Seeking to maintain the status quo on an offensive line that showed significant improvement last season despite starting two rookies, the Bears re-signed 13-year veteran center Roberto Garza to a one-year contract.
The 6-foot-2, 310-pound Garza, who turns 35 next month, was eligible to test free agency starting March 11. But the Bears' pre-emptive move will keep the line leader in Chicago for a 10th season. The Bears did not release terms of Garza's deal, but it is for $1.5 million, according to multiple sources.
Even though the Bears started last year's first-round pick Kyle Long at right guard and fifth-rounder Jordan Mills at right tackle the entire season, the offensive line finished No. 4 in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed. The steadying influence of Garza was a primary reason for the improvement on a unit that had finished 27th in sacks allowed a year earlier.
"Roberto is an outstanding player and person," coach Marc Trestman said. "He is as hardworking a player as we have and an unselfish leader. He is tremendously important in our preparation by quarterbacking the offensive line both in run and pass protection. He anchors everything we do up front and we're thrilled to have him back."
Garza was the only returning starter last season on an offensive line that included four new starters, but the Bears set franchise records with 6,109 total yards, 4,450 passing yards, 32 passing touchdowns, a 96.9 passer rating and 344 first downs.
"We had five guys go out and play together and get better every week," Garza said at the conclusion of the season. "It's the start of something really, really good. Hopefully we continue to build on that and hopefully I continue to be a part of it."
That was apparently the Bears' intent, as well.
"When you're around Roberto on a day-to-day basis, you realize he's a better person and leader than he is a player, and we think he's a very good player," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. "It was important for us to get him back. We're excited to have him back. He's a veteran presence in the (offensive line) room. He probably had his best year last year so we think he's on the upswing even though he has a lot of years under his belt. We think he can be very productive for us again this upcoming year."
Matt Slauson, who started all 16 games at left guard after being signed for one year as an unrestricted free agent last off-season, signed a four-year, $12.8 million contract on Jan. 2. Garza's deal should keep the entire starting O-line intact for at least another season. The Bears started the same five offensive linemen in all 16 games last season.
"He's obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments," Bears general manager Phil Emery said of Garza, just days after last season's 8-8 campaign ended. "He did a lot of good things. He gave up (just) three-quarters of a sack this year. I thought he made a big push up. He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip-placement."
The Bears do not have a proven backup to Garza on their current roster, although they re-signed inexperienced Taylor Boggs on Monday. Boggs could be could be groomed as a possible successor to Garza, who played every snap last season and has missed just two starts in the previous eight seasons, beginning the year after he was signed away from the Falcons before the 2005 season.
Garza was originally Atlanta's fourth-round pick (99th overall) out of Texas A&M-Kingsville.
With the Jan. 2 re-signing of quarterback Jay Cutler for seven years and $126 million, the Bears now have every offensive starter from last season under contract. That unit, in its first year under Trestman and Kromer, finished 2013 No. 2 in scoring, No. 5 in passing yards, No. 7 in third-down efficiency and No. 8 in total yards.
"Everybody's coming back and we're going to be in the same system for the second year," Garza said. "We did some good things last year, but there's a lot of stuff we have to build on and correct and do better. It's going to be fun to watch the film from last year and get better at things that are going to make us a better football team."
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