Hub Arkush: Bears face real dilemma on offensive line
Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, who served as a consultant on the Bears' recent general manager search and knows more than a bit about building Super Bowl contenders, says a team needs a dozen or more blue chippers to be legitimate contenders.
The Bears currently have perhaps seven -- Roquan Smith, David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney, Robert Quinn, Jaylon Johnson, Eddie Jackson -- and that's generous.
Many believe that Justin Fields will join that group. Some believe that Cole Kmet and a few other rookies and second-year guys have that potential, but that's a long way from being proven true.
With Smith and Montgomery a year away from free agency, Quinn turning 32, and a 50-50 chance that Jackson's arrow will again point up, it's clear why the Bears have begun a near total rebuild.
But here's the rub: should GM Ryan Poles focus on finding out about Fields and get him at least decent enough veteran weapons and talents at wideout and on the offensive line to allow him to grow? Or does he play long-shots and prospects he hopes he can develop to try and achieve both goals at the same time?
It's an Occam's razor dilemma that seems to point clearly at Fields, but in reality is a bit more complicated.
Mooney needs to take at least one more big step to be a legit blue chipper.
And even with the addition of Tajae Sharpe and Dante Pettis, there aren't any other receivers on the roster right now that have done anything on an NFL field to project them at that level.
Rookie Velus Jones could be special, but we haven't seen it yet.
Sharpe, Pettis, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, David Moore, etc. are all other teams failed backups.
Fields still needs better weapons now to give him his best shot at reaching his very high ceiling.
But the offensive line is different.
Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick have already proven they're good enough to win and contend with at guard and center, respectively, but guard Dakota Dozier is in the same class as the bulk of the wide receiver group.
We, however, have no clue yet whether Teven Jenkins, Larry Borom, Braxton Jones, Zachary Thomas and Ja'Tyre Carter could some day be above average starters.
While bringing in middle-aged veterans as stopgaps would almost certainly aid Fields now, it would definitely hinder the development of all the youngsters and cost Poles a full season of rebuilding up front.
He is going to have to upgrade his wideouts next year regardless, but the offensive line's upside is more of a question mark.
Jenkins' best hope appears to be at right tackle, but he has to play it to find out. Now is the time.
While Borom has shown real promise, we have no idea whether his ceiling is highest at left tackle, right tackle or right guard.
Jones is the closest to a pure left tackle prospect, but a fifth-round rookie protecting Fields' blind side at this stage of his development gives even less comfort than the inexperienced Borom.
The best solution may be to go get an experienced left tackle to protect Fields and mentor Borom and Jones, plug Jenkins in at right tackle and let Borom, Thomas and Carter battle it out at right guard.
By 2023, any additional experience Borom, Jones and even Jenkins have had would at least make a transition to left tackle smoother.
There are a number of veteran former All Pro and Pro Bowl left tackles on the street including Jason Peters (40 years old), Duane Brown (37), Nate Solder (34) and a guy Poles helped draft and win a Super Bowl with in Kansas City, Eric Fisher (31).
This shouldn't be about the money, although at this stage none would command a lot more than the veteran minimum for a one-year deal with some incentives.
Any could be a great fit in an extremely young offensive-line room, as Peters was last year.
And with however much they have left to spend, any would still be an upgrade over where Borom, Jones and Jenkins are now, and any would be a valuable insurance policy for Fields. That's something the Bears really can't afford to go without.