The Chicago Bears have not yet determined what their starting offensive line is going to look like to begin the 2023 season with left guard Teven Jenkins on injured reserve and out of the picture for a minimum of four games. A former Denver Broncos starter — and current free agent — could offer a stable solution, though.
Bleacher Report’s Jack Rill recently pitched three free agents he believes the Bears “must pursue” before their season opener against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, September 10, and one of the most sensible among them was veteran guard Dalton Risner, who started 62 games at left guard for the Broncos over the past four years.
“Over four seasons with the Denver Broncos, [Risner] started 62 games, providing stability on the interior of the team’s offensive line,” Rill wrote. “Risner might serve as either a starter for the Bears or a valuable backup. Either way, he’d likely provide a boost to the unit, as he could fill a number of roles while being another more experienced player for the youngsters to lean on early in their careers.”
Now, the Bears did just trade a 2024 sixth-round pick to acquire versatile interior lineman Dan Feeney from the Miami Dolphins before the 53-man cut deadline, but Risner’s realtively young age (28) and proven experience as a starting guard could be enticing enough for Chicago to invest some of its remaining $9.45 million in cap space.
How Concerning is Dalton Risner’s Unsigned Status?
Risner was a consistent interior piece for the Broncos over his four seasons as a starter. The 2019 second-round pick has allowed a total of 10 sacks over his 2,304 career pass-blocking snaps from the left guard position and earned consistent pass-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus that range from a low of 69.6 in 2020 to a high of 73.6 in 2021.
Availability has also been a major asset for Risner. While the 28-year-old did miss two games in each of his final two years with the Broncos, he has been sidelined for just four games total over the course of his NFL career, which should be appealing to the Bears after dealing with a battered and bruised offensive line for the back half of camp.
Should Risner going unsigned this long raise any red flags for the Bears, though?
Risner has indeed been consistent, but he has also been consistently average (or slightly above average, depending on your standards). He gave up a career-most 29 pressures during his first season protecting Russell Wilson in 2022 and finished with a career-worst 53.4 run-blocking grade from PFF; although, ESPN Analytics had him finishing with the 10th-best run-block win rate (74%) on 369 run-blocking snaps in 2022.
More telling is the Broncos’ decision to sign Ben Powers to a four-year, $52 million contract in free agency instead of retaining Risner, who earned about $8.4 million over the four years of his rookie deal. According to Mike Kils of 9News Denver, Risner had “seven teams” with “serious interest” in signing him back in June, but nothing has materialized for him yet with less than a week until the first weekend of the new season.
Risner might simply be waiting for the right opportunity, but it is a bit concerning that other guards with less experience have been plucked off the market before him.
Bears Are Optimistic About Teven Jenkins’ Return
The addition of Risner would certainly fortify the Bears’ offensive trenches in front of quarterback Justin Fields and give them plenty of options to mix-and-match with their starting alignment, but their optimism about Jenkins’ return timeline could deflate any remaining notion of them adding another experienced guard to their 53-man roster.
During his August 30 press conference, Bears general manager Ryan Poles explained that the plan is for Jenkins to spend his required four games on injured reserve and then be designated for return at the earliest window. The expectation is that, afterward, Jenkins will be “good to go” for returning to his responsibilities as their starting guard.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” Poles said about Jenkins’ injury. “But we feel like it’s a week-to-week thing, not too serious. He’ll be designated for return [when eligible], and then when he comes back [from injured reserve], he should be good to go.”
In other words, while Risner could have long-term potential as a guard for a team, the Bears really only need a stopgap option for the first four games of the season while they wait for Jenkins to completely heal. And between Cody Whitehair, Lucas Patrick, Ja’Tyre Carter and Feeney, they appear to have all the personnel they will need.