Pace continues to create continuity on line

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Since becoming Bears general manager in 2015, Ryan Pace has placed a premium on developing cohesiveness on the team’s offensive line.

On Sunday, left guard Cody Whitehair became the fourth starter to sign a long-term contract extension with the Bears in the last four years. He follows right guard Kyle Long in September 2016, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. in August 2017 and right tackle Bobby Massie in January 2019.

“I think that’s one of the biggest positions where continuity is important, and we’ve done that,” Pace said. “They’re all young, they’re a really close-knit group. They’re always together, whether it’s in this building or outside this building. That continuity is really important with that group. [Line coach] Harry Hiestand is doing an unbelievable job of making them better every day, and that was a goal of ours.”

While Whitehair inked a five-year deal, the other three all signed four-year extensions. Long and Leno are both under contract through 2021, as is starting center James Daniels, a 2018 second-round draft pick. Massie is signed through 2022, while Whitehair’s deal runs through 2024.

“That is unique, it’s really unique,” said coach Matt Nagy. “That stability at that line, you ask a quarterback what it means to have those guys in front of you who are consistent.”

Last season the offensive line helped the Bears score at least 24 points in 11 games, their most since they also tallied at least 24 points 11 times in 1995. The offense allowed only 33 sacks, tied for the eighth fewest in the NFL, and ranked 11th in rushing at 121.1 yards per game.

In 2018, Whitehair and Leno became the first Bears offensive line teammates to be named to the Pro Bowl since center Olin Kreutz and guard Ruben Brown in 2006, the last year the team reached the Super Bowl.

Since Pace’s first day on the job, he has stressed the importance of stocking the roster with homegrown talent, ideally by drafting a player, developing him and then signing him to a contract extension.

“As we’re going to continue to grow our team, it’s about drafting and developing our players, and that’s exactly the case with Cody Whitehair,” Pace said. “Cody embodies all the traits we want in a Chicago Bear. I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Signing the four starting offensive linemen to contract extensions—as well as other key players such as defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and nose tackle Eddie Goldman—sends a clear message to the Bears locker room.

“I know from a player’s standpoint that they’re making a really big effort to keep players here, paying guys and keeping the right guys here,” said quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. “As a player, you definitely want to be here in this amazing building playing for the city of Chicago and being a part of a great team. 

“Then the other incentive is the money part of it, and they’re doing a great job just keeping guys here, making guys want to be here and being a part of something special. You can definitely see what our front office is doing in just keeping the right guys here and building something special.”

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