There are not many Charles Leno Jr. jerseys visible in the crowd at Soldier Field.
He isn’t a big name. He isn’t flashy. He is the Left Tackle.
When Nike decides the next player spokesman for their new limited jersey line, it would be an incredible shock if Leno Jr.’s number were to be selected.
Yet the Chicago Bears saw fit to offer Leno a lucrative contract extension. He has accepted a deal that will see him contracted to the Bears through 2021. It has been widely reported the agreement features a potential $38 million salary with guarantees of $21.5 million.
No.72 got paid.
Such a financial commitment sees Leno Jr. rise significantly on the earning scale for his position. Top-tier talent at the Left Tackle position can account for a sizable percentage of a franchise’s salary cap. Prior to the adjustment it could be fairly easily argued Leno was being dramatically underpaid.
Leno’s deal doesn’t come close to that of Joe Thomas of the Cleveland Browns who stands to be have been paid upwards of $80 million by his contract’s 2019 expiration. he Dallas Cowboys’ Tyron Smith’s overall contract value is reported to be $97.6 million.
The more modest Leno deal places him comfortably within the plenty affluent realms of the Patriot’s Nate Solder and the Eagles’ Jason Peters. This is esteemed company and any comparison — financial or otherwise — should be considered highly respectable.
It is always a difficult task to accurately judge the financial comparability of contracts as each individual is at a different stage of their career. NFL contracts also have a tendency to drive the negotiating power of the next player at a given position.
The Chicago Bears presented this deal to Leno with a full year remaining on his current deal. The announcement came somewhat out of the blue. There didn’t seem to be any urgency or desperate need outside the normal market pressure. Flirtation with free agency was possible. Admiring glances from other franchises may have occurred.
There may have been a financial incentive for the Chicago Bears to secure this deal now. Another year of positive Leno production could have seen his price and/or popularity rise.
Ultimately, the organization acted now. They moved to lock him up. The salary was deemed an acceptable investment.
Because Charles Leno Jr is the dream acquisition.
The Bears drafted Leno in the seventh round of the 2014 draft. Teams selected 245 other players before his name was called. Picks in that range are dart throws. If they fail to make the grade they cannot be considered a bust. A seventh round draft pick simply isn’t expected to amount to much. They are graded on a forgiving curve.
Charles Leno Jr managed to grasp his chance. He worked his way into the 53-man roster. Injury presented him with opportunity. He stepped into the starting rotation and stayed there. He has developed into a reliable, dependable and durable player in a key position. He was one of only two players to play in every offensive snap last year.
The Chicago Bears — like most NFL teams — pay significant lip service to the notion of building through the draft. Talent can be traded for. Players can snapped up in free agency. But a franchise that consistently drafts well has an enormous advantage in their roster building. Charles Leno Jr has been coached and developed by the Bears. He has consistently produced. He has done what was asked. He has done so whilst being bound by a team-friendly contract. He has reached the level of consistency that warrants an extension on improved terms.
Charles Leno Jr represents how it is meant to work.
The last decade has seen the Bears offensive line continually evolve. There have been times when the unit — rather than presenting the image of a protective wall for a grateful quarterback — has resembled a rickety turnstile. This coming year Chicago Bears fans are looking, with guarded optimism, to the offensive line to be an area of strength.
There are genuine reasons for such hopes. If injury can be avoided, a guard combo of Kyle Long and Josh Sitton is one that can be relied on. Center Cody Whitehair is establishing himself as an anchoring presence between them. Tackle Bobby Massie brings an experienced and combative edge to the right of the line.
Charles Leno Jr will look to protect against opposition advances on the left side. He will look to continue his ongoing work. He will try to get better. He understands he is still a work in progress.
The position he plays can be as thankless as it is demanding. His skill can be overlooked and undervalued. We may only notice his mistakes. Any positional miscalculation or failure to physically fend off predatory foes can lead to very bad outcomes.
The Chicago Bears with the contract extension have signaled their belief in their Left Tackle. They appreciate his skill-set, work ethic and believe in his ability to minimize errors. They have made a commitment to Charles Leno Jr.
This was a deal the Bears identified as one that helps secure their future. This was a deal that simply made sense.
This was not a deal made to sell jerseys.