The Chicago Bears have a critical decision to make this off-season: where will Kyle Long play in 2016 and beyond?
Long earned two Pro Bowl berths at right guard and then another trip to Hawaii at right tackle this year. Ostensibly, due to his elite combination of strength and ahtleticism, he can play anywhere along the offensive line, including left tackle. Where Long lines up next season will dictate the approach the Bears make in both free agency and the draft to improve the offensive line.
Former seventh-round pick Charles Leno started 13 games at left tackle in 2015 with mixed results. The jury still out on Leno as the team's long-term edge blocker of the future, although it's likely Bears brass will search long and hard this off-season for an upgrade.
With that in mind, let's break down the top veteran offensive tackles who will soon hit the open market.
Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore (6-5, 330) Age: 27
Osemele has been a starter for the Ravens at guard, right tackle and left tackle. His versatility and consistency makes him one of this year's most attractive free agent offensive linemen. He has ideal size and strength, as well as 36-inch arms. With Osemele, the Bears could mix and match him and Long to find the best front-five lineup, with the ability to slide around either player due to injury. Osemele is an elite free agent the Bears should pursue aggressively. Update: The Raiders and Osemele have agreed to a contract.
Cordy Glenn, Buffalo (6-6, 345) Age: 26
Glenn is one of the best pass-blocking left tackles in the NFL. Last season, he allowed just 2 sacks and 2 QB hits. By comparison, Leno allowed 4 sacks and 6 QB hits, so Glenn represents a significant upgrade. He's weak as a run blocker, which is disappointing, but if the Bears want a pure pass-protecting edge blocker to solidify Jay Cutler's blind side, Glenn is their guy. Update: The Bills placed the franchise tag on Glenn.
Ryan Schraeder, Atlanta (6-7, 300) Age: 28
Schraeder has been a wall in pass protection at right tackle for the Falcons, allowing just 2 sacks, 2 QB hits and 20 QB hurries last season. He's also a competent run blocker, although not a mauler. If the Bears plan on shifting Long to the left edge, then Schraeder would be an ideal replacement on the right side.
Rusell Okung, Seattle (6-5, 310) Age: 27
The former sixth overall pick in the 2010 draft, Okung has been more than solid at left tackle for the Seahawks the past six seasons. He's equally adept as a run blocker as he is in pass protection and would provide immediate consistency on the left edge for the Bears. The issues with Okung have been injuries, as he's never played 16 games in a single campaign. He carries risk, which should reduce his price tag, but when healthy, he's one of the top offensive tackles in the league.
Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland (6-5, 320) Age: 27
Schwartz has been a starter for the Browns at right tackle for the past three seasons. He's a quality run blocker and can hold his own in pass protection as well, although he did allow 8 QB hits and 32 QB hurries last season. Mitchell is dependable, having never missed a game in his NFL career, and would give the Bears stability on the right side, allowing them to move Long to left tackle.
Donald Penn, Oakland (6-4, 315) Age: 33
Penn has been one of the most dependable and consistent left tackles in the NFL since first becoming a starter for the Buccaneers in 2007. Over the past nine years, he hasn't missed a single contest. He earned a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2010 and gave up just 20 QB hurries last season. On the down side, he turns 33 in April, making him a short-term option only.
Kelvin Beachum, Pittsburgh (6-3, 303) Age: 27
Beachum is a former seventh-round pick who doesn't have ideal size, yet he can play. He only played six games last year before tearing his ACL but during his 329 snaps in 2015, he allowed just 2 QB hurries. That's exceptional. The knee injury is a major concern and he may not be ready for the start of the regular season, but that also means he won't cost an arm and a leg. If the Bears are willing to be patient, Beachum could be a long-term steal.
Joseph Barksdale, San Diego (6-5, 326) Age: 28
Barksdale started two years for the Rams before signing a one-year deal with the Chargers last season. He's a steady, albeit unspectacular, right tackle who had some lapses in pass protection last season - he finished 2015 allowing 6 sacks and 34 QB hurries, which is shaky. He's not the greatest option on the market but he's decently consistent and will come fairly cheap.
Andre Smith, Cincinnati (6-4, 325) Age: 29
Smith used to be one of the top right tackles in the NFL but he's regressed dramatically the last few years, both in pass protection and as a run blocker. He's only 29, so he's not yet over the hill, so he might be worth taking a chance on, assuming he's not asking for a big pay day.
Jake Long, Atlanta (6-7, 322) Age: 31
Bobby Massie, Arizona (6-6, 316) Age: 27
Ryan Harris, Denver (6-5, 302) Age: 31
Byron Bell, Tennessee (6-5, 340) Age: 27
Chris Hairston, San Diego (6-6, 330) Age: 27
J'Marcus Webb, Oakland .... sorry, couldn't help myself.
Kelechi Osemele: He won't come cheap but Osemele would be more than worth the investment. He a bruising blocker with good agility and can play any position along the offensive line other than center. That type of skill set, combined with his versatility, is rare in the NFL. If the Bears are serious about upgrading the offensive line, then they should put the full-court press on Osemele once free agency begins. Update: The Raiders have reached a deal with Osemele. A good alternative would be Mitchell Schwartz, a powerful run blocker on the right side, or Ryan Schraeder, one of the better right tackle pass blockers in the game.
A good secondary option is Beachum. An exeperienced left tackle who can pass protect with the best of them, Beachum should come at a substantial discount due to his recent knee injury.null