LAKE FOREST, Ill. — The Chicago Bears took a gamble when they drafted Kyle Long.
It has paid off in a big way, and they rewarded him with a four-year contract extension.
The Bears locked up their star right guard and three-time Pro Bowl lineman through the 2021 season on Wednesday.
“I’ve known since Day 1 that I wanted to be a Chicago Bear for life and get an opportunity to play for the best franchise in football in the best city in America,” said Long, who had two years remaining on his contract.
“When the talk started about it, I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be a part of the talks, but what I do want you guys to understand is that I want to be here forever and get it done,’ so that’s what they did.”
It’s an important step for a team last in the NFC North at 6-10 in its first season under general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox.
Long is one of seven Bears to make the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons, a list that includes Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Brian Urlacher.
With the signing of Josh Sitton on Sunday following his surprise release from Green Bay, Chicago has two elite guards to help protect quarterback Jay Cutler and open holes for running backs.
The moves on the line combined with the overhaul to the front seven on defense have the Bears aiming higher this season, starting with the opener Sunday at Houston.
“Kyle is extremely talented, a great teammate and more than deserving of this contract,” Pace said. “He is a big piece of the foundation we are building and we only expect him to continue to get better. We are excited to announce this long-term commitment to Kyle.”
Fox echoed that, saying, “He brings the right mindset every day to work. I think he’s a leader in that locker room, so obviously an important cog of hopefully what we’ll be about moving forward.”
Long was seen as something of a gamble when former general manager Phil Emery drafted him out of Oregon with the 20th pick in 2013. After all, he had limited experience in college and a history that included a DUI and academic issues that nearly derailed him.
The son of Hall of Famer Howie Long, Kyle Long was drafted in 2008 in the 23rd round as a left-handed pitcher out of high school in Virginia by the Chicago White Sox.
He went to Florida State on a baseball scholarship rather than turn pro, lasted one semester because of grades and got a DUI in January 2009. He failed academically at Piedmont Community College in Virginia before heading west to Saddleback Junior College in Southern California.
Long decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother Chris, an NFL defensive end, but found he was better suited to block than tackle.
Despite playing just one season at Oregon and appearing in 11 games, Long quickly blossomed into a standout lineman and one of the most popular players in Chicago.
“I found something that I can improve every day on, help those around and have that 8-year-old mentality where you’re flying around at recess the whole time with your buddies,” he said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Long made the Pro Bowl his first two years as a right guard, and he made it again last season after being switched to right tackle when the Bears cut Jordan Mills just before the opener.
The offseason signing of right tackle Bobby Massie cleared the way for Long to move back inside. And with the addition of Sitton — a player Long helped recruit — on the left side, the guard spots could be a strength for the Bears for the next few years, barring a position switch or unexpected decline.
A healthy and effective Long figures to take the load off Massie and the center — be it veteran Ted Larsen or rookie Cody Whitehair. Long suffered a shoulder injury in the second preseason game at New England that kept him out of practice until Monday. But he said he feels “great, ready to roll.”