- Jeff Dickerson, ESPN Staff Writer
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The addition of free agent center Brian de la Puente fills two important needs for the Chicago Bears.
In the short term, de la Puente provides the Bears with a proven and experienced center behind team captain Roberto Garza, who turned 35 years old at the end of March.
Garza has been incredibly durable throughout his career, missing just two games in nine seasons with the Bears. But in the event he suffers an injury, de la Puente can step in and fill the void. Not only did de la Puente start 44 games at center for the New Orleans Saints over the last three seasons, he should be able to quickly pick up the Bears' offense after playing for Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer for two years in New Orleans.
But even if Garza stays on the field for all 16 regular season games in 2014, as most expect him to do, the Bears eventually need to address the position long term.
Garza’s tenure in Chicago has been nothing short of terrific. That’s not an exaggeration. After the Bears signed Garza off the street in 2005, he went on to start 133 games at both right guard and center.
But the Bears will need to replace him on the field. That’s just a part of life in the NFL.
If the Bears are satisfied with the 28-year-old de la Puente next season, even if he doesn’t start a single game, the club will be in position to offer him a longer deal in the 2015 offseason. Really, inking de la Puente to a one-year contract is actually a steal for the Bears. They get a first-team caliber player at a fraction of the cost, with nothing guaranteed beyond 2014.
There is also the issue of de la Puente pushing Garza when the team returns to the field. Competition is a wonderful thing. With so many veteran players on one-year, league minimum deals, the Bears have set the stage for fierce preseason battles for roster spots at several positions. While Garza is penciled in as the No. 1 center, he is not the type of player to rest on his laurels. But even a 13-year NFL veteran can benefit from a younger player applying a little pressure behind him on the depth chart.
This is really a win-win scenario for the Bears.
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