we had very few of those guys. We did have people, or a person … play winning football, but the numbers weren't enough."

Tice is referring to the club's right guard, Lance Louis, who has been the club's best pass blocker this season, by a long shot. Louis is a former seventh-round draft pick who played tight end, guard and right tackle in college at San Diego State.

He started last season at right guard but was forced to slide to right tackle after Gabe Carimi's injury, where he struggled. Back in his familiar position this season, Louis has by far outperformed his line mates in pass protection. While he's been spotty as a run blocker, Louis has done very well keeping defensive linemen out of Cutler's face.

Arguably his best performance came last week against a stout 49ers defensive front.

"That's where the game is won, in the trenches," said Brandon Marshall. "I just got done watching the film, and watching Lance. There are some things he may want to clean up but Lance, man, we can win with that type of effort. He was just throwing guys around."

It's safe to say that if every other member of Chicago's offensive line could protect like Louis, the Bears' passing attack would not be one of the worst in the league.

"I'm proud to say I'm his teammate," Marshall said, "because those are the type of guys you want to win with and if we can all get on that level, the way those guys played, I think we'll have a chance."

Louis is currently in the final season of his four-year rookie deal. He'll be a free agent this upcoming offseason. An interior player that can protect the quarterback will be in high demand on the open market, which is why GM Phil Emery would be wise to get Louis signed sooner than later.

Emery likes to handle contracts in the offseason, instead of causing a distraction in-season. Yet with a player like Louis, who could anchor the offensive line for years to come, there's no reason to risk letting him test free agency. Sign him now and lock up the team's best offensive linemen, then worry about the weak spots in the offseason.

If Emery waits, and Louis signs elsewhere, the Bears could be starting from scratch next year without the club's best offensive lineman.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.

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