Chicago activated its longest-tenured offensive starter Friday. Whitehair had been out since suffering a knee injury in Week 4. He ended up missing the minimum game total; this Bears transaction will be their third injury activation this season. The team can activate up to five more players from IR this year.
Although they have been without their top offensive lineman for half the season, the Bears have climbed to a high perch offensively. They will enter their Week 9 game as the NFL’s top rushing team. Chicago’s Justin Fields-, David Montgomery– and Khalil Herbert-driven ground attack is averaging 188.4 yards per game — nearly 23 more yards than the second-place Ravens — and has led the team to back-to-back games with at least 29 points.
Whitehair, 30, is in the third season of a five-year, $51.25MM extension. He has been with the Bears since joining the team as a 2016 second-round pick. The Kansas State product has been a starter, at either center or guard, throughout his career. This four-game absence marked his longest layoff as a pro.
Getting Whitehair back in the lineup should be really beneficial for the Bears and developing quarterback Justin Fields. Whitehair has been a full-time starter on the Bears’ offensive line since he was drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft. The former Pro Bowler brings back a key veteran presence in Chicago and could help them push to get back in the race for the NFC North.
Once they feel he’s ready, Whitehair should replace Michael Schofield at left guard. If the Bears don’t feel they can activate him within the 21-day practice window, Whitehair will return to IR for the rest of the season.
Here are a few other injury updates from around the NFL:
The Packers have designated linebacker Krys Barnesfor return from IR, according to ESPN’s Rob Demovsky. Barnes suffered an ankle injury in the team’s season opener this year and has been on IR ever since. The third-year linebacker out of UCLA had started 23 games through the first two years of his NFL career but was expected to compete with first-round rookie Quay Walker for starting time this season. Bringing Barnes back should help add some quality depth to the Packers’ linebacking corps.
The Titans have designated cornerback Elijah Moldenfor return from IR, according to Titans senior writer Jim Wyatt. Molden had been missing several practices in the preseason due to a groin injury and was placed on IR just before the start of the regular season. Molden had made a significant impact as a rookie last year, starting seven games and showing up all over the defense. Aside from finishing fifth on the team for tackles with 60, Molden had an interception returned for a touchdown, four passes defensed, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, 3.0 tackles for loss, and six quarterback pressures. The Titans have gotten a pleasant surprise from a talented, young group of corners so far this season. Molden will add depth behind third-year starter Kristian Fulton, rookie starter Roger McCreary, rookie Tre Avery, second-year corner Caleb Farley, and the lone veteran, Terrance Mitchell.
Bills safety Jordan Poyer, who has already missed two games so far this year, didn’t participate in practice today as he deals with an elbow injury, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network. The veteran “is considered week-to-week” and could miss some more time. Buffalo already has Damar Hamlin filling in for Micah Hyde, who remains on IR. Special teams ace Jaquan Johnson will fill in for any time Poyer has to miss. He has three such starts over the past two seasons.
Broncos third-year starting center Lloyd Cushenberry left last week’s London win over the Jaguars late in the first half with a groin strain. The injury appears to be of some concern as he is expected to “miss some time,” according to Mike Klis of 9NEWS. Veteran Graham Glasgow subbed in for Cushenberry last week in London and is expected to start until he can return. Glasgow has plenty of experience as this is his first year in a backup capacity after six years of starting for the Lions and Broncos before.
The Bears will be without their most experienced offensive line starter for a while. They moved left guard Cody Whitehair to injured reserve Wednesday.
Whitehair, who is Chicago’s longest-tenured O-lineman by a considerable margin, suffered a knee injury during the team’s Week 4 loss to the Giants. The Bears are also opening N’Keal Harry‘s IR-return window. Harry will return to practice Wednesday, starting his 21-day activation clock. The Bears are expecting Whitehair back this season, Matt Eberflus said.
Also the only Bears blocker on a notable contract (five years, $51.25MM), Whitehair has been a starter throughout his seven-year run with the franchise. The Bears took Whitehair in the 2016 second round, and after an extensive run at center, the team moved the Kansas State product to guard. This will be a rare stay off the Bears’ 53-man roster for Whitehair, who has missed only two games in his career.
The rebuilding team has been using Lucas Patrick and Teven Jenkins in a right guard timeshare, but Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune expects that to cease for the time being. Patrick will likely slide to left guard to replace Whitehair, leaving Jenkins — whom the Bears have moved around the formation since drafting him in the 2021 second round — on the right side. A poor practice led Jenkins, who had started the first two games at right guard for the Bears, to the bench, Biggs adds. But the Oklahoma State product remained in the team’s rotation over the past two weeks. Whitehair’s injury will open the door to an extended audition for the player the previous regime viewed as a potential long-term left tackle.
Placed on IR shortly after roster cutdown, Harry would be eligible for an a Week 5 return. It remains to be seen if the Bears will deem their offseason trade acquisition ready. Harry underwent ankle surgery in mid-August and was believed to be facing a two-month recovery timetable. The Bears designating the ex-Patriots first-rounder for return certainly appears to show Harry is on schedule.
The Bears’ passing attack has plunged into a strange place. Justin Fields has set 21st-century lows to start his second season, with his 34 completions and 67 attempts both checking in below any quarterback this century through four games (among four-game starters). Any receiving help the second-year quarterback can get will be a bonus. The Bears did not make big-ticket receiver investments this offseason, instead taking a number of fliers. Harry, obtained for a 2024 seventh-round pick, was among them.
Harry began both the 2019 and ’21 seasons on IR and has a history of ankle trouble; an ankle malady led the Arizona State alum to IR as a rookie. Harry’s initial NFL injury threw off his development in New England’s then-complex offense. He started last season on IR because of a shoulder issue. The big-bodied target caught just 12 passes for 184 yards last season.
Reiff, 33, played right tackle with the Bengals last season, prior to going down with a mid-December ankle injury that shelved him for the team’s unlikely Super Bowl run, and moved to the right side in 2016 to accommodate Lions first-round pick Taylor Decker. In every other season, Reiff has primarily been a left tackle.
Jones and Reiff starting would leave Chicago with two new tackle starters. The team’s top 2021 left tackle, Jason Peters, remains a free agent. The player the previous regime hoped would commandeer that post, Teven Jenkins, has not done so. The 2021 second-round pick has battled injuries throughout his career. While Jenkins has returned to practice, he has lined up with the Bears’ second- and third-string lines since doing so, Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic tweets.
Larry Borom worked as Chicago’s primary right tackle last year, but the 2021 fifth-round pick is playing behind Reiff presently. Pro Football Focus graded Borom outside its top 60 tackles last season. Although O-line development usually takes some time, the Bears’ new coaching staff may be prepared to let the Mizzou product learn from the bench behind Reiff (139 career starts). Borom has been working at both tackle spots, suggesting a potential path as the team’s swing backup.
The team exited the 2020 season with one of the league’s most stable tackle tandems, with Charles Leno and Bobby Massie having started together for five years. The Bears, however, released Leno and did not re-sign Massie during the 2021 offseason. Leno is now with Washington, tied to an extension signed earlier this year, while Chicago searches for long-term replacements. The Bears are not expected to contend this season, but Justin Fields preparing for his first full campaign as the team’s starting quarterback certainly makes tackle performance important through a longer-term lens.
Additionally, late-July pickup Michael Schofield is ticketed to be the team’s top right guard, Cronin adds. Mainstay Cody Whitehair remains the Bears’ other guard starter, while ex-Packer Lucas Patrick is poised to be the Bears’ new center. A former Super Bowl starter at right tackle with the Broncos, Schofield has been a serviceable guard in the years since. The Chargers used him as a guard starter in 49 games over the past five years.
Residing over the cap entering the weekend, the Bears made a few moves to create more than $20MM in cap space and inch under the $182.5MM salary ceiling.
Chicago will restructure the contracts of Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair, according to Adam Schefter, who adds these moves will create more than $23MM in cap space (Twitter link). The Bears previously had the NFL’s second-worst cap situation, residing nearly $20MM over the cap.
The Bears previously restructured Mack’s deal in 2019. He was due to count more than $26MM against Chicago’s 2021 cap. This marks the first restructure of Jackson’s five-year, $58.4MM deal. Ditto for Whitehair’s five-year, $51.3MM pact. The two combined to count just more than $20MM against Chicago’s cap this year.
The team still has work to do in the cap-space department, and the reshufflings will certainly be connected to a potential quarterback salary. In dire need at quarterback, the Bears are planning to pursue a Russell Wilson trade. Were the Bears to pull off a miraculous deal, they would need to account for by far the biggest contract in franchise history. Wilson’s $35MM-per-year accord runs through 2023.
November 5th, 2020 at 10:47am CST by Zachary Links
The Bears and Texans closed their team facilities on Thursday morning in the wake of COVID-19 positives. As of this writing, the Bears are scheduled to face the Titans in Nashville on Sunday. The Texans, meanwhile, are set to play the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
This isn’t the Texans’ first rodeo. Last week, they were forced to shut down after receiving a positive player test and placing offensive lineman Max Scharping on the reserve list. Logistically speaking, that matter was much simpler since the Texans were on a bye week.
The Bears’ COVID-19 positive player is offensive lineman Cody Whitehair, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). This news comes on the heels after Jason Spriggs‘ positive test, an indication that there could be spread among the O-Line group. The good news is that the Bears do not believe that Whitehair came into close contact with many players. The hope is that they can isolate, contain the issue, and go ahead with Sunday’s game as scheduled.
In an effort to clear up more cap space, the Bears have restructured lineman Cody Whitehair‘s contract, according to ESPN’s Field Yates (via Twitter).
The former second-round has spent his entire career with Chicago, earning All-Rookie Team recognition in 2016 and a Pro Bowl nod in 2018. Whitehair hasn’t missed a regular season game since entering the league, and he’s started each of his 64 appearances.
While the Bears may have slightly reworkedNickFoles contract, the team will still be looking to carve out extra space after acquiring the pricey quarterback. As Yates notes, the front office has traditionally converted base salaries into signing bonuses in an attempt to open up cap space.
The Bears have signed guard Cody Whitehairto a massive extension, sources tell Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). It will be a five-year, $52.5MM pact that features $27.5MM in guaranteed money, the second-highest guaranteed sum for a guard extension in league history.
Whitehair has been a key factor in the Bears’ offensive line success over the past three seasons, but despite earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, he was asked to change positions this year. Chicago is inserting 2018 second-round pick James Daniels at center, meaning Whitehair has been shifted to left guard.
Whitehair has experience moving between positions. At Kansas State, the now-27-year-old spent his first two seasons at guard before moving to tackle for his junior and senior campaigns. In the NFL, Whitehair has mostly stuck at center, although he did line up at both guard positions for a bit in 2018. The results have mostly been spectacular, as Whitehair graded as a top-10 center last season while ranking top-six in pressures allowed (min. 50% playtime), per Pro Football Focus.
Though the guarantee is nice, the average annual value of the deal ($10.5MM) shows that Chicago is paying Whitehair more like a top center than like a top guard. The AAV places Whitehair ninth among all guard contracts but third among all center contracts. But Whitehair, who would have been eligible for free agency in 2020, opted for the financial security of the extension rather than bet on himself for a marginally larger payday next year.
Cody Whitehair has been a key factor in the Bear’s offensive line success over the past three seasons, but despite earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, he’ll be asked to change positions next year. Chicago plans to insert 2018 second-round pick James Daniels at center, meaning Whitehair will need to shift to left guard.
Whitehair has experience moving between positions. At Kansas State, the now-26-year-old spent his first two seasons at guard before moving to tackle for his junior and senior campaigns. In the NFL, Whitehair has mostly stuck at center, although he did line up at both guard positions for a bit in 2018. The results have mostly been spectacular, as Whitehair graded as a top-10 center last season while ranking top-six in pressures allowed (min. 50% playtime), per Pro Football Focus.
But how will the Bears approach negotiations? Will they view (and pay) Whitehair as a center or a left guard? It’s a critical question, because there a pretty wide gap in top salaries between the two positions. The top of the left guard market reached $13.3MM per year when Andrew Norwell signed a massive contract with the Jaguars in 2017. The center market, however, only hit $11.125MM annually this past offseason thanks to Mitch Morse‘s deal with the Bills.
Whitehair could potentially bet on himself, hoping that he posts another stellar season before cashing in as a left guard — potentially at $14MM or more per year — in 2020. Chicago isn’t likely to use its franchise tag on a guard, especially given that franchise tenders for offensive linemen don’t differentiate between guard and tackle. Therefore, Whitehair really only has to worry about the prospect of an injury tanking his value.
Alternatively, Whitehair and the Bears could split the difference between guard and center salaries and agree to a deal in the $12MM/year range. He’d be making more than any center, but come out just shy of Norwell’s pact with Jacksonville. At present, it’s unclear if Whitehair is willing to trade some of his contractual upside for financial security, but it could be a deal that would satisfy both he and the Bears.