Before he was escorted out of the building Monday, former director of pro personnel Bobby DePaul had a decent amount of success bringing in veteran offensive linemen during his nine-year run in the Windy City.
One of them is still a reliable starter at right guard, Roberto Garza, although another, Frank Omiyale, had more misses than hits at left guard this year. With Orlando Pace not expected back, Chris Williams solidified at left tackle and Kevin Shaffer nothing more than adequate at right tackle, there are rumors circling Halas Hall that Omiyale may be switched back to his natural position at tackle and compete for the starting job Shaffer currently has on the right side. Because the Bears have apparently soured on former starter Josh Beekman, that means there could be an opening at left guard before long.
According to Scout.com, three of the best five guards available via free agency will be unrestricted as opposed to restricted, so there is no draft-pick compensation required to sign them:
Even though he has the size, athleticism and pulling ability the Bears look for at left guard, it's difficult to ignore the fact that Pitts has spent pretty much his entire career at right guard, which is considered the easiest of the five offensive line positions to play. Nevertheless, the Texans averaged 115.4 rushing yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry with Pitts starting all 16 games in 2008, good enough for 13th and tied for 10th in the league, respectively, but those numbers fell to 92.2 (30th) and 3.5 (tied for 30th) mostly without him in 2009.
Like Pitts, Williams is a right guard, but he has to receive at least some of the credit for former Bear Cedric Benson having a breakout performance on the ground with 1,251 yards and 4.2 yards per carry, as the Bengals were ninth in the NFL running the ball at 128.5 yards per game. While Williams will be 34 years old just a few weeks into the 2010 campaign, Chicago signed Pro Bowler Ruben Brown at the ripe age of 32 and still managed to squeeze three quality seasons out of him before he finally hit the wall.
However, unlike Pitts, Williams is limited athletically and tends to get by with his mammoth size and brute strength, so flipping him over to left guard doesn't seem like a realistic possibility.
A fiery competitor showcasing commendable toughness down in the trenches, Neal understands the finer points of offensive line play, like pad level, leverage and hand placement. Unfortunately for the Bears, Neal's superior teammate in New England, left guard Logan Mankins, will be a restricted free agent instead of unrestricted because he has only logged five years of service in the NFL.
Neal is no spring chicken and, like Williams, will turn 34 during the 2010 season, but he doesn't have as much wear and tear since he spent the first three years of his career sitting and watching the birth of the Patriots dynasty.
Conclusion: Because has the traits necessary to play the more demanding left guard spot, and considering his price tag could be lowered coming off a knee injury, rolling the dice with Pitts on a one- or two-year deal makes sense.
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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.
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