While the Bears continue mapping out their strategy on rebuilding their defense, the two-week NFL window between the end of the Scouting Combine and the start of free agency saw them bring back a pair of their own offensive free agents.
Both starting center Roberto Garza and backup tight end Dante Rosario signed one-year contracts on Thursday. Garza was the more significant move, as the soon-to-be 35-year-old was the anchor, and lone returnee on a starting offensive line that made a huge improvement from the 2012 unit. Working with four new linemates, the Bears tied for fourth-lowest in the NFL by allowing just 30 sacks, with an assist from Marc Trestman's quick-hitting offense. General manager Phil Emery recently cited how the number of quarterback hits, sacks and knockdowns attributed to Garza went from 11 in 2012 to just five this past season.
The 13-year veteran has started all but 30 games over his career, the first four in Atlanta, the last nine in Chicago, where he's been a captain the past two years and taken over at center the last three, moving from guard. Garza had just completed a three-year contract worth just over $9 million. In order to remain with the Bears, he agreed to a salary about half the average in his previous deal. The NFL North rival Detroit Lions recently re-signed their own 35-year-old center, Dominic Raiola, to a similar one-year, $1.5 million deal.
"I'm excited to keep playing, and playing for a great franchise and city," said Garza, who wants to continue assessing his future year to year. "Everybody knows that I wanted to stay here. With the guys I'm playing with, everything is coming together. I feel it's a great opportunity to build on what we started last year.
"Everybody's coming back and we're going to be in the same system a second year. We did some good things last year, but there's a lot of stuff we have to build on and correct and do better. It's going to be fun to watch the film from last year and get better at things that are going to make us a better football team."
Trestman's offense broke multiple single-season franchise records, and wound up second for most points scored by a Bears team, to the 1985 Super Bowl champions.
"Roberto is an outstanding player and person," Trestman said. "He is as hard-working a player we have and an unselfish leader. He is tremendously important in our preparation by quarterbacking the offensive line both in run and pass protection. He anchors everything we do up front and we're thrilled to have him back."
When the Bears couldn't find an adequate blocking specialist to back up Martellus Bennett at tight end during the preseason, Emery sent a seventh-round pick to Dallas for the 29-year-old Rosario, who started three of the 15 games he played in, catching one pass for 13 yards. While the coaching staff was impressed by the physical tools of the undrafted Fendi Onobun by keeping him on the practice squad, the feeling around Halas Hall is Onobun still needs to more greatly devote himself to football around the clock.
These re-signings still should not rule out the possibility that the Bears make a move in the draft for more depth at the two positions, if enough of their defensive needs are addressed through free agency and the draft. It also leaves quarterback Josh McCown and backup lineman Eben Britton as their only remaining offensive free agents. While there's a clear desire to re-sign McCown, they're unable to do so before the day free agency begins on March 11.