The Bears locked up one of their top free agent’s to be for the long term on Wednesday morning, signing left tackle Charles Leno Jr. to a four year deal.
The deal is worth $38 million, with $21.5 million guaranteed.
Leno Jr. has turned out to be one of the best picks, and certainly the biggest surprise, by former general manager Phil Emery. Drafted in the seventh round out of Boise State in 2014, Leno wasn’t even a lock to make the roster as a rookie.
When veteran Jermon Bushrod went down with a back injury after the third game of the 2015 season, Leno Jr. stepped into the starting lineup an he hasn’t looked back.
He certainly had his fair share of struggles early, but he stepped up his game last season by improving his Pro Football Focus rating by almost 15 points, finishing 2016 with a 71.2 rating (70-79.9 on a 100 point scale is considered average). Even though he rated out as barely an average player, he ranked 26th out of 61 qualified tackles in pass-blocking efficiency, and the physical tools that the 25 year old Leno Jr. possesses has the Bears brass believing he can improve his already above average pass blocking ability.
While $38 million may sound like a lot, and it is for a semi-unproven player, left tackle is a position of high value and it is extremely difficult to find even an average player there. Locking up Leno Jr. saves the Bears from having to burn a first round pick on a left tackle, or from writing an ever bigger check to an older free agent. Also, there are still 13 left tackles making more money then Leno Jr. will, according to Matt Eurich of 247 sports.
The Bears now have just over $13 million in cap space remaining, which leaves them plenty of room to continue working on an extension with defensive end Akiem Hicks, who is entering the second and final year of his $10 million dollar contract.