Classy Departure by Iron Man Starter

Charles Leno Jr. never missed a start after he got into the starting lineup in 2015 and left Chicago with a tip of the hat to fans even though many of them berated him on social media.

Charles Leno is leaving Chicago with the same class he showed throughout his seven-year stay with the Bears.

The team is releasing their starting left tackle after selecting two tackles in the NFL Draft, according to an Ian Rapoport report for NFL Network.

Upon the story coming out, Leno was on Twitter.

"My time in Chicago has officially come to an end. It's a bittersweet day but I am excited to see where this next chapter takes me," Leno tweeted.

He also added, "I will always be rooting for the young guys to succeed in the league. That was me years ago. This is just part of the business. Thanks Bears fans (with a raised fist emoji)."

He also pointed out he made 93 straight starts, which is true.

Leno was a seventh-round pick by GM Phil Emery in 2014 and shortly into the 2015 season he became the starter at left tackle after Jermon Bushrod suffered a concussion. He never missed a start after becoming starter.

Often berated by Bears fans in social media if he gave up a sack, Leno stayed at the critical position and generally gathered solid blocking grades according to Pro Football Focus' grading system. Last year was a good example. PFF grades Leno 28th overall among 79 NFL tackles with a 74.9 rating, tied with Alejandro Villanueva. In his six seasons as starter, Leno ranked in the bottom half of all tackles only in 2019 and 2016.

The selection of Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom in last week's draft made the move possible. 

The Bears have had a need to get bigger on the line as short-yardage failures have become critical. Two losses last year could be traced directly to short-yardage blocking breakdowns.

Also, with veteran Andy Dalton taking over at quarterback they may not have the luxury of pass blocking breakdowns as they had in the past when Mitchell Trubisky's mobility could get them out of trouble. Also, they were interested in trying to upgrade the positions.

The unusual aspect of this is neither Borom nor Jenkins were at their best as left tackles. Borom barely played it and Jenkins saw action there for about two-thirds of a season in college. Both fit the right tackle spot more, which normally is for bigger, mauling type tackles. Left tackles generally are the more athletic pass blockers because they're protecting a passer's blind side.

Jenkins could do it, though. He was impressive in the games he played on that side.

However, all of this will lead to speculation the Bears are not done adding talent on their offensive line and with good reason. 

For one, they now have $9 million saved toward their cap due to the release of Leno, although they do need funds to sign their draft picks. 

Also, former Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher is unsigned for this year after tearing an ACL during the AFC Championship Game. It will take him a while to get back up to speed as he rehabs, but it wouldn't be shocking for the Bears to have interest.

Considering he comes from the same Kansas City offense which is the basis for the Bears offense, it would make for a logical signing.

Another option might be Alejandro Villaneuva, the 6-foot-9, 320-pound Steelers free agent tackle. He was rumored to be interested in Baltimore and then also there were reports he was considering retirement. Those sounded suspect because he has played 90 straight games and is still 32 years old.

Borom doesn't necessarily fit into Bears tackle plans. Many teams project him as a guard in the NFL. The Bears will have a free agency situation at guard after 2020 as James Daniels' contract runs out.

So much remains unsettled on the Bears line going forward even after the release of Leno.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven