Fallout from the draft trickled down the Bears roster on Sunday (Monday in Manila) as the team released two veterans in guard Matt Slauson and safety Antrel Rolle after selecting prospective replacements for them.
Slauson’s release caused the biggest ripple, though neither was unexpected. The 30-year-old was one of the Bears’ most respected locker room leaders and the glue on the offensive line.
“Both men did everything we asked of them,” general manager Ryan Pace said in a statement. “Part of growing as a team is making difficult decisions like the ones we made today. We never take them lightly given the respect we have for everyone who has put on a Bears uniform. We wish each of them the very best as they move forward.”
Slauson started 37 games over the last three seasons. After arriving in 2013 on a one-year deal, he helped then-rookie guard Kyle Long transition to the NFL and jump-start a Pro Bowl career.
He also earned quarterback Jay Cutler’s trust, which played out on the field last season in the four spot starts he made at center.
The Bears soured on Slauson’s athleticism, though, and extensive efforts to trade him this offseason came up empty.
Then on Friday, they traded back twice in the second round and drafted Kansas State guard Cody Whitehair. With his strong hands, mobility and grit, he’s projected to be part of the offense’s nucleus.
“He’s an aggressive player,” Pace said of Whitehair on Friday. “He’s really good in space. He plays with great inside hand placement and he’s got strong hands. I love offensive linemen with strong inside hands. When they latch on you can’t get rid of him. He’s a very difficult player to shed once he gets his hands on your chest.”
Even before the draft, the Bears attempted to intensify the competition roster spots on the offensive line. On March 31, they signed free-agent guard Ted Larsen to a one-year contract worth up to $2.4 million. Larsen, who turns 29 in June, is nimble and blocks well in space.
They also signed veteran interior lineman Manny Ramirez on March 30 to a one-year contract worth slightly less than $1 million. Ramirez played for coach John Fox on the Broncos’ AFC title team in 2013, and he will compete with second-year center Hroniss Grasu.
By releasing Slauson, the Bears saved more than $2.53 million against the salary cap this season. He counts for $835,000 in dead money.
Rolle was released after the Bears picked two safeties on Day 3 of the draft Saturday.
The 33-year-old missed nine games last season with knee and ankle injuries. That ran counter to his impeccable track record of durability — he had started 86 consecutive games dating to 2009.
The Bears were initially unsure whether Rolle’s injuries were a sign of decline or an anomaly, but they opted to part with him after drafting Miami’s Deon Bush in the fourth round and William & Mary’s DeAndre Houston-Carson in the sixth.
Bush is known for his violence as a tackler and his ability to range in pass defense. Houston-Carson is a converted cornerback who excelled as a tackler in one season at free safety. He can cover in the slot, and he’s expected to be a key special teams contributor.
Releasing Rolle saves the Bears $3 million against the salary cap. He was scheduled to make a base salary of $2.4 million in 2016, in addition to $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses and a $100,000 workout bonus.
Last season, he earned the entire $4.9 million guarantee that was part of the three-year, $11.25 million deal he signed in free agency. In his only season with the Bears, he had no interceptions or forced fumbles. But his locker room leadership was valued by management, especially as it applied to rookie safety Adrian Amos’ development.