The Bears needed to add some youth and depth along the offensive line, and they did just that on the first day of the free-agent signing period.
Chicago signed Frank Omiyale, a 6-4 310-pound tackle originally taken in the fifth round of the 2005 NFL Draft out of Tennessee Tech by the Falcons. He spent just two years in Atlanta before moving on to Carolina, where he started a grand total of one game in two seasons. But the former Panther still got a four-year contract worth $11.5 million from the Bears, proving how destitute the free-agent landscape is for blockers this offseason – Omiyale's deal could pay him as much as $14 million if he reaches certain playing-time incentives.
Before Omiyale's arrival from Tobacco Road, the Midway Monsters didn't have one tackle signed for 2009 to ever start a game on Sunday. Last year's first-round draft pick, Chris Williams, had surgery during the preseason to fix a herniated disc in his back and played sparingly upon his midseason return. Veteran right tackle John Tait unexpectedly announced his retirement, backup Fred Miller will likely do the same (again), and left tackle John St. Clair is an unrestricted free agent. While Williams is slated to start at left tackle this coming year, the right side is now up in the air.
According to Brad Thomas, the Publisher of PantherInsider.com, Omiyale has the skills to succeed but has been given precious little opportunity to do so.
Thomas Says: Omiyale is an athletic tackle with long arms, which allows him to run and move very well. He didn't get a lot of chances to shine in Charlotte. However, the coaches thought enough of him to move him to the top of the depth chart when starter Jordan Gross went down last season, as opposed to moving the former starting left tackle, Travelle Wharton, over from left guard. Omiyale played well in his lone start, but he has hardly any game experience – let alone starting experience.
JC's Take: It remains to be seen if the addition of Omiyale signals the end of St. Clair and his rejuvenated career in the Windy City, but it's safe to make that assumption at this point.
A much bigger question down the road could be regarding the first round of the NFL Draft, where the Bears have been eyeing some of the premier tackle prospects and may take one of them off the board at No. 18 overall. Either way, should St. Clair indeed not return, that means they will feature a left tackle in Williams that has never started a professional game and is coming off surgery on his back. And then over on the right side, it will either be the still-green Omiyale or a rookie fresh out of college.
For an immobile quarterback like Kyle Orton and an offense that prides itself on running the football, the Monsters of the Midway are taking quite a risk down in the trenches – especially if Williams doesn't live up to his first-round grade.
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Insider Analysis: OT Frank Omiyale
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