Charles Leno Jr. Puts Bears' Business Before His Own

August 22, 2019 - 5:45 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- Charles Leno Jr. is an NFL success story, having arrived to the Bears as a seventh-round pick in 2014 before earning a starting spot at left tackle and eventually landing a coveted long-term deal,

What Leno wants now more than anything is for more of what he and the Bears experienced last season -- wins. It's why the 27-year-old Leno was willing to restructure his contract upon the team's request, reducing his base salary from to $930,000 in 2019 by converting that into bonuses.

Leno's willingness allowed the Bears to create an additional $5.6 million in cap flexibility. He did so knowing the potential benefits of that cap room.

"I want this team to be intact," Leno said after practice Thursday afternoon. "I love the guys we have. We have some great guys. I know the only way you can do that is if you are selfless. Some people have to take less, even though nobody wants to take less. You have to do some things that don't want to do. That (stuff) comes with the game."

One of Leno's teammates who could benefit from the additional cap space is left guard Cody Whitehair, who's entering the final season of his rookie contract. 

In each of the past three years, the Bears have signed key players to a contract extension before the start of the regular season -- guard Kyle Long in 2016, Leno and defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in 2017 and defensive lineman Eddie Goldman in 2018. The belief is Whitehair will be next in line. 

Leno wouldn't acknowledge Whitehair as a direct beneficiary to his own contract restructuring but did mention someone "close" to him as a potential recipient to a new deal.

The 27-year-old Whitehair has started all 48 regular-season games since being drafted in the second round in 2016. The only Bears player to start more consecutive games is Leno, with 61 in a row.

The Bears have had other players willingly restructure their contracts this calendar year. Long in late February took a reduced base salary for 2019, just ahead of free agency. Star pass rusher Khalil Mack did the same, restructuring part of his record-setting contract to a $2.3-million base salary for 2019 a day before free agents could be signed. It allowed his team to be active in signing players like safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, nickel cornerback Buster Skrine, running back Mike Davis and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. 

But now the challenge for general manager Ryan Pace and the Bears will be locking in some of their young stars beyond 2019. After Whitehair, Chicago will have the likes of safety Eddie Jackson, running back Tarik Cohen and perhaps quarterback Mitchell Trubisky due for lucrative deals.

As the Bears live in their promising present, it's plenty enticing for a player like Leno to put the team's business ahead of his own.

"It's hard to come around teams like this," Leno said. "It really is. The guys we have in this locker room, the talent that we have, it's hard to come around teams like this. We want to keep these guys together so we can keep playing for a long time."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.