The Bears have made their first move toward filling some of the obvious holes on their roster by signing offensive lineman Frank Omiyale to a four-year contract.
Omiyale, who spent the last two seasons with the Carolina Panthers, has signed a deal worth between $11.5 million and $14 million, according to an NFL source.
He got his first real NFL action this past season when he filled in for Panthers left tackle Jordan Gross for the Oct. 5 game vs. Kansas City. Carolina won 34-0, piling up 205 yards rushing. Omiyale, 26, can play either tackle position and could probably move inside also. The 6-4, 310-pounder was originally a fifth-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons in 2005 out of Tennessee Tech. The Panthers claimed him off waivers in 2007 and he had been a backup there.
Omiyale's signing increases the odds that veteran John St. Clair, who turns 32 this summer, will not return. The Bears typically have players they want back under contract before free agency opens and instead of going with the familiar option who has started 19 consecutive games for them, they chose to look elsewhere first.
Omiyale's signing may give the club flexibility in the first two rounds of the draft where it is still expected it will at least consider an offensive tackle. Getting a lineman on board quickly was paramount. The Bears will run veteran minicamp starting March 16 and Chris Williams, the first-round pick from last year, was the only tackle under contract with NFL experience.
Ten-year veteran John Tait is still expected to retire, but there's been no official word about him filing paperwork.