Chicago Bears 2016 Free Agent Options: Center

A detailed break down of the free agent centers the Chicago Bears should be targeting this upcoming off-season.

In last year's draft, the Chicago Bears used a third-round pick on center Hroniss Grasu out of Oregon. Grasu started eight game his rookie season, yet his production was far from ideal. 

While he's an athletic interior blocker, one who excels on the move and at the second level, his lack of power at the point of attack was startling. Grasu's technique was raw and his pass protection was sketchy.

As such, it's highly unlikely the Bears are going to pencil in Grasu as the team's starting center heading into the 2016 campaign. More likely, GM Ryan Pace will attempt to find a veteran center behind whom Grasu can sit and learn for the next year or two. 

One option is Will Montgomery, who started four games in Chicago last season before breaking his leg. Montgomery wasn't spectacular but he was steadily consistent, which is valuable. 

Yet Montgomery is very average, a veteran who isn't going to hurt the offense but one who isn't going to add significantly to the front five in either the run or pass game. 

An intriguging wait-and-see option is Cleveland's Alex Mack, who is widely considered one of the best centers in the NFL. Mack has an opt out option in his contract that, if he excersizes it, will make him a free agent come early March. If the Bears want to truly solidify the pivot, they'll aggressively pursue Mack, assuming he bolts from the Browns' utterly dysfunctional mess. 

The problem with Mack is that he's due $8 million from the Browns next year. So if he opts out, he'll be looking to make at least $8 million next season. Only four centers in the NFL make more than $8 million, so the Bears would have to make sizeable investment to land Mack, which seems unlikely. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at the top NFL cetners that will soon hit the open market. 

Stefen Wisniewski, Jacksonville (6-3, 305) Age: 26

Wisniewski dealt with a number of injuries in 2014 and received few offers in free agency last off-season. Yet he played at a high level for the Jaguars last year and, most importantly, didn't miss a single contest due to injury. In 2015, Wisniewski allowed just 2 sacks, no QB hits and 11 QB pressures. The five-year veteran is an elite pass-protecting center and can hold his own as a run blocker as well. Jacksonville signed him for just $2.5 million last year, so it won't cost much more per season (between $3 million - $4 million) to sign the 26-year-old to a long-term deal. 

Ben Jones, Houston (6-3, 308) Age: 26

Jones played guard his first three years with the Texans but was moved to center last season. He's a decent run blocker but was very inconsistent in pass protection, giving up 5 sacks, 3 QB hits and 18 QB hurries last season. He won't help much in the passing game but Jones has the power off the ball that Grasu lacks. 

Lyle Sendlein, Arizona (6-3, 308) Age: 31

Sendlein has been a starter for the Cardinals the past eight seasons, so he has plenty of experience. Yet he took a step backward last year. He struggled as a run blocker, while allowing 9 QB hits and 20 QB hurries in pass protection. He's not ideal but Sendlein's veteran presence wouldn't hurt the Bears. 

Other options: 

Fernando Velasco, Carolina (6-4, 310) Age: 31
Josh LeRibeus, Washington (6-2, 315) Age: 27
Tim Barnes, L.A. Rams (6-4, 306) Age: 28

The Verdict

Stefen Wisniewski: As we can see from the short list above, very few starter-quality NFL centers will hit the open market this year. As such, if the Bears want to truly upgrade the pivot position, then Wisniewski is their best bet. He won't cost as much as Mack and he brings a developed skill set, unlike Grasu. Wisniewski played every snap for the Jaguars offense last season, erasing the fears about his health, and showed why he's considered one of the past-blocking centers in the game. He's a slam dunk. 


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