One of the most interesting subplots of the Chicago Bears 2021 draft was their decision to draft not one but two offensive tackles. Teven Jenkins in the 2nd round and Larry Borom in the 5th. Then things got really interesting when GM Ryan Pace said the Bears envisioned Jenkins being able to play either left or right tackle. Was this an indication that the team was considering the idea of parting ways with Charles Leno?
As it turns out, that is exactly the case. According to Ian Rapoport, the longtime Bears left tackle was released two days following the end of the draft. It seems they have a designation too. If it had been a regular release, the Bears gain $6.2 million in cap space. More than enough to sign their draft class and undrafted free agents. However, they appeared to use the post-June 1st designation, gaining $9 million in space.
That could open up an opportunity for further moves down the line.
The #Bears will be releasing LT Charles Leno, source said, their starter the last seven seasons. A surprise move. Chicago drafted OK St’s Teven Jenkins in the second round and plans to play him on the left side. Leno now available for LT-needy teams.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) May 3, 2021
It’s an unfortunate end for Leno. While nobody would ever call him one of the 10 best tackles in the NFL, he was more than serviceable for a number of years. Unfortunately, the pandemic and the salary cap crunch it created put the Bears in a difficult spot. They needed more space in order to conduct business. After landing Jenkins, who many saw as a 1st round talent out of Oklahoma State, the writing was pretty much on the wall.
Leno deserves a ton of credit for what he accomplished in Chicago. Nobody thought he’d do much of anything as a 7th round pick out of Boise State. He ended up starting 93-straight games since 2015 and even made the Pro Bowl in 2018. There have been tackles the Bears drafted far higher who didn’t even get close to that sort of accomplishment. The man deserves praise and gratitude for his efforts.
2014 7th round draft pick 👉🏾 93 consecutive starts in the past 7 seasons with the team that I was drafted to.
My time in Chicago has officially come to an end. It’s a bittersweet day but I am excited to see where this next chapter takes me. pic.twitter.com/XJbJbop1kD
— Charles Leno Jr (@charleslenojr72) May 3, 2021
Charles Leno exit heralds Bears youth movement up front
Don’t expect Leno to be unemployed long. He’s still just 29-years old with a long track record of durability. There will be some team out there that brings him in and gives him a chance to play. The Bears are focused on what has suddenly become a significant youth movement up front. Presuming Jenkins starts at left tackle as expected, the average age of the offensive line will be considerably low.
- LT – Teven Jenkins (23)
- LG – Cody Whitehair (28)
- C – Sam Mustipher (24)
- RG – James Daniels (23)
- RT – Germain Ifedi (26)
That is a group that really has a chance to grow together. Something the Bears no doubt had in mind as they prepare their plans to usher in the Justin Fields era at quarterback. Nothing will help him more than having a steady, dependable front five blocking for him. Charles Leno was set to turn 30 this year and in the last season of his contract anyway. His exit helps the team in the short and long term.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out.
Jenkins primarily played right tackle in college. Most evaluators saw him as purely a right tackle for the NFL. So it seems the Bears are going against the grain with that decision. This isn’t to say the rookie can’t do it. He has the athleticism, technique, and power for it.