The Chicago Bears have been struggling all off-season to cobble together a competent offensive line. Even after adding Bobby Massie and Ted Larsen in free agency, as well as using a second-round pick on Cody Whitehair in this year's draft, the Bears last week appeared no better off up front than they were last season.
Hroniss Grasu, who was showing improvement in his second season, was lost for the year during training camp due to a torn ACL. Whitehair has struggled and Larsen hasn't been much better, while Kyle Long hasn't practiced in two weeks because of a shoulder injury.
As such, the offensive line has been dangerously porous throughout the preseason, particularly in pass protection, forcing Jay Cutler to run for his life on most drop backs. The Bears have talent at the skill positions, and a much improved defensive front, but none of it will mean anything if the offensive line isn't able to hold up its end of the bargain.
That concern was top of mind for not only Bears fans but also GM Ryan Pace, who last night signed former Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton, a three-time Pro Bowler and two time All-Pro.
Suddenly the offensive line isn't a debilitating issue. Sitton, an eight-year veteran, will provide stability up front, bringing with him experience and leadership in spades.
Bill Huber of Packer Report puts Sitton's value in context:
Part of the excellence of the Packers’ offense has been quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ ability to extend plays. Rodgers didn’t have to concern himself with pressure from the edges against David Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga because he could always step up into a solid pocket provided by Sitton, center Corey Linsley and right guard T.J. Lang, to escape to his left or right and make something happen down the field.
“We’ll see,” the source said. “It’s a good organization and they usually make smart decisions. Ted [Thompson] always stays ahead of the curve but they might wind up ruing the day. That’s a lot of leadership, a lot of chemistry and a lot of feistiness.”
With Sitton and Kyle Long, the Bears now have a pair of guards with a combined six Pro Bowl appearances. That's impressive. Last year, Pro Football Focus graded Sitton the fifth best guard in the NFL after he allowed just 3 sacks, 0 QB hits and 9 QB pressures, which is exceptional.
It's not every day an NFL team can land, a week before the start of the regular season, an offensive lineman who was named a Pro Bowler and an All Pro the previous year. It was an opportunity Pace couldn't pass up. Sitton was scheduled to meet with the Saints but Pace was aggressive in his offer -- three years, $21 million -- and never let Sitton leave the building.
The value of this move cannot be overstated. Not only is Sitton a huge upgrade for the offensive line but he also comes from an NFC North rival. He knows the Packers' playbook, audibles and line calls like the back of his hand, all of which will be very valuable information for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.
The Bears can now move Whitehair to center, where he can compete with Larsen for the starting gig -- although with Sitton and Long on either side, it doesn't really matter who wins out at center. Charles Leno has been very solid at left tackle, which is encouraging, while Massie has provided a boost in the run game.
There are still concerns up front but with the addition of Sitton, the offensive line instantly goes from a unit of weakness to one that should be more than serviceable this year and beyond. That's great news for Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Jeremy Langford and Kevin White, all of whom will benefit greatly from an improved front five.
Pace has made plenty of questionable personnel moves but Sitton is not one of them. In fact, it could be argued that Sitton is Pace's best acquisition of the past two years, particularly when taking into account the timing of the move.
Sitton isn't the final piece of the puzzle for a championship roster but he's a foundational piece around which the Bears can build the next three years. That's extreme value coming from a free-agent move made on September 4.