Talk about a huge day for the Bears' offense.
If Orlando Pace can be as effective as Ruben Brown was when he energized his career with a move to the Bears, the offensive line just improved considerably.
A little more than an hour after trading fopr Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, the Bears agreed to terms with Pace, the veteran left tackle who is a seven-time Pro Bowl performer, on Thursday in a move that not only reshapes the line but likely changes the plans of general manager Jerry Angelo 23 days before the NFL draft.
Pace will sign a
two- or three-year contract and will be inserted as the starting left tackle meaning that 2008 first-round draft pick Chris Williams will have to stave off newly signed veteran Kevin Shaffer to claim a starting job at right tackle. Pace, 33, missed 25 games over the last three seasons but started 14 last season and cleared a physical when he visited the team on Monday. Agent Kennard McGuire praised the visit and it led to quick negotiations.
"He had a tremendous relationship with Lovie,'' McGuire said. "That was an element."
The Bears won out over the Baltimore Ravens, who initially pursued him when he was cut loose by the St. Louis Rams, and who had an offer on the table for more money. Pace, it seems, wanted to remain in the Midwest and felt comfortable with his relationship with coach Lovie Smith, who was the defensive coordinator of the Rams for three seasons. The Pace thing just came together for the Bears as his visit to Halas Hall came when offensive coaches were scheduled to be on vacation. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake was spotted in Las Vegas earlier in the week.
Baltimore, it is believed, planned to play Pace at right tackle after Jared Gaither stepped in successfully at left tackle last season in place of Jonathan Ogden, long a rival of Pace's as the finest left tackle in the league. The opportunity to remain at left tackle could have played a part in the decision.
Pace is considered a better pass blocker, and that will allow the Bears to perhaps get a better run blocker in Williams or Shaffer on the right side. A lot of teams are right-handed when it comes to running the football. The depth chart looks much different than it did when minicamp ended two weeks ago and free-agent pickup Frank Omiyale, originally signed to play left guard, was running at right tackle with Williams on the left side. There were no backups in place.
Now, Omiyale, the first offseason addition by Angelo, can move back to left guard where he will compete with Josh Beekman. Shaffer is an experienced performer with 86 career starts, including time at left tackle with both Atlanta and Cleveland. He could be a well-paid swing tackle with an $8 million, three-year contract. A move to right tackle doesn't signal that is where the team plans on having Williams longterm. Ogden played right tackle in his first season with the Ravens. Jordan Gross was a right tackle in Carolina before last season and he landed a deal with more than $30 million guaranteed from the Panthers. John Tait played both sides for Kansas City and the Bears.
The signing of Pace also means he will be able to take part in the voluntary offseason program, which begins Monday at Halas Hall. Now, the team has to determine how his arrival will impact the draft that is short picks after the acquisition of Cutler.
The Bears cannot count on Pace, at his age, for more than a year or two. That's the approach they took with Brown when they signed him after eight Pro Bowl seasons in Buffalo to play left guard. The Bears got three solid seasons out of him, and he made one last return to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler.
Bears coaches and scouts have been working out a slew of linemen and receivers in recent weeks with more scheduled. Multiple sources say those are the positions the team is focusing on, and adding Pace doesn't mean the Bears do not need a young tackle. They got into this predicament when Tait retired a year earlier than expected after Angelo went five consecutive drafts without choosing a tackle before the seventh round before grabbing Williams last year. With Pace in place, Angelo does have some flexibility that didn't exist previously.