Step 1 in bringing the Chicago Bears' offensive line to respectability will kick off with the team beginning serious negotiations with free agent center Olin Kreutz on a new contract as soon as the new CBA is ratified, according to an NFL source.
Because lockout rules prevented contact between teams and the players, the Bears presumably hadn't engaged in any talks with Kreutz.
In the past, Kreutz declined more lucrative offers to remain with the Bears and has stated a desire to return in 2011. At the same time, Kreutz is seeking a respectable market value offer that might allow him to retire with the club, according to sources.
It's expected that teams won't receive an exclusive period from the league to sign their own free agents. That means the Bears must work quickly strike a deal with Kreutz, who is sure to have other suitors, in part because of the market conditions.
Multiple teams have starting centers set to hit free agency, and with limited options on the market at the position, most teams will look to retain their own players.
Kreutz has been to more Pro Bowls (six) than any of the other centers set to enter free agency and is coming off an injury-free 2010 season.
His experience and leadership ability make Kreutz a vital cog for a team planning to revamp an offensive line that gave up a league-high 56 sacks last season. The line is set to enter 2011 playing in the second year of a new offensive system with two inexperienced players (J'Marcus Webb and rookie Gabe Carimi) projected to start at tackle.
Michael C. Wright covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.