By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — When Jay Cutler broke the huddle for the first play of Monday’s practice, the Bears had a different look.
First to the line of scrimmage was a mountain of a man, 6-foot-3 and 318 pounds with hair flowing from the back of his helmet. Josh Sitton is what central casting would send for the role of a Pro Bowl left guard. He also happens to be just what the Bears needed.
“An accomplished player in our league,” Bears coach John Fox said.
Sitton is one of the newest Bears after the Packers surprisingly released him Saturday. Naturally, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was curious as to why player of Sitton’s caliber would be cut loose, but he checked all the boxes. The Bears didn’t waste time, taking advantage of the 176 miles between Halas Hall and Lambeau Field and inviting Sitton down for a visit. They didn’t want to let another team get its chance.
Once Sitton was in the building Sunday, the Bears’ objective was to lock him in. Sitton also wanted to get it done, with Week 1 preparations continuing the next morning. He signed a three-year deal and virtually jumped into the huddle with Cutler and the offense.
Everything fit for Sitton — a starting spot, staying in the division and even the Midwest climate.
“It’s too damn hot in the south,” Sitton said.
Just last week, the Bears’ offensive line was in bad shape. At one point, the interior consisted of rookie Cody Whitehair, Cornelius Edison and Jason Weaver from left to right, a threesome that’s combined for zero NFL starts.
Sitton’s availability became a blessing for the Bears. Like everybody else, Pace was stunned he was let free. It was a chance to make an instant upgrade. Now, the interior line is Sitton at left guard, Whitehair at center and another three-time Pro Bowler in Kyle Long at right guard. The Bears have arguably the best guard tandem in all of football.
Perhaps it’s telling that the Packers were willing to let Sitton walk, but the Bears have no hesitations. Sitton said his choice of Chicago wasn’t for revenge on Green Bay, though the release is certainly curious. Time will tell which team is right.
“He’s extremely strong and powerful in the run game and pass pro, he’s one of those guys that just makes it look easy,” Pace said of Sitton. “You never see him stressed or exposed.”
Even if Sitton is just good — not a Pro Bowl player — he’s still an improvement for the line. Ted Larsen struggled at center in replacing the injured Hroniss Grasu. The alternative, Edison, is a practice squad player. Whitehair now moves over to center, which Fox believes is his best position, and Sitton assumes the role of left guard.
At the age of 30, it’s possible that Sitton could be on the decline. However, Pro Football Focus rated Sitton as their top-ranked pass-blocking guard last season, and his run blocking abilities are strong, too.
Sitton established himself as an elite guard in Green Bay.
“He’s a guy that I watch and I can measure opponents by how they did against Josh, or how Josh did against them,” Long said. “He’s worn guys out for a long time and he’s so consistent. He makes a lot of stuff look easy.”
Once Sitton hit the open market Saturday, the Bears didn’t let time pass before making their move. There was no doubt to their direction. The Bears were in need of improvements up front, and Sitton was stunningly available. The only question was where he wanted to go.
Time was ticking for a decision, and Sitton didn’t hesitate either. Consider it a fortunate match.
“The business side is always the first determining factor,” he said. “But I think coach Fox is building a team that can win here.”