Wide receiver is the first position that comes to mind when it comes to the Chicago Bears’ roster needs and their plan to build around quarterback Justin Fields. And while it’s true Fields needs more than Darnell Mooney to throw to in 2022, it’s equally important that new general manager Ryan Poles sticks to his roots as an offensive lineman and does whatever it takes to level up the protection in front of his prized quarterback. Fortunately for the Bears, they’ll have a chance to take a big swing at a sure-thing at left tackle in pending New Orleans Saints free agent, Terron Armstead. The three-time Pro-Bowler turns 31 this summer and still has plenty of gas left in the tank to play at the same level we’ve been accustomed to seeing from the former 2013 third-round pick. A few things have to happen before the Bears can be considered legitimate players for Armstead’s services. First, he has to avoid the dreaded franchise tag, which teams are now officially eligible to apply prior to March 8. The Saints are in salary-cap hell, so it feels pretty safe that he’ll be set free. Second, Chicago has to hope teams with significantly more money to spend in free agency prioritize that cash on other positions—or, at least have more needs that require quantity over one big signing. That second part may be wishful thinking. A quick look at the list of teams with more money available than the Bears paints an ominous outlook for Armstead coming to Chicago. The Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, Cincinnati Bengals, and New York Jets are four of the healthiest teams under the salary cap and all four could use a massive upgrade at offensive tackle. And, if we’re being honest, playing in Los Angeles, Miami, or with an ascending Bengals team, all may be more appealing than winters in Chicago for the veteran bookend. Still, this is business after all, and if the Bears back up the Brinks truck and hand Armstead and his representatives a blank check, there’s at least a chance he’ll be blocking Fields’ blindside in 2022. Adding a player of his caliber would all but end Teven Jenkins’ status as the left tackle of the future, and that could be a really good thing. There were many NFL draft analysts who suggested his best fit in the NFL was at right tackle; adding Armstead would force a position change. Armstead’s trickle-down effect on the offensive line would extend to guard, too. Current right tackle Larry Borom would likely kick inside to one of the starting guard spots—perhaps filling the void left by free-agent-to-be James Daniels. The Bears rank high on the list of teams that could use one of its early-round picks on a center too, meaning the offensive line could see a complete makeover in its starting five, beginning with an Armstead home run. The question the Bears have to ask themselves is whether they’re willing to strike big—REALLY BIG—on the open market. They’ll have to pay to play, and Armstead could end up signing one of the richest (if not the richest) contracts of the offseason. According to Spotrac, his projected contract will come in at four years, $96 million. Yes, you read that right: nearly $100 million for a soon-to-be 31-year-old left tackle. Armstead’s likely salary shouldn’t be all that surprising. There are already three left tackles averaging more than $20 million per season (Trent Williams, David Bakhtiari, Laremy Tunsil), and it’s the nature of free agency that the top player at his respective position ends up resetting the market year over year. At offensive tackle in 2022, that’s Armstead. Will Poles be bold enough to spend $100 million of his employer’s money on one player during his first free-agent cycle as a general manager? It’s hard imagining a scenario in which he’d be that aggressive, but the emphasis he’s placed this offseason on upgrading the offensive line would seem to suggest there’s at least a chance he’ll consider Armstead as a big-ticket prize. Armstead doesn’t come without risk, however. He appeared in just eight games last season because of a knee injury and he had surgery in January to repair the damage. He’s never played a full season in his career and has missed 18 games over the last four seasons. That’s a lot of ‘unavailability’ for a $100-million player and it could be a big enough concern to push Poles and the Bears into a different direction. If Chicago wants to swing for the fences in an offseason meant to build up Fields, then Armstead represents the biggest blast of the 2022 free-agent class. There’s a lot of buyer beware baked in, but some of the biggest risks result in the biggest rewards. And if you can land a Pro Bowl left tackle with a stroke of the pen, the risk is worth that reward.
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