Teven Jenkins has been one of the Bears’ most consistent offensive players whenever he has been on the field since he moved to the interior at the beginning of his sophomore season.
Likewise, he has also flown under the radar as one of the most underrated guards in the league during that span, showing flashes of true dominance despite playing under non-ideal (to say the least) circumstances throughout much of his time in the Windy City.

However, he is entering a contract year, and it is fair to question whether he will be in the front office’s long-term plans going forward.

He may be a Ryan Pace selection, but was a Ryan Poles’ success story. Jenkins looked like he was on his way out of town after going M.I.A. during training camp of the ’22 season. Rumors swirled that Chicago was fielding offers for the talented second-year guard, who reportedly clashed with offensive line coach Chris Morgan and some thought he might not even make it through preseason cut-downs. However, he eventually bought in and even embraced a position switch to the right guard spot, and he immediately looked like a natural fit in doing so.

Jenkins was the Bears’ most consistent lineman whenever he was on the field in his first season at guard, and he continued to improve as the year went on. Likewise, he also built on the performance with an even better showing last season. The 26-year-old was ranked as the 16th best guard in the league (an eight-spot jump from the prior year) on Pro Football Focus’ annual position rankings article. He allowed only 17 pressures in 736 offensive snaps, and his 71.7 run-blocking grade ranked eleventh amongst guards.

While his ability has never been questioned (well, at least since he moved inside), the same cannot be said for his availability. Jenkins has played in only 31 of 51 games and has had countless injury issues since entering the league.

He missed the first four games of last season after landing on IR with a foot injury and a game late in the year with a concussion. In 2022, he missed five more games due to hip and neck injuries (which have been a theme). Most notably, he also missed the first 11 games of his rookie season after undergoing neck surgery, which was a factor that ultimately saw him fall to the second round in the offseason.

Under normal circumstances, he would be the type of player a team would be eager to resign. A young player who is still getting better. The type of building around. However, the concerns around his health are valid, and they create an interesting dilemma for Chicago’s front office. The Bears had an abysmal history of drafting and developing players for over a decade before Poles’ arrival. There were virtually no injury concerns around players worthy of resigning at the end of their rookie deals during that span, as most players had already proven to be replaceable at that point. Jenkins, on the other hand, looks poised to become one of the league’s best guards if he can stay healthy.

Is the front office ready to give up on a player like that?

Are they prepared to watch him potentially become a linchpin on another offensive line?

Now that we’ve addressed the limping elephant in the room, it’s also fair to question whether the fact that Jenkins plays a non-premium position also hurts his chances of staying in Chicago for the long run. While some front offices value availability more than others, it feels safe to say most would be willing to put up with a high-level quarterback with an elevated risk of missing time.

The same can be said for the receiver position or even a star left tackle. However, the notion of signing an offensive guard who has missed nearly half the games in his career to a long-term deal is much less palatable, no matter how talented he might be.

Jenkins was candid when reporters asked him about his contract situation earlier this week. He said his agent initiated contract talks with the Bears brass, but his status remains “up in the air.” That is not a great sign, but it is also not all that surprising. They don’t necessarily need to see anything else from Jenkins on the field, but they probably want him to stay on it before deciding to commit to him long-term.

This will be a very important season for Jenkins, and he seems to understand that.

“Stay healthy. That’s number one and of the utmost importance for me right now,” Jenkins said.

“Stay healthy, get through the whole 17 games, continue my strong play from last year, and be a more consistent, reliable guy.”

I personally believe the Bears should absolutely look to resign Jenkins. Even if he misses a few games and plays a historically replaceable position, he’s simply too good when on the field to watch him leave.

However, I do think his next contract should depend on how many games he plays this year.

If he stays healthy all year and continues improving, he should be paid like one of the league’s top guards since that is what the market would demand due to recency bias playing a huge role in negotiations.
On the other hand, if he misses another five games, I think it would be fair to knock a few million (and maybe a year since his injuries could cause more issues down the line) off a potential long-term deal.

PHOTO: ClutchPoints

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