The Chicago Bears are currently preparing to have veterans Cody Whitehair and Lucas Patrick duke it out for their starting center job for the 2023 season, but NBC Sports Chicago’s Josh Schrock believes there could be a veteran option in the post-June 1 cut pile that could help them avoid an injury “catastrophe.”
In his May 29 article, Schrock proposed three moves he feels the Bears should make before the start of training camp in late July and identified Chicago’s worrying situation at center with his first item on the list. He suggests the Bears sign recently released Washington Commanders veteran center Chase Roullier to shore up their depth.
“Roullier is a good wide-zone center who excels in pass protection. In 2,571 career pass-blocking snaps, Roullier has only given up 68 total pressures and five sacks,” Schrock wrote. “Signing Roullier would allow the Bears to hold a competition on the interior between Jenkins, Whitehair, and Roullier, giving them more insurance for a potential injury. Having Whitehair or Jenkins as your sixth offensive lineman looks much better on paper than Patrick, who was ineffective last season, Carter, or Alex Leatherwood.”
Chase Roullier is a Steady Center … When Healthy
Roullier, 29, went from a 2017 sixth-round pick to an unlikely 63-game starter over his six seasons with Washington. According to Pro Football Focus, he was one of the six highest-graded centers in the NFL in both the 2020 (76.3) and 2021 (83.7) seasons for the Commanders and has allowed just one sack over his last 1,120 pass-blocking snaps, dating back to the beginning of the 2020 season.
Unfortunately, a pair of season-ending injuries have complicated things for Roullier. He broke his fibula eight games into the 2021 season, forcing him to miss more than two games for the first time since his rookie year in 2017. Then, in the second game of 2022, the veteran center went down with a torn MCL and missed the remainder of the season.
Despite his strong performances when healthy, the Commanders ultimately decided to cut their losses back on May 5, designating him as a post-June 1 cut and consequently saving $8.37 million against the salary cap with $4 million left behind in dead cap. It was a decision made easier by the fact that the Commanders used a third-round pick on Arkansas center Ricky Stromberg during the 2023 draft, taking him at No. 97 overall.
The Bears, however, acquired no additional center talents during the draft. They do have a pair of veterans with experience at the position in Whitehair and Patrick and also have 2022 sixth-rounder Doug Kramer — who missed his entire rookie season with an injury — looking to make an impression in his second year, but it appears to be the most unsettled role on the Bears’ 2023 offensive line at this point.
Bears Would Have Strong Depth With Chase Roullier
As things stand now, Whitehair figures to be the Bears’ starting center for Week 1’s opener against the Green Bay Packers with Patrick set to back him up. The former played 3,840 snaps at the position earlier in his Bears career before being moved to the left guard spot on a permanent basis in 2021. And while Patrick has experience there, he has nearly double the snaps played (968 vs. 1,783) at the guard spots in his career.
Unless another veteran joins the mix, though, the Bears will likely count Patrick as their top backup option at all three of their interior roles — and that becomes much harder to maintain if even one of Whitehair, Teven Jenkins or Nate Davis suffers an injury.
The Bears do seem to like 2022 seventh-rounder Ja’Tyre Carter as one of their backups on the interior, too, but adding someone with ample amounts of center experience is a much safer bet than depending on two yet-to-prove-it players. Chicago still has roughly $32.5 million in cap space for the 2023 season and could certainly afford to add a few more veteran pieces to strengthen their roster, including at edge rusher and tackle.