In 2011, the Chicago Bears parted ways with longtime center Olin Kreutz. It was a surprising move, one that left the club no option but to convert Roberto Garza, who had started at guard the previous six seasons, to center.
For the past three years, Garza has steadily grown into his new position but the 13-year veteran is set to hit free agency this offseason. He'll turn 35 in March but Garza has given no indication of retiring.
Let's weigh the pros and cons of re-signing Garza for the 2014 season.
Garza struggled in 2011, his first year playing center, and improved only slightly in 2012. Yet last year he took a big step forward, particularly in pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF) Garza gave up just one sack in 2013, with zero QB hits and 12 QB pressures, all of which were fewest on the team. He was the glue that held together a unit that featured four new starters, including two rookies on the right side.
The Bears allowed the fourth fewest sacks in the NFL last year and Garza's consistency in the middle was a big reason for it. He makes all the line calls up front and has three year's experience working closely with Jay Cutler. Garza is also an outstanding locker room presence who has served as the mouthpiece for the front five since taking over for Kreutz. As far as durability, Garza goes unmatched, having missed just two total games the past eight years.
Garza is not a mauler in the run game and cannot consistently get push up front. The Bears were one of the worst teams in the league last in year in short-yardage situations and Garza played a large role in those struggles.
He'll turn 35 in March and does not have many good years left in him, if any. It's very possible Garza could hit the wall next year, which would put the offense at risk.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em
The Bears are high on Taylor Boggs, who was active for every game last year as Garza's backup. Boggs is a former undrafted free agent of the New York Jets in 2011 who spent 2012 out of football due to injury. He's young and has potential but he's never played a meaningful snap in his professional career.
Even if Chicago's coaching staff feels Boggs has the ability to be a long-term starter, that's not likely to happen next season. At the minimum, Garza should be brought back for one final season to groom his replacement.
That scenario holds true if the Bears select a center in this year's draft. With so many holes to fill on defense, it's unlikely GM Phil Emery will spend a high pick on a pivot player. If he chooses a center in the middle rounds, Garza should again be re-signed to mentor said youngster.
His clear-cut replacement is not on the current roster, so it makes sense to bring back Garza for one more year to develop his successor. Considering his improved play last year, he won't weigh down the offensive line, even at 35.
According to Emery, the ball is in Garza's court.
"I've let Roberto know that I was proud of his season and we would like him back. And I'm sure he'll have some choices to make and we'll see how it goes, but I'm very pleased with his season," Emery said during his end-of-season press conference. "He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip-placement. He's obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments. He did a lot of good things. Obviously there are some dynamics about where he's at in his career. He's 35-years-old, not to get too far into the discussion, but Roberto knows that we want him to come back."
If Garza chooses not to retire, it's almost certain he'll be on the Bears' roster for one final season in 2014 and he should come at a very cap-friendly price.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his third season covering the Chicago Bears full time. 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.