Bears release potentially perfect free agent target for Buccaneers

Chicago Bears v Washington Commanders
Chicago Bears v Washington Commanders / G Fiume/GettyImages

Among the many important things the Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to do this offseason, fixing the offensive line is near the top of the list.

Not only that but it could be argued that the line needs a complete rebuild, as everything outside of Tristan Wirfs at left tackle should be deeply evaluated for change and potential upgrades. Cody Mauch is entering his second year, but even he should be looked at as a guy who might not be in the best position (although keeping him at guard makes more surface-level sense than moving him).

Both left guards will be free agents but neither were very good last year. Robert Hainsey is penciled in at center but the retirement of Ryan Jensen prompts the very important question of what the future there looks like. Luke Goedeke replaced Wirfs at right tackle but the results were mixed and he might move elsewhere on the line.

Tampa Bay has money to spend, unlike last offseason, and it would be a wise decision to think about allocating some of those funds to finding free agent help.

Chicago Bears might have gifted Bucs a perfect free agent target

On Thursday the Chicago Bears started clearing cap space ahead of a hugely important offseason, and in doing so might have given the Bucs a perfect free agent target. According to Adam Schefter, the Bears are letting Cody Whitehair go as it cleans house, a situation that Jason Licht and the Bucs should paying very close attention to.

Last season was perhaps the worst of Whitehair's career, but it's not an accurate representation of everything he's done. PFF had a gnarly 45.0 grade on him for 2023, but that's a sharp dip from where he was performing in recent years.

  • 2022: 65.9
  • 2021: 66.2
  • 2020: 76.3

One potential cause for concern is how those grades have consistently trended down since peaking at the start of the decade. The question is whether that's more of a reflection on Whitehair's decline or a commentary on how badly coached the Bears are.

Chances are it's more of the latter.

It's also worth comparing Whitehair to the production of Aaron Stinnie and Matt Feiler. Last year Stinnie finished with a 56.6 PFF grade, which is better than Whitehair but not a giant vote of confidence overall. Feiler wasn't much better, finishing with a 54.7 PPF grade and losing his starting job to Stinnie not long after the season started.

Feiler was a free agent addition last year to try and bolster a broken offensive line, but unlike Whitehair he had a similar failing grade in 2022. He was also a bargain free agent, as the Bucs had almost not money to spend on real upgrades, so it was simply a low-risk gamble that didn't work out.

Whitehair could be a bit pricier, as he's coming off a $51.2M contract with the Bears. That being said, he's being released before that contract is over and he's in a position to potentially come down to Tampa Bay on a cheaper make-good deal to set himself up for a bigger pay day.

It's a gamble, as Whitehair is being cut for a reason, but the Bucs have a clear need for interior line help and can do worse than a high-upside candidate like him.

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