Talented players are at a premium in the NFL which is why it’s rare to find someone of starter quality on the market after teams cut down to their final 53-man roster. That’s why the announcement by the Green Bay Packers that they had cut Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton came as such a shock.
Still, the Chicago Bears didn’t let that shock paralyze them. While the rest of the league was sitting on their hands and wondering, “what’s the catch?”, the Bears were jumping in to sign Sitton to a three-year $21.5 million contract.
Why Sitton was released by and available to the Bears is still a mystery that no one in Green Bay seems to want to directly address. He suffers from back problems but has only missed two games in his last seven seasons as a starting guard. Three months ago he made the crossover to 30 years old, an age that increasingly seems to be considered as elderly by NFL front offices.
Sitton was also heading into the final year of his contract in Green Bay and it was thought that might cause a rift with the Packers since they hadn’t made a move to extend him so far this preseason. Whatever the reason, the Bears were quick to take advantage of the opportunity.
The signing of Sitton continues to demonstrate an aggressiveness that had been missing from the Bears’ front office during the Phil Emery years.
When defensive end Akiem Hicks was making the rounds as a free agent this past summer he made a visit to the Bears before heading to his next scheduled stop in Detroit. Hicks never made that next stop. He arrived at the team’s Halas Hall headquarters and didn’t leave until general manager Ryan Pace had his signature on a two-year, $10 million contract.
Pace and the Bears followed the same formula with the Sitton signing. Halas Hall was the first stop on Sitton’s tour of NFL teams and it turned into his final destination. He left the building as the left side compliment to right guard Kyle Long.
With Sitton now a lock at left guard, at least for the next couple of seasons, it allows the Bears to work rookie lineman Cody Whitehair exclusively at center, a position that they appear to think is his best NFL fit.
While Ted Larson is listed as the starting center on the Bears’ first depth chart of the season, most of the reporters on the beat in Chicago believe that it will be Whitehair who lines up between Sitton and Long when the offense takes the field for the first time against the Texans. That would leave Larson, inconsistent as he’s been, as veteran depth the Bears were missing in case Long’s torn labrum saps away too much of his shoulder strength.
Having Pro Bowl guard Sitton lining up with Pro Bowl guard Long puts the Bears in a position to succeed as the run focused offense that head coach John Fox wants to establish. Jeremy Langford has demonstrated this preseason that he’s at his best when he has a cutback lane at the line of scrimmage. Langford can now also be confident about finding running room whether he hits the line on the left or right side.
That strong middle in the offensive line also plays directly into Jay Cutler’s strengths. So far this preseason the Bears have failed at establishing any semblance of a long-range, vertical attack, which Cutler still has a strong enough arm to execute. What he hasn’t had is the necessary time to allow receivers to get downfield before releasing the ball. The addition of Sitton helps the Bears’ offensive line provide a stronger, more secure pocket to drop into.
Also, when Cutler does need to move his favorite direction is forward, towards the line. Sitton and Long combine to give Cutler clean places to step into while he picks out his target.
There are still plenty of question marks on this Bears team as they head into their Week 1 battle against the Houston Texans. What they accomplished last Sunday was replacing one of their questions with an answer by signing Sitton to man the left guard position.