Bears replace Garza with ex-Broncos center
The Bears parted ways with ironman center Roberto Garza on Thursday and signed unrestricted free agent Will Montgomery as his replacement.
Before he missed four games last season with a sprained ankle, Garza, who recently turned 36, had missed just two games in his previous nine seasons with the Bears.
The 32-year-old Montgomery, who signed a one-year deal, started eight games for the Denver Broncos last year and 48 straight for Washington the previous three years.
Garza joined the Bears as an unrestricted free agent in 2005 after four years with the Atlanta Falcons. He started seven games at guard for the Bears his first year in Chicago and over the next eight years started 126 of the Bears' 128 games.
After six years as a guard with the Bears, Garza moved to center in 2011, replacing Olin Kreutz as the O-line leader, a team captain and one of the leaders in the lockerroom. He started 48 straight games in the middle of the line before last year's injury.
Garza's leadership role on the team was touted Thursday by 2013 first-round pick Kyle Long, who lined up at right guard, next to Garza.
"I understand that it's a business, but this is family that I'm talking about," Long wrote on Twitter. "He took a broken dumb kid and turned him into a man. Grateful 4 him."
Long came to the Bears with an abundance of talent but with little experience or technique, having started just four games at Oregon. But he has been to the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons, partly due to the mentoring of the 14-year veteran on his left shoulder.
"From the first day I got to the Bears he showed me and told me what it took to be accountable and respected in the NFL," Long tweeted. "He did it right all the time. First man in, last man out. A Lot of people claim that kind of thing but he lived it.
"I promise to carry the torch with the same charisma and dedication that (Garza) did for so long in Chicago. Can't say I've been around a more humble hard-working guy."
Late last season, Garza signed a one-year extension for $1.5 million. That deal included a $75,000 signing bonus, half of which was applied to last year's cap, so the Bears will save just over $1.1 million with Garza's release.
"Thank you to the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bears fan base for an incredible ten years," Garza said on his Twitter account.
Garza had been the longest-tenured Bear on the roster, but that honor now belongs to kicker Robbie Gould, who joined the team in 2006.
Montgomery has a previous relationship with Bears coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who held the same positions last year in Denver. The 6-foot-3, 304-pounder gets high marks for his athleticism and ability to get out on linebackers at the second level in the run game.
"He was a player we were familiar with," Fox said a year ago after the Broncos signed Montgomery away in free agency. "We knew he could get to the second level in the run game, and he's a good communicator, which is important."
Montgomery was originally a seventh-round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2006, when Fox was the head coach there.
The Bears released safety Anthony Walters, who played in four games last season. Walters was one of the top special teams tacklers the previous two seasons with 10 each year.
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