The Bears have always liked Charles Leno Jr., but the question was if they liked him enough to keep the left tackle around beyond the 2017 season.
The answer to that question came Wednesday, with the Bears signing Leno to a four-year contract extension. The Chicago Tribune and NFL Network reported the deal is worth $38 million contract with $21.5 million of that total guaranteed.
For some context on Leno’s deal, here’s what the five highest-paid left tackles signed for this spring, according to Spotrac.com:
Riley Reiff: 5 years, $58,750,000 ($26.3 million guaranteed)
Matt Kalil: 5 years, $55,500,000 ($31 million guaranteed)
Russell Okung: 4 years, $53,000,000 ($25 million guaranteed)
Andrew Whitworth: 3 years, $33,750,000 ($15 million guaranteed)
Kelvin Beachum: 3 years, $24 million ($12 million guaranteed)
In Leno, the Bears believe they have a reliable left tackle — he played every single offensive snap in 2016 — who can protect Mitch Trubisky’s blind side when 2017’s No. 2 pick eventually takes over as the team’s starting quarterback. If he were to become a free agent, the Bears would’ve risked losing him and then having to find a replacement via free agency or the draft.
Having that long-term consistency for Trubisky is a plus, and extending Leno is a safer option than navigating a competitive market or plugging in a rookie, even a highly-drafted one. And in signing him, it takes a potential need for a left tackle off next year's draft board, freeing up that first-round pick to find the best available player and/or fill a long-term need at another position (cornerback and wide receiver are the most obvious).
The 6-foot-3, 306 pound Leno still has room to improve, but is only 25 and talked earlier in camp of how confident he is in his abilities.
“Some people may look at offensive line and be like, they have to be 6-foot-6, they gotta be 360 pounds — whatever they want to say about offensive linemen,” Leno said. “No, offensive linemen, especially in today’s NFL, and to be a left tackle, you gotta move your feet. And I can do that very well. (It’s) just technique. When you go out there, be comfortable in the sets that you have in practice, the sets that you have before the games, whatever it may be, just take those sets and carry them over to the games.”
Said coach John Fox earlier this month: "I think he’s played good solid football. I think as a football team we all have to get better. But he’s been a dependable guy. He’s pretty reliable and dependable. But we all have room for improvement so I think he’d tell you the same thing.”
Leno is one of the few remaining holdovers from the Phil Emery regime, and while many of the former general manager’s draft picks flopped, he’s carved out a nice place in the league for himself three years after being a seventh-round pick.
“I never expected I would be in this situation, absolutely not,” Leno said in Bourbonnais. “I’m very blessed, I’m thankful for the opportunity that I’ve got into. But also, it’s a testament to the work I’ve been putting in for myself and I just don’t ever want that to stop. I don’t ever want the work ethic that I have to ever go down because I’ve got some money or because I’m in a contract year. I want to keep improving whether I have the money or not.”