This is the first part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the top Chicago Bears free agents. The offense is the focus in this first part.
The Bears have 26 free agents, including 22 unrestricted free agents this off-season.
On Thursday, we took a look at quarterback Josh McCown's future in the windy city. Today, we take a look at veteran center Roberto Garza's status with the team moving forward.
Who: Center Roberto Garza, 34-year-old from Texas A&M-Kingsville
2013 contract: Last year of a two-year deal worth $6.55 million, he earned $2.05 million last season
Many followers of Bears football would say Garza was the only glaring weakness on the offensive line. Playing next to four new faces this season, Garza clearly wasn't the best player on the line.
That's not to say he doesn't have talent left, but he is certainly not the same powerful blocker he once was. However, Garza is a great leader in the locker room and is still the glue that holds the offensive line together.
“We’ll see what happens in the upcoming months or weeks or whatever,” Garza said the Monday after the season-ending loss to the Packers on Dec. 29.
The former Atlanta Falcons fourth-round pick in 2001 has spent the past nine seasons with the Bears, starting 133 games out of 142 that he's appeared in. He's missed only two games due to injury, which came back in 2010.
Garza has been the team's starting center since 2011, when longtime Bear Olin Kreutz wasn't brought back.
“I’ve let Roberto know that I was proud of his season, and obviously we will work through it, but we would like him back,” Bears GM Phil Emery said. “And I’m sure he’ll have some choices to make, and we’ll see how it goes. But [I’m] very pleased with his season.”
The soon to be 35-year-old Garza was part of a unit that allowed 85 quarterback hits, which ranked 13th in the league. The revamped offensive line ranked fourth, allowing only 30 sacks.
“I would absolutely love to have Roberto back,” Bears starting left guard Matt Slauson said, who inked a four-year extension to stay with the Bears on Jan. 2. “He’s a huge part of our line and the leadership.”
The Bears running game averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which ranked 7th. But they only generated 12 first downs on the ground up the middle which is good for 30th. They also had four negative plays up the middle.
Why will he be back?
Emery wants him back, his teammates want him back and it seems as if he wants to be back with his fellow offensive linemen in Chicago. Garza knows he won't be able to earn much more with another team because of his deteriorating skills. The offensive line was an area of strength and the Bears would be wise to try to keep the unit together. They took care of Slauson already, which was a great move. The players around Garza respect him and love having him around. At age 35, he certainly knows he doesn't have much football left, but why not finish it off in Chicago?
Why won't he be back?
As stated before, Garza was the biggest weakness along the offensive line. Running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush struggled mightily to get anything going up the middle because of Garza's lack of a push. If he commands anything more than the veteran minimum, expect the Bears to move on and focus on adding a young center either through free agency or via the draft. The Bears still have time to make up their minds on him, but if they look solely at his skills, they will likely say no. If they look more at his veteran leadership and presence in the locker room, then maybe they will be willing to offer him more than the veteran minimum. It all comes down to if Emery and Co. are planning for the future or for right now.
Up Next: Offensive lineman Eben Britton
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