Every day this week, BearReport.com will take a closer look at the free agent market and highlight some possible targets for the Bears in the offseason. Today we focus on Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross ...
The skinny: Drafted No. 8 overall out of Utah in 2003, Jordan Gross played every offensive snap at right tackle as a rookie for the Panthers from Week 1 all the way through Super Bowl XXXVIII. He was switched over to left tackle the next season because of some instability in personnel, but he was moved back to the right side in 2005 and has bounced back and forth quite a bit during his five-year career. Gross is a little lighter than most tackles in the NFL these days at 6-4 and 300 pounds, but his versatility and durability are two big-time arrows that he has in his quiver as he hits free agency for the first time.
The numbers: Carolina featured a middle-of-the-pack rushing offense this past season, finishing 14th in the league with 114.0 yards per game on the ground. Veteran DeShaun Foster plodded along as the starter in the backfield at just 3.5 yards per carry, but the running game started to improve later in the year when youngster DeAngelo Williams (5.0) got more opportunities. The Panthers were dreadful throwing the football in 2007 at just 170.9 yards per game (29th), but that was more a product of injuries and ineffectiveness at the quarterback position – Jake Delhomme, David Carr, Vinny Testaverde, and Matt Moore all started multiple games – than poor play from the offensive line.
OT Jordan Gross
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The pros: Has postseason pedigree and already competed in a Super Bowl. Simply never gets hurt, suiting up and getting the start in all 80 regular-season games since he was a rookie in 2003. Still only 27 years old, he's in his physical prime and should be for the length of any free-agent contract he signs. Considerable experience at both tackle positions is a big plus. Seems equally comfortable on either side and has been willing to move around in the past.
The cons: Has always been more of a finesse blocker than an all-out mauler because of his size. Even though he played so well right out of the gate as a rookie, he hasn't gotten considerably better and is yet to make a Pro Bowl. And while it's impressive that he can play both left and right tackle, the fact that he's had to move around so much – as opposed to personnel being moved around him – indicates that he's not an elite player.
The odds: Fair. In an ideal world, GM Jerry Angelo finds a stalwart left tackle this offseason so John Tait can be moved back to his natural home on the right side and Fred Miller is mercifully put out to pasture. The trouble is, stalwart left tackles are incredibly hard to find, and the only can't-miss prospect in the NFL Draft this year at that position is Jake Long of Michigan – he'll be a distant memory by the time the Bears are on the clock with the 14th selection. Tait was very solid at left tackle for three seasons before seeing his play taper off in 2007, so perhaps Gross can make a similar commitment and be just as good.
John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.