Although they made one of the first signings in free agency when they locked up Frank Omiyale to a four-year contract early Friday morning, the Bears still have interest in bringing back veteran offensive lineman John St. Clair.
At what price is the question.
"Yes, this has nothing to do with how we feel about John St. Clair,'' general manager Jerry Angelo said Friday afternoon in a teleconference discussing the signing of Omiyale, a 26-year-old who the team will likely look to fill the void at right tackle first.
"Really when you go into negotiations you can't tell the timetable of when you're going to get them dpne," Angelo said. "We would have liked to have gotten John St. Clair done first. This doesn't do anything for how we feel about John"
Omiyale is instantly in the mix to be the starting right tackle and putting him there would leave St. Clair without a starting position unless he is allowed to compete for a job inside, perhaps at left guard. St. Clair has made 19 consecutive starts for the Bears but they felt they were getting a younger player with upside in Omiyale.
The Bears made a three-year contract offer to St. Clair two weeks ago on Feb. 13. It hasn't changed. St. Clair's camp responded with a counter offer and the Bears didn't address it, choosing to let the player enter free agency. It is believed St. Clair has drawn interest from some AFC teams but his goal is to return to the Bears.
Omiyale's deal is worth between $11.5 million and $14 million with the player being able to max it out with play-time incentives. The deal also has $5 million guaranteed. It's clear the Bears have made upgrading the offensive line a priority, especially in light of the decision by 10-year veteran John Tait to retire. It's unclear how much of a priority St. Clair is at this point.
It could be St. Clair will shop for a deal and then give the Bears an opportunity to match it or improve on it, but that's not a sure thing at this point. The nice thing about St. Clair is he knows the offense, he has far more experience than Omiyale and he's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line.
Omiyale said St. Clair was the player he knew best on the Bears' roster. When asked if he was concerned he might have taken St. Clair's job, he said that's how it goes.
"That's football," Omiyale said. "I don't have any handle on that."
Stay tuned. We'll have more from the Angelo/Omiyale chat soon.