The Chicago Bears have one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL but there are some question marks on the outside.
GM Ryan Pace tried to boost the offensive line last off-season by signing former Cardinals RT Bobby Massie to a three-year deal worth $18 million. Signing Massie allowed the Bears to slide Kyle Long back inside to right guard, by far his superior position. With Massie and Long, the right side of Chicago's offensive line was supposed to be a team strength.
Yet Massie struggled right out of the gate, and it was obvious.
Early on he looked lost on the right edge and played poorly through the first few weeks of the season. Massie and LT Charles Leno Jr. combined to give up 73 pressures and committed 14 penalties in 2016. Those numbers are far from ideal when the tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback.
To Massie’s credit, he became a serviceable edge protector toward the end of the year. He didn’t allow a sack after Week 4, vastly improving his play down the stretch of the season. By most accounts, he did enough to earn a shot at being the starting right tackle going into 2017.
The case to cut Massie comes in the form of his contract. He’s due more than $6 million in both 2017 and 2018, so cutting him would save the Bears more than $12.6 million over the next two years.
If he’s cut this year, the Bears would only have to pay $1 million in dead money, which is a drop in the bucket.
Yet finding a replacement for Massie won't be easy.
The 2017 free agency class isn’t a strong one for tackles, which would make it tough for the Bears to find an upgrade over Massie on the open market.
Then there’s the 2017 NFL Draft. Like the free agent class, this year’s draft class is also considered weak at tackle. The Bears won’t likely reach for an edge protector in the early rounds of the draft, as they have far bigger needs at quarterback and in the secondary.
They could always draft a high-upside OT on Day 2 or Day 3 to compete with him but it's unlikely a mid-round tackle will be any more serviceable than Massie.
Pace will look to add a young quarterback this off-season, so protecting him will be key. Right now, the tackles on the roster don’t project to be here in two or three years, unless Leno takes a big step forward in 2017.
That said, the case to keep Massie this season is a lot stronger than the one to cut him. He's a compulsive slow starter but he's not a liability, and the Bears have too many needs to invest heavily at the position. His contract is a bit over the top but Pace has plenty of money to spend.
Massie is only 27, so there's still time for him to grow. If he can develop some consistency and cut down on the pressures allowed, he can be a solid anchor on the right edge.
Unless the Bears shock everyone and select a right tackle in the first two rounds of the draft, it's likely Massie will have the opportunity to prove he's starter-worthy for another season. It'll be up to him to take advantage, otherwise that young signal caller is going to have a rough rookie season.