Bears Acquire $17 Million Center, Potential Starter in Trade With Bills

Bears Trade Bills Ryan Bates NFL Trade Rumors

Getty The Bears have agreed to terms on a trade for veteran center Ryan Bates.

The Chicago Bears may have just found their starting center for the 2024 season.

The Bears announced on March 4 that they have agreed to trade their 2024 fifth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a veteran interior lineman Ryan Bates. The trade will not become official until the start of the new league year at 4 p.m. Eastern Time on March 13 and is contingent on Bates passing his physical.

Bates slid into a backup role behind veteran center Mitch Morse and first-round rookie guard O’Cyrus Torrence for the Bills in 2023, but the 27-year-old has generally been a reliable part of their interior rotation over the past three seasons. According to Pro Football Focus, he has allowed just one sack and eight quarterback hits over 1,434 career snaps while splitting his time between right guard, left guard and center.

The Bears had previously tried to acquire Bates during Ryan Poles’ first offseason at the helm in 2022. He had signed Bates — then a restricted free agent — to a four-year offer sheet, but the Bills matched their offer and inked him to his current $17 million deal.

Now, two years later, Bates is finally on his way to Chicago and will presumably have an opportunity to compete for the Bears’ starting center job heading into the 2024 season. The Bears have a clear need at center with Lucas Patrick hitting free agency next week and Cody Whitehair no longer on the roster. Doug Kramer is their only other center.

The Bears will have Bates under contract for the next two seasons. He will cost $4 million against the salary cap in both 2024 and 2025, leaving them with more than $63 million in effective cap space heading into the start of NFL free agency on March 13.

Ryan Bates Adds Quality Depth, Even as a Backup IOL

The Bears might have designs on Bates becoming their starting center in 2024, but that would be a bold approach to solving one of the team’s biggest roster shortcomings.

While Bates has performed well for the Bills over his nearly 1,500 career snaps, he has played just 203 of them at the center position and operated as the second choice to a 31-year-old veteran last season. The Bears clearly believe in his talent (otherwise, they would not have circled back to him two years after their first attempt to acquire him), but whether they see him as a versatile interior depth piece or a starter is unclear.

That’s not to say the trade is a mistake by any means. The Bears have struggled to build quality depth in their offensive trenches over the past two seasons and saw both of their starting guards — Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis — miss multiple games in 2023. Even if Bates is not a starter, he can be a valuable asset to the growth of their offense in 2024.

One more thing to consider with Bates is how his experience as a five-year veteran may help a potential rookie quarterback in his first season. The Bears are largely expected to draft USC’s Caleb Williams with the No. 1 pick, and pairing him with a seasoned veteran versus an inexperienced rookie at center could help smooth his transition to the NFL.

Bears’ Offseason Could Determine Role of Ryan Bates

Bates is a nice option for the Bears to have. He has more experience than most of their interior linemen and can play all five positions on the line — including both tackle spots. Where he will play in 2024, though, could depend on what other moves the Bears manage to pull off over the next few months of the offseason.

The Bears will have opportunities to acquire more promising center candidates in both free agency and the NFL draft. Connor Williams could make sense for them if they are willing to potentially be patient with his recovery. He is a high-quality starter, but he tore his ACL in December and could see his market suffer if teams are unsure whether he will be cleared in time for next season. The Bears, however, might be willing to take a chance on him now that they have Bates available to hold things down while he heals.

The Bears could also hedge their bets in the draft and invest one of their remaining draft picks in one of the centers in the 2024 class. Oregon’s Jackson Powers-Johnson has emerged as the clear-cut top center prospect, but guys like Georgia’s Sedrick Van Pran and Arkansas’ Beaux Limmer could appeal to them in the third or fourth rounds.

The problem is, with the Bears trading their fifth-rounder for Bates, they now own just five total picks in the draft, including Nos. 1 and 9 in the first round. The Bears could still add picks either trading back or trading quarterback Justin Fields, but it might not make the list of priorities depending on how the rest of the board falls.

Either way, the Bears’ plan for Bates could be much clearer come May.

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