Guard just became a much bigger offseason priority for the Bears with the news that they will decline their $8 million option for four-time Pro Bowler Josh Sitton, as first reported by Ian Rapoport.
Sitton, who will be 32 in June, no longer plays at a Pro Bowl level, but he started 25 games in two years since the Bears picked him up eight days before the 2016 season opener after his release by the Packers.
The Bears other starting guard, Kyle Long, missed six games last season – the first two when he was slow to return from December 2016 right ankle surgery, and the last four when he was felled by the cumulative affect of multiple injuries. Long had neck surgery in December of 2017. He played all of last season with a torn labrum, which may require surgery, and he suffered tendon and ligament damage in his left hand at midseason.
Eric Kush entered last season as the Bears’ top backup at guard, but he missed the season with a torn hamstring. Journeyman Tom Compton wound up starting five games last year because of the injuries to Long and Sitton, but he is not considered a long-term answer. Bradley Sowell, mostly a backup tackle in six NFL seasons, also started once at guard.
Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson is considered one of the top players in this year’s draft and he has frequently been linked to the Bears in mock drafts. Nelson’s position coach in college, Harry Hiestand, is the Bears’ new O-line coach.
Free agent Zach Fulton played under Heistand at Tennessee and new coach Matt Nagy with the Chiefs and could be a potential veteran replacement. Fulton, who turns 27 in August, went to Homewood-Flossmoor High. The 2014 sixth-rounder has 46 starts among his 63 appearances.