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Bears: Kyle Long’s Return is Crucial to Super Bowl Run

The Chicago Bears might have missed out on bringing Robbie Gould back to the Windy City, but they did manage to ensure another fan favorite will stay with the team at least once more season.

The Bears announced yesterday Kyle Long will stay in Chicago on a restructured deal next season, locking in (for now) the return all five starting offensive linemen from 2018.

Long carried an $8.5 million salary cap heading into this year, which cast serious doubts on his future with the salary cap-strapped team. But he opted to take a $2.9 million pay cut for 2019. Interestingly, he can make some of that money back in incentives (up to $2.5 million), which likely involves him not missing much time due to injury this year.

Looking forward, Long will now have a team option for 2020 that the Bears could opt to pick up, if he proves he can stay on the field and play at his accustomed level, and he could potentially hit the free agent market in 2021. So assuming he holds it together until then, he could remain the Bears’ right guard for a few more years at least.

Chicago’s general manager Ryan Pace has aimed to maintain continuity this year rather than overhaul the roster the way he did last offseason, i.e. bringing head coach Matt Nagy, acquiring basically a whole new receiving corps, and pulling off a monstrous trade for Khalil Mack. The pieces to win a championship, as he sees it, are basically already there (a new kicker notwithstanding).

It seems Long likely believes so as well, buying into the legitimate promise of competing for a Super Bowl with the Bears in 2019.

Adding Long back into the fold gives Mitchell Trubisky – as well as the rest of the Bears offensive line – a sense of familiarity. They know he plays, what his strengths and weaknesses are, and generally what they can expect from him. No one has to worry about adapting to a rookie or new free agent and potentially having to adjust the offensive game plan if they’re not on par with Long.

Truthfully, though, keeping Long in Chicago for the immediate future has at least as much to do with his intangibles as it has to do with his on-field performance. Specifically, it was huge for the Bears to keep Long due to his locker room presence and leadership could prove invaluable to a team poised for a potentially special run.

Sure, Long has to first be able to perform his duties on the field. If he couldn’t, the Chicago Bears wouldn’t have kept him around, regardless of how well-liked he is.

He’s not the player he was in his first few years in the league when he made three straight Pro Bowls and earned a second-team All-Pro nod in 2014. Injuries to…just about every area of his body have sapped some of that elite strength and athleticism he had from his rookie days. Furthermore, he’s missed a lot of football the last few years, including 2018, due to said injuries.

Even still, he showed he could open up some running lanes at age 30 when he did hit the field.

On top of that, he’s one of the most respected players in the Bears locker room and one of its most prominent voices. Much like Akiem Hicks, he also embodies the nasty, punishing disposition that the Bears want to project on the football field. Long’s impact felt palpable during the Bears’ Week 17 manhandling of the Minnesota Vikings, as Jordan Howard and the ground game beat the Vikings into the turf in Long’s return to the lineup after missing several games.

The team’s youth movement is the key to the Bears’ competitive window staying open as long as possible. But the strong veteran presence of guys like Long will be immensely important during practice and on game days, especially for an offense with developing young stars, e.g., Trubisky and fellow guard James Daniels.

If we circle back again to the financials, Long’s return on this particular deal also opens the door for helping Ryan Pace keep most of the band together as long as possible.

Specifically, the nearly $3 million dollars the Bears just saved in this restructured deal could aid Chicago in re-signing either nickel corner Bryce Callahan (my preferred option) or strong safety Adrian Amos. The Bears now can possibly keep two of these three question marks for next season as opposed to losing all of them and having to replace them with unknown quantities. And even if neither of those signings happen, it potentially provides some cushion for other free agent deals as well.

Whether or not Long remains here for the remainder of his career is hard to foresee just yet.

But the simple truth here is the Chicago Bears are a better team with a more significant chance at winning a Super Bowl with Kyle Long than without him at this time. Long and Pace recognized this and pulled together a win-win for both sides.

Follow Khari on Twitter (@kdthompson5) for more Bears news and opinion.

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