LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Continuity is a wish that’s often never granted in the NFL.
In a league that experiences so much parity from year to year – there have been at least four new playoff teams every year since 2000. It’s difficult to stay near the top for too long. Part of what feeds into that inherent randomness is a loss of continuity. Key depth and core players from contenders move on to new adventures, get compensated appropriately in a new city, or regress. Mastermind coaches leave for ideally greener pastures. The bond and chemistry behind a winning team one year can then so easily dissipate.
Given their latest move to re-sign right tackle Bobby Massie to a four-year deal on Saturday, a loss of continuity is something the defending NFC North champion Bears would like to avoid. The Bears and general manager Ryan Pace believe they have a championship core in place: a core that won 12 games in 2018. Taking the early initiative to keep a solid player like Massie in the picture is a sign that the salary cap and draft pick-strapped Bears are confident with what they already have in place. In retrospect, then, letting Massie leave Halas Hall was never really an option for the Bears. It was an inevitability that had to happen without hesitation.
“Bobby (Massie) has a tremendous work ethic and has displayed the kind of toughness and consistency we want in our players, Pace said of the proactive move to keep the productive big man. “More importantly, he is a great teammate and we’re excited to keep him in the fold.”
There were rampant questions as to whether the Bears would be able to retain the services of the 29-year-old, especially considering that it was assumed Massie was seeking out one last major professional payday. The brutal nature of the NFL and football as a whole means this will likely be Massie’s last professional contract. It suited him, or anyone in that position, to take advantage of being one of the best available free agent tackles once the new league year started in March. Somehow, that didn’t matter. Questions surrounding Massie’s return went completely by the wayside as continuity and the promise of playing on a presumed contending team reigned supreme. They also went away when the Bears just flat out decided to pay him what he deserved.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Massie’s new four-year contract carries an average of $8 million per year. That’s good enough to be pro football’s fifth highest paid right tackle, per Spotrac. The Bears gave Massie both the promise of security he wanted and the potential to win. What shouldn’t be overlooked in this is that the veteran was happy enough with his place at Halas Hall to return without even testing that valuable free agent market: a ringing endorsement of how far the Bears have come as a premier team in such a short time. Head coach Matt Nagy’s bunch has a bright future, and it’s something Massie wanted to continue to be a part of.
Seeing a second long term deal for Massie in place in Chicago must be a strange experience for some. Crucially, that was never the case with the hard-working veteran. Early on in his Bears tenure that started in 2016, Massie was seen as a liability. A stopgap that couldn’t be counted on. A temporary fill-in the Bears wouldn’t be able to use once they were exciting, once they were good. Every year was a fresh opportunity to build up Chicago’s trenches on the right side, more importantly: to replace Massie. In a testament to the professional he is, Massie never wavered and has continually improved every year he’s played with the Bears. In that regard, last season was the peak of Massie’s Chicago career to this stage as he allowed a mere one sack, two quarterback hits, and 23 pressures in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
On the whole, Massie has started 46 of an available 48 games over the course of his Bears career and been penalized only nine times (five false starts, three holding penalties, and one ineligible man downfield) in that span. A disciplined focus helped Massie figure in greatly to a refocused offensive line plan initiated by Harry Hiestand. Last year, the Bears had the NFL’s seventh-best adjusted sack rate at six percent, according to Football Outsiders. While certainly not the best part of an underrated offensive line, Massie was anything but a weak link and helped hold up his end of the bargain for a unit that was a pass protecting wall for the majority of four months. An offensive line that helped Mitchell Trubisky to his first Pro Bowl as an alternate wouldn’t have done so without Massie’s due diligence.
Where Massie has always excelled is as a blocker to the right side: the Bears’ averaged 4.21 yards per carry when running off right tackle last season, good for 19th overall in the NFL. That’s compared to 17th when running to the left side behind left tackle Charles Leno. Neither of those figures sound particularly impressive at a glance, but Chicago’s offensive issues in running the ball were not behind their book ends. It was in the interior where the Bears were 30th in the NFL in successful, needle-moving rushes. No one will confuse him for an All-Pro, but again, Massie did his necessary part for a contender.
The challenge now for a Bears offense that’s slated to return all 11 starters, barring a potential restructure for right guard Kyle Long, is to make the leap. By most metrics, Chicago had an average offense in the first year of Nagy’s scheme and that’s putting it kindly. For a good portion of the 2018 season, even with occasional fireworks, the Bears’ offense failed to keep up with the high octane, efficient trend of modern football. A 20th overall ranking in offensive DVOA, speaks to that, as does an attack that was just 21st overall in total yardage.
If the Bears are going to compete let alone win the Super Bowl next year, their offense is going to have to improve, and dramatically so. The promise of continuity and continued maturation with that continuity, Massie included, is what the Bears are banking on in having their offense become elite. Keep the same concoction together, see what happens, and reap the benefits.
The last eight Super Bowl champions finished in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA the previous season: as obvious a trend of the benefits of continuity as it gets. The Bears, fresh off a No. 5 overall finish in 2018, will be among that select group next year and will have the rare luxury of doing it with largely the same players. They’ll be one of the rare teams in that group with the capacity to morph into more of a balanced team thanks to what they’re retaining offensively.
The band’s back together with some things to work on, and they have unfinished business to take care of.
The Bears are good again, and Massie is still a part of their plan.