Chicago Bears offense plays some musical chairs

 
By Hub Arkush
harkush@profootballweekly
Updated 5/22/2019 9:11 PM
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  • Chicago Bears swing tackle Bradley Sowell (79) and center Cody Whitehair (65) watch teammates during an NFL football training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., last July. This season, Sowell is moving to tight end and Whitehair is switching to left guard.

    Chicago Bears swing tackle Bradley Sowell (79) and center Cody Whitehair (65) watch teammates during an NFL football training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill., last July. This season, Sowell is moving to tight end and Whitehair is switching to left guard.

The New York Jets knew they had to do something about their offense.

So they went out and spent $52.5 million this off-season, $25 million of it guaranteed on running back Le'Veon Bell and traded with Oakland for guard Kelechi Osemele, who comes with another $25.7 million in contract guarantees.

The Raiders then looked to beef up their offense by trading for wide receiver Antonio Brown and giving him a new contract, with $30 million guaranteed -- even though he already was under contract for two more seasons with no guaranteed money.

Cleveland gave up a first- and third-round pick for wide receiver Odell Beckham and his contract that includes $40 million in guarantees, even though they already were committed to $35 million guaranteed on a $75.5 million deal with his former college teammate, Jarvis Landry.

We could go on and on with this cascade of wild spending and risk taking -- Bell, Brown and Beckham aren't exactly model locker-room leaders -- by teams desperate for more offense, but let's get to the Chicago Bears.

After going from worst to first in the NFC North last season and running away with the division title, no team figures to benefit more from improving the offense than the Bears.

Although they owned the NFL's No. 1 defense in 2018, the Bears were only 21st in total offense, 27th in average gain per rush, 21st throwing the football, 22nd in INT percentage, and while they were ninth in points scored, it was largely due to 36 defensive takeaways and 6 touchdowns scored on 'D.'

Yet no team has moved more strategically or fiscally responsibly than the Bears, guaranteeing just $8.1 million to free agents wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (as much for special teams as offense), running back Mike Davis and guard Ted Larsen combined, and using Day 2 and Day 3 draft picks on running back David Montgomery, receiver Riley Ridley and running back Kerrith Whyte.

The most dramatic moves they'll make on offense this season were unveiled Wednesday with the switch of starting left guard James Daniels to center, center Cody Whitehair to Daniels' vacated spot, and their sixth offensive lineman, swing tackle Bradley Sowell, moving to tight end.

The flip-flop of Daniels and Whitehair had been somewhat anticipated, and both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy indicated when I asked them about it at the owners meetings in Phoenix that it was something they were studying.

Nagy said Wednesday of the move following the Bears' second OTA at Halas Hall: "Yeah, that's what we are looking at. We're giving them a chance to look at it and see where it's at. We feel comfortable with it, so again, this is the time to test it out and see.

"It's hard right now because we don't have pads. So we'll get into training camp and see how that goes. But I feel pretty good about it."

While Nagy wouldn't say it, Bears fans should assume the move is permanent.

But Sowell to tight end was a real surprise, one Nagy explained by saying, "We're going to try it out and see what we can do.

"It's a position right there at that "Y" tight end-type spot where we can use some more depth, and Bradley has showed us the ability, not just off of a 2-point play or a touchdown play, but he's shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he's very smart, he knows how to block and all that stuff."

The move leaves the Bears with no obvious backup plan for a swing tackle behind starting offensive tackles Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie, a fact Nagy pretty much acknowledged, saying, "Right now we're playing through that. We've got some guys like Rashaad Coward that can do some things interior and tackle-wise. And then we've got some other guys that are new that we'll test out, too."

Pace and Nagy say they continue to be high on third-year tight end Adam Shaheen, and Nagy did say the Sowell experiment is about depth behind Shaheen, but there is no other way to read that move than as concern about the tight end spot.

All three position switches appear to be primarily about strengthening the ground game and making the offense even more versatile than it was last season.

• Hub Arkush, the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at harkush@profootballweekly.com or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.

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