While some suggest that not keeping Jay Cutler is the right way to go for the Chicago Bears, there’s a very good chance they’ll keep the polarizing quarterback and do the logical thing: Improve his protection, by going after offensive linemen like Ryan Clady and Andre Smith in the upcoming free agency period.
Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos
One of the leading left tackles in the NFL today, Jay Cutler’s preferred addition to his offensive line. Clady is a first-team All-Pro this year for the second time, going along with his three Pro Bowl selections. He still hasn’t missed a single game in his NFL career (five seasons) and is the number one player the Bears are looking at. Knowing that he recently rejected a five-year, $50 million deal from the Broncos might mean that if he’s not franchised by Denver, he might become available very soon.
Clady looks like the premier name that has no issues about him, but the Bears aren’t looking just at him. There are other quality offensive linemen around the league that might be a substantial upgrade to the Bears’ offensive line, that ranked among the bottom 8 in the NFL in protecting the quarterback, allowing Jay Cutler (and whoever filled his shoes when he was out) to be sacked 44 times.
The 6’8 Sebastian Vollmer of the New England Patriots is becoming a free agent this summer. When he’s healthy, he looks on his way to becoming one of the best in the league at the right tackle who made the All-Pro second team this season, but back issues which held him back in 2011 might be a concern.
William Beatty of the New York Giants had injury concerns during his first couple of seasons in the NFL, but started in a career high 15 games this season. He’s very adept at playing as both left and right tackle, which might make him a very interesting choice in this free agency, if teams get over the injury scares that hurt his stocks.
Gosder Cherilus of the Detroit Lions has missed just five games in his NFL career since 2008, and there’s a good chance the Lions won’t be trying to re-sign him for next season. There are a few personality issues when it comes to the right tackle, but he’s certainly going to be one of the more courted players once he hits free agency.
Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
It took Smith some time to settle in the NFL, some thanks to shedding a few pounds, but aside from his gun possession incident this month, the Cincinnati Bengals are very pleased with the former Alabama player, a first team All-Pro member in 2012 and one of the best right tackles in the game. There’s a chance he’ll get the franchise tag but if not, the Bears will be in the hunt for the big man.
Phil Loadholt has been the right tackle for the Minnesota Vikings these past four seasons, missing only one game during his rookie season. Adrian Peterson has already approached Vikings management asking them to seriously avoid somehow losing Loadholt, who has been essential in Peterson’s incredible season.
Last but not least on our list is Jermon Bushrod, the Saints’ starting left tackle for the past four seasons, including in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl. The Bears’ new offensive coordinator and offensive line coach is Aaron Kromer, who was Bushrod’s O-Line coach with the Saints, and will probably push for the team to sign the player who made the Pro Bowl in 2011.