By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) – Guarantees are few and far between for a seventh-round pick. You’re given a playbook and an opportunity, nothing more than that.
Charles Leno remembered those days Wednesday after he signed a four-year extension that keeps him under contract with the Bears through 2021. He thought of that first training camp and season as a rookie in 2014 and the fight he had ahead. Leno bought an air mattress at Wal-Mart and moved to the floor at teammate Kyle Long’s house.
That’s why this day was so rewarding.
“I never was handed anything in life,” Leno said Wednesday. “I worked for everything I got. I have now, and I’m going to continue to work. I’m never going to stop.
“Just take things day-by-day, step-by-step, always continue to get better and good things will happen.”
Work is what has brought Leno to this point. He began as a rookie serving as the Bears’ swing tackle and carved out a reserve role. When Phil Emery, the executive who drafted him, was fired after the 2014 season, Leno had to prove himself to new general manager Ryan Pace.
Leno earned the trust of this Bears regime, which found he was more comfortable playing left tackle than right. When veteran Jermon Bushrod went down with an injury, Leno assumed the starting role on the blindside in 2015. Despite his inconsistent play, the Bears stuck by their belief in Leno, who vowed to get better. They didn’t pursue any alternatives.
Last season saw Leno become a more consistent performer at left tackle. The Bears felt good enough about him to lock him in before a contract season takes place. His four-year extension is worth $38 million, with $21.5 million guaranteed, according to the Tribune.
“At the end of the day, he’s a guy we felt good about,” Bears coach John Fox said. “We think we’re better with him obviously than without him.”
Leno was eager to sign the deal as opposed to testing free agency after this season. He feels comfortable with this situation in Chicago and was willing to stand by a team that has stood with him.
Teammates like Long and Jordan Howard took to Twitter immediately to offer their congratulations for Leno, because he’s become one of the more beloved players in that locker room. The Bears know well how far Leno has come to earn stability in the NFL. Long certainly remembers those days with a house guest sleeping on the floor.
There remains plenty for Leno to improve at his position, a critical place on the offensive line. He’ll be tasked with protecting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in these years to come. But Pace and the Bears have seen Leno come a long way in just a short time and could feel confident more work will lead to even stronger play.
Happiness was abound around Halas Hall on Wednesday as the Bears rewarded a player who has earned everything in this league.
“I had a tough road,” Leno said. “The road to success is never a straight line. There are a lot of ups and downs. You just got to keep persistent and stay steady through it all – all the storms, the bad things that happen, the trials and tribulations, you got to keep pressing forward.”