The Chicago Bears last off-season made three significant moves to solidify the center position. It started with the release of Roberto Garza, who was replaced by Will Montgomery in free agency. GM Ryan Pace then added Hroniss Grasu in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Montgomery was signed to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum ($870,000). A former 2006 seventh-round pick out of Virginia Tech, he played for the Panthers and Jets his first three years in the league, then spent the following six years with the Redskins. In 2014, he signed with the Broncos, who were then coached by John Fox.
So when the Bears were searching for Garza's replacement, Fox went back to the well and brought a familiar face to Chicago.
During training camp and the preseason, it was clear that Grasu was not physically ready for the NFL, so Montgomery easily earned the starting gig heading into the regular season. He played well through his first three starts, allowing only 6 QB hurries, with no QB hits or sacks. He was also dependable as a run blocker.
Yet Montgomery's season was cut short on the first play of the Week 4 contest against the Oakland Raiders, when he was rolled up on in the trenches and broke his leg. This forced the Bears to insert Grasu into the starting lineup, which was not ideal.
Grasu wasn't a total liability but the front five had to contribute help to the interior to mask his lack of technique and strength, which put the offensive tackles on islands far too often.
Montgomery becomes a free agent on March 9. Is he worth re-signing to a short-term deal?
Montgomery is a journeyman center who turned 33 this week. His best days are well behind him and, even when healthy, he's an average center at best. While there's nothing wrong with having a mediocre center, it's not ideal.
The problem is that Grasu still isn't ready. Unless he gains 20 pounds of muscle and refines his technique dramatically, his same issues will weigh down the offensive line in 2016 as well. So the Bears have to sign a veteran to accompany Grasu on his journey.
Montgomery would come at the veteran minimum again and his 11 years of NFL experience have value on game days. As a cheap, one-year option, the Bears could do worse.
Yet the Bears can also do better. Re-signing Montgomery means the team is satisfied with mediocrity, when there will be younger, more attractive options available on the open market.
Chicago's offense is loaded at the skill positions, particularly if the team re-signs Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White stays healthy. That won't mean much, though, if the offensive line is another hot mess. The Bears must improve up front if the offense is going to take a step forward and Montgomery does not constitute an improvement. He's serviceable but is serviceable the best Pace can do this off-season?
The Bears are flush with cash and will have money to spend on a better pivot player. Pace needs to invest wisely and upgrade a crucial spot along the offensive line.