Few teams or fan bases will typically get excited about staying with a 35-year-old center but be clear: The Bears are delighted to have Roberto Garza back with a one-year contract, signed Thursday.
The reasons are on two levels.
One is that Garza was simply the best available option, priced right, at an often-overlooked position that typically only attracts attention when it’s played poorly. On the offensive side of the football, only fullbacks are lower paid as a group than centers. But only guard Matt Slauson, signed in the first hours after the end of last season, graded out higher than Garza, according to evaluations at ProFootballFocus.com.
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Bears offensive lines have been maligned, not without reason. But the 2011 offense rushed for 2,015 yards with J’Marcus Webb at left tackle; Chris and Edwin Williams at left guard; Chris Spencer and Lance Louis at right guard; Louis, Gabe Carimi and Frank Omiyale at right tackle – and Garza.
More important, Garza has quietly become a player who makes players around him better. He has a comfort level with quarterback Jay Cutler, developed when the Bears and Olin Kreutz were parting ways in 2011. He is one reason why Kyle Long was a Pro Bowl alternate as a rookie guard; Long himself gave Garza effusive praise for his work in Long’s development.
The Bears started the same five offensive linemen for 16 games. That contributes to continuity but only if there is a linchpin that mentors young linemen to his right (Long and right tackle Jordan Mills) and brings them together with veteran free agents from two different teams (left tackle Jermon Bushrod from New Orleans, Slauson from the New York Jets).
“We had five guys go out and play together and get better every week,” Garza said. “It’s the start of something really, really good. Hopefully we continue to build on that.”