John St. Clair could be under contract soon and it might not be with the Bears.
The veteran offensive lineman will visit the Cleveland Browns on Monday, a trip that could lead to a job with his fourth NFL team or expedite negotiations with the Bears that have made the worst traffic jam on the Dan Ryan Expy look like an afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway.
The Bears offered St. Clair a three-year contract two weeks before free agency opened that was worth $4.5 million. There has not been any tangible movement since. St. Clair's side made a counteroffer and that's where it has stood for more than a month.
After making 19 consecutive starts, and with the right tackle job open for him to claim, St. Clair is seeking more money. How much more? No one knows although he's probably understanding of his age (he turns 32 in July) and the market. How does a team value a player that was signed as a swing tackle, became a dependable starter and may be a bridge to the future? There is the dilemma. The Bears want St. Clair back--at their price.
Now, he's found another party that may be willing to provide a different number. Perhaps the Browns can help determine his market value, although it's unlikely St. Clair would make the trip to Cleveland just for that. If he didn't have interest in calling it home, he wouldn't be there. There is also believed to be at least one other team that has not yet been identified that is interested in St. Clair's services. But following the retirement of John Tait, the Bears at least look to offer the best opportunity for St. Clair to start. That's even if the club uses a high draft pick on a tackle, something most expect to happen.
The Browns signed veteran lineman Floyd "Pork Chop" Womack on Friday, a day after releasing veteran tackle Kevin Shaffer. Ryan Tucker is expected to be the right tackle next season after agreeing to a significant pay cut, but he's been unable to stay healthy the last three seasons. St. Clair could be viewed as reliable insurance. The trip is a good sign for St. Clair but not necessarily one that he will be returning to the Bears, who will report to Halas Hall Monday for physicals in advance of Tuesday's minicamp. Without St. Clair, the right tackle with the first team could be Cody Balogh, who was an undrafted free agent from Montana last year. Balogh spent the entire season on the practice squad.