Ryan Bates trade signals two things about Bears' 2024 offseason path

Ryan Bates trade signals two things about Bears' 2024 offseason path originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It took over 700 days, but Bears general manager Ryan Poles finally got his man Monday when he acquired veteran offensive lineman Ryan Bates from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a 2024 fifth-round pick. The deal is pending a physical and can't become official until the start of the new league year on March 13.

The trade for Bates comes almost two years after Poles signed Bates to a four-year, $17-million contract offer that the Bills matched.

Bates, 27, has played all across the offensive line during his five-year NFL career, with most of his snaps coming at right guard. Bates was a full-time starter for the Bills in 2022, playing 810 snaps at right guard and 135 snaps at center, per Pro Football Focus. During that season, Bates gave up just 28 pressures and one sack in 615 pass-blocking snaps. Last season, Bates moved to a reserve role and played just 35 snaps, all of which came at center.

At the very least, the trade for Bates gives the Bears a veteran swing interior offensive lineman behind Teven Jenkins and Nate Davis, who both missed time in 2023. Jenkins played just 12 games last season and played fewer than 40 snaps in two of those games. Given Jenkins' injury history, the Bears needed to find reliable depth behind the young left guard.

The trade for Bates gives the Bears a starting option at center, but it doesn't take them out of the market for a veteran like Lloyd Cushenberry or Connor Williams. The trade for Bates gives the Bears flexibility in free agency and the draft not to chase a center. With the salary cap rising, Cushenberry and Williams should command deals in the $9-12 million per year range. The Bears have the salary cap flexibility to dole out a top-level contract for a center, but Bates gives them the security to avoid a bidding war or choose to allocate funds elsewhere if the price is outside their value zone.

The Bears also don't currently have a draft pick between No. 9 and No. 75, making it hard to find a starting-caliber center in the draft. Oregon's Jackson Powers-Johnson and West Virginia's Zach Frazier are projected to be selected between No. 20 and No. 50.

While Plan A is for Bates to be swing depth, the Bears at least now have a reliable veteran who can start at center if needed.

The deal also means the Bears currently have no selections after Round 4 of the 2024 NFL Draft. While there's a chance Poles will trade out of the No. 9 slot to add some Day 2 capital, the lack of Day 3 picks shows the shift in the Bears' reality.

Two years ago, when the rebuild began, Poles needed all the Day 3 dice rolls he could find. That landed him hits like Braxton Jones and misses like Trestan Ebner.

The Bears no longer have a vital need for later Day 3 picks. Turning a fifth-round pick, which would have a 50-50 chance of making an improved Bears roster, into Bates further illustrates that the Bears have reached the next phase of their rebuild.

With Caleb Williams expected to be the Bears' selection at No. 1 overall, bolstering the offensive line with proven veterans was an essential offseason box to check. The Bears still have work to do on that end, but adding Bates, a guy Poles has done a lot of work, for a fifth-round pick is a nice early pick-up before the new league year begins.

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