O-Line Could have a New Look

Lake Forest - The Bears offensive line has turned into a major strength of the team this year. Despite injuries and a well-publicized fight, the unit cut their sacks total in half and opened the door for Thomas Jones to join Walter Payton. The contract extension of Roberto Garza might seem like a small move, but it could signal the changing of the guard.

Terrence Metcalf is one of only two homegrown members of the offensive line on the roster, but there's a chance he will not be back with the team next season.

Being an unrestricted allows Metcalf to hit the open market coming off his best season a professional. In his first year as a fulltime player, he started 13 games. A shoulder injury down the stretch kept him out of three of the final four games.

Now Metcalf has to overcome a knee sprain, which could force him to miss part, if not all, of the postseason.

There's no doubt that Metcalf wants to stay in Chicago. He broke into the league as third round pick in 2002 out of Mississippi.

"I would love to be here, I know the people and I know the town," Metcalf said. "It's a good scheme, good offensive coordinator. I can't say enough about this organization. My linemates are like brothers so that's the main focus for me, to be around them."

The Bears also have four years tied up in the development of Metcalf. He's one of three players still on the roster from GM Jerry Angelo's first draft with the team.

However, the six-year contract given to Roberto Garza would be a hefty deal for a versatile backup. It included a $4 million signing bonus and the total worth could be upwards of $13 million if incentives are reached.

Garza and Metcalf are in similar stages of their careers and they could develop into a starting duo. The problem is that Ruben Brown has one-year left on his deal and it would be unlikely the Bears would cut the eight-time Pro Bowl guard when he's shown little drop-off in his game despite being in his 11th season.

With three starters 30 or older, the Bears need to add youth to an offensive line. Angelo has hasn't taken an offensive line in the past two drafts, which is the first time in franchise history that has occurred. Adding young talent would be smart with Brown and Fred Miller toward the end of their careers.

Aside from having four of five starters with at least 95 career starts, veteran depth has been come into play. Center Olin Kreutz is the only member of the unit to start all 16 games. Garza started 7 games between left and right guard, while John St. Clair filled in at both tackle spots during the season.

The problem is that three reserves with starting experience are free agents. St. Clair, Steve Edwards and Lennie Friedman all have expiring contracts. You can argue that none of the three would be major losses in free agency, but each has more 20 starts on their resume.

There are decisions to be made on several fronts. Who to retain and who is expendable? Garza is the first domino to fall but there are more to come. Depending on who stays, the use of a first day draft pick on a potential stud blocker is likely to follow.

The Bears have seen how much an offensive line can improve from one year to the next. Angelo must address age and depth concerns to keep the unit functioning at a high level or suffer the consequences.

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