In 2012, the guard play for the Chicago Bears, collectively, was far below average. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), of the six players that took turns at Chicago's two guard spots, not one graded in the positive.
Here are PFF's overall grades for each individual Bears guard last season:
It's truly amazing that, not only did the Bears start six different guards last year, but each one of them failed to play up to expectations. As a result, pass protection suffered mightily, with Chicago's offense finishing 28th overall and 29th in passing.
It's a situation that has reached critical levels. There is no hope for Chicago's offense if the interior of the line does not improve. You could say the same thing about the entire offensive line but guard is the most pressing need.
GM Phil Emery was aggressive in free agency last year. I don't expect that to change this offseason. To get a better idea of who is available, let's take a look at the league's top guards set to his free agency this offseason.
Brandon Moore (6-3, 305) N.Y. Jets
Moore has been a consistent offensive lineman in the NFL for 10 years, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. Last season, the 32-year-old was graded fourth best at the position by PFF. He's a mauler in the run game and can also hold his own in protection. In addition, he's extremely dependable, playing in all 16 games the last eight seasons in a row. Moore isn't a long-term option but he would serve as a solid veteran presence inside for another couple of seasons. He's played his entire career in New York, so it may be hard to pry him away from the Big Apple.
G Andy Levitre
Andy Levitre (6-2, 305) Buffalo Bills
Levitre has started all 64 games during his four-year career, mainly at left guard. He's not a pure mauler, relying more on technique and intelligence. He understands leverage and angles very well, and has experience at left tackle and center as well. He's not going to clear massive holes in the run game but his pass protection is off the charts. According to PFF, his pass block grade last year was the highest of any guard in the NFL. At just 26, Levitre's best years are ahead of him. Inserting him in the Bears' offensive line would go a long way toward keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright.
Louis Vasquez (6-5, 325) San Diego Chargers
Vasquez is a massive road grader who can clear out defenders at the point of attack. He also shows great balance in pass protection and understands body placement and angles. Despite his size, the fourth-year player is inconsistent as a run blocker and has limited range in protection. Still, he'd be a great addition to Chicago's front five.
Donald Thomas (6-4, 305) New England Patriots
Thomas is a versatile guard who has experience at both guard positions. Last season, he started 13 games and allowed just one sack. Additionally, his run block grade from PFF in 2012 was 10th best in the league at his position. He's a fifth-year player who has reached his ceiling, meaning he's a quality lineman but unlikely to make the Pro Bowl. He's been protecting Tom Brady for years and could do the same for Cutler.
Geoff Schwartz (6-6, 340) Minnesota Vikings
After starting 16 games for the Carolina Panthers in 2010, Schwartz missed all of 2011 after his surgery and was subsequently waived. He signed a one-year deal with Vikings last season and was used sparingly. He did not start a game for Minnesota last year and played a total of just 181 snaps, mainly as an extra blocker on run plays for Adrian Peterson. The Vikings sure were doing well up front to only use Schwartz – one of the meanest, nastiest maulers in the game – that infrequently. He's a huge human being that could clear holes for Matt Forte. At only 26 years old, Schwartz could be an anchor in the middle of Chicago's offensive line for years to come. And not playing much last year, or his rookie season, means his body is relatively fresh. If the Bears are going to make a hard run at one guard, it should be Schwartz, who will come at a discount considering he hasn't started a game since 2011.
Kevin Boothe (6-5, 320) New York Giants
Boothe is a seven-year veteran yet has only been a full-time starter the past year and a half. Last season was his first as a 16-game starter, meaning he's working on some relatively fresh legs despite being 29 years old. Boothe doesn't play as physical as he should, which is why he's been a backup for most of his career. He would provide a minimal upgrade for the Bears.
Matt Slauson (6-5, 315) New York Jets
Slauson is a fourth-year player who has started every game at left guard the past three seasons for the Jets. His overall grades from PFF the last three years are 2.5, 2.8 and 4.0. Those aren't great numbers but they are good. He's consistent as both a run blocker and in pass protection, but he's not outstanding. He isn't the sexiest pick but if the Bears are looking for a dependable left guard, Slauson fits the ball.
Ramon Foster (6-6, 325) Pittsburgh Steelers
Foster started 42 games the past four years in Pittsburgh. He's a wide-bodied player yet does not maul. In fact, he's more a finesses blocker than a power player. As such, he's very good as a pass protection, grading the highest of any Steelers offensive lineman last year, yet he's awful as a run blocker. He's a one-dimensional player that, if signed by the Bears, would help Cutler but hurt Forte.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.