The Chicago Bears might have a new role in mind for veteran offensive lineman Cody Whitehair next season — or rather, a return to his original role.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles met with reporters on March 16 to discuss the team’s first round of free agent signings and shared some insight into how they are planning to handle the interior of their offensive line next season. Specifically, he mentioned how they are entertaining the idea of moving the 30-year-old Whitehair back to the center spot — where he primarily played in his first three seasons — with the addition of former Tennessee Titans guard Nate Davis giving them more alignment flexibility.
“I’ll stick to this, we’re going to put the best front five up there, but I also think there’s some flexibility and some conversations where Cody could work some center,” Poles said. “He’s got almost 4,000 snaps there. Had some good seasons there. So we’re going to move it around a little bit and see if we can get the best front three possible.”
Cody Whitehair Less Likely to Be a Cap Casualty Now
Up until now, there seemed to be a reasonable chance the Bears could make Whitehair a cap casualty during the 2023 offseason. He had a fairly underwhelming season at left guard in 2022, missing five starts due to an injury, and is projected to carry the team’s second-highest cap hit ($14.1 million) for the upcoming season. Chicago could also save $9.9 million against the cap in 2023 if they waived him with a post-June 1 designation, a decision that only seemed to be more likely once Davis signed his three-year deal.
Instead, Whitehair could not only stick around on the roster but also potentially have a direct line to a starting job, depending on who else they add at the position and whether he can fend them off — along with Lucas Patrick — in competition during training camp.
One player who does not figure to be in the mix is former starter Sam Mustipher. The Bears did not place a restricted free agent tender on the much-maligned center and allowed him to become a free agent at the start of the new league year on March 15. While they could always negotiate a low-cost deal at a later date and retain him for the sake of depth, there are better options — like Connor McGovern — still on the market.
Bears Might Target New Center in 2023 NFL Draft
If another center isn’t signed in free agency, the Bears could also look into an upgrade during the 2023 NFL draft. Minnesota standout John Michael Schmitz would be a prime choice for them if still on the board when they pick at No. 53 overall in the second round. He is a big, physical blocker who can dominate in multiple schemes and has developed excellent vision from his four seasons of starting experience with the Gophers. As one of the top centers in the 2023 class, he could quite easily become the next foundational piece for Chicago’s offensive line moving forward.
Two other Big Ten centers — Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann and Ohio State’s Luke Wypler — could also interest the Bears if Schmitz is unavailable. Between the two of them, Wypler stands out the most due to his athleticism and how it fits Luke Getsy’s outside zone blocking scheme. He also got better between his sophomore and junior seasons, posting strong numbers as both a run-blocker and pass-protector for the Buckeyes and proving that he is one of the most well-rounded interior linemen in the class.
Really, if the Bears can get their hands on either Schmitz or Wypler, they may end up considering Whitehair’s seemingly safe status on their 2023 roster.