With Kyle Long, Josh Sitton and Cody Whitehair, the Chicago Bears may have one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL next season.
The same can't be said for the club's edge protectors, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie. The duo combined to allow 73 pressures last season, per Pro Football Focus (PFF), while tallying 14 penalties between them.
Neither player is a full-blown liability but Pro Bowlers they are not. In addition, Leno is slated to become a free agent once the season begins on March 9, which could leave the Bears with only one starting-caliber offensive tackle.
With that in mind, here are the top OTs that will be available in free agency when the 2017 NFL season begins on March 9.
Ricky Wagner, Ravens (Age: 27)
Wagner has steadily improved as a starter in Baltimore the past three seasons. He's an average run blocker but he's developed into one of the best pass-blocking right tackles in the league. PFF graded him the 9th best pass blocker at his position last year, which would make Wagner a significant upgrade over Massie. Wagner is only 27 and is just hitting his prime, so he won't come cheap, yet the Bears would clear more than $5 million in cap space by cutting Massie. If Pace feels Wagner can elevate the protection up front, which would be crucial if the Bears draft a young quarterback, then he may move to swap out veterans.
Andrew Whitworth, Bengals (35)
Whiteworth is a three-time Pro Bowl left tackle who had the highest pass-blocking grade at his position in 2016, per PFF. He allowed just 4 sacks, 0 QB hits and 11 pressures last season, which is elite. The only concern with Whitworth is his age, yet he's still one of the premiere pass protectors in the league. An 11-year veteran, who will come at a hefty price, doesn't fit Pace's plan to build through youth but if Leno walks, prying Whitworth away from Cincinnati on a short-term deal wouldn't be a bad option.
Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots (33)
Vollmer missed all of last season due to shoulder surgery, while missing 18 games in 2011 and 2013 combined. Health is a major roadblock with Vollmer, who turns 33 in July. He's excellent when on the field and has experience at both left and right tackle, but Vollmer is unreliable to say the least. On a one-year, incentive-based deal, Vollmer makes some sense but his injury history makes him too risky for a hefty investment.
Riley Reiff, Lions (28)
A former first-round left tackle, Reiff was moved to right tackle last season, where he was average at best. Reiff has been a disappointment in Detroit but he's only 28 and has experience on both sides of the offensive line. If the Bears part ways with Leno, Reiff would be a decent replacement, although it's unlikely he'd prove to be an upgrade.
Austin Pasztor, Browns (26)
After three injury filled season with the Jaguars, Pasztor spent the least two years in Cleveland, where he started all 16 games at right tackle last season. He's not a mauler in the run game but Pasztor is excellent in pass protection. He'd be an asset for the Bears on passing downs and he's only 26. Even if Leno re-signs and the team retains Massie, Pasztor is still worth pursuing, as he won't cost much and would make a quality swing tackle.
Matt Kalil, Vikings (28)
Kalil is an experienced left tackle who is only 28, making him a viable option to replace Leno. Yet Kalil missed 14 games last year due to a hip injury and his production has dropped off the past few seasons. If signed, he'd offer production similar to that of Leno, possibly worse.
Mike Remmers, Panthers (28)
Remmers has started 32 games for the Panthers the past two seasons at right tackle. He's a strong run blocker and would provide a boost to Pro Bowl RB Jordan Howard, but Remmers is sketchy at best in pass protection. In reality, he's a clone of Massie, except Massie is a year younger. As a swing tackle, though, Remmers would be an outstanding option.
Andre Smith, Vikings (30)
Menelik Watson, Raiders (28)
Marshall Newhouse, Giants (28)
Eric Winston, Bengals (33)
Byron Bell, Titans (28)
The Pick: Re-Sign Charles Leno
The Bears last season allowed the seventh fewest sacks in the NFL last season (28) and the eighth fewest sacks per drop back. Pass protection was not the issue in 2016.
In the run game, Howard averaged 5.2 yards per carry, which was fourth best in the NFL. Run blocking was not the issue in 2016.
With the power core trio the Bears have inside, Leno and Massie are serviceable enough for the offensive line to again be a team strength next year.
Remember, Leno is only 25 and Massie is only 27. Leno in particular still has room for improvement, so in reality, the Bears already have two young, average-to-above-average edge blockers.
Now consider the weak crop of free agents, where a 35-year-old is arguably the best option, and it's clear why Pace should avoid the offensive tackle position in free agency this off-season.
Re-sign Leno and move on to some real positions of need.
In terms of a swing tackle, Pasztor and Remmers are at the top of the list. Both are worthy investments.null