NFL

The Chicago Bears Just Lost Their $51 Million Star to COVID-19

As the Chicago Bears look to snap a two-game losing streak, they just lost one of their best players to COVID-19. With highly-paid center Cody Whitehair testing positive for the coronavirus, Matt Nagy must quickly find a replacement for his Pro Bowl pivot man.

Will Whitehair’s absence lead to even more problems on offense on Sunday? Or can the Bears find a way to get back on track against a Tennessee Titans team that wants to end its own two-game skid?

Cody Whitehair has quickly developed into one of the NFL’s top centers

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Following a standout career at Kansas State, Cody Whitehair entered the 2016 NFL draft as one of the top available offensive linemen. In college, the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder showcased tremendous versatility by playing guard and offensive tackle for the Wildcats.

The Bears selected Whitehair with the 56th overall pick. Although he initially lined up at left guard in the preseason, he ended up starting all 16 games at center. In 2018, he earned Pro Bowl honors after anchoring Chicago’s offensive line for all 16 games. That year, the Bears finished ninth in scoring—their highest ranking since 2013.

That breakout campaign helped Whitehair earn a lucrative raise. Just before the 2019 season began, the Bears signed their star center to a five-year, $51.25 million contract extension. The deal included $27 million guaranteed.

Whitehair went on to start all 16 games for the fourth straight season. In fact, prior to Week 8 of the 2020 season, he had never missed a single game since entering the NFL in 2016.

The Bears just lost their $51 million star to COVID-19

RELATED: The Chicago Bears Just Suffered Another Season-Ending Injury Blow

Cody Whitehair’s 2020 season has proven to be challenging. A calf injury kept him out of the lineup in the team’s 26-23 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. Now, another health-related setback will cause the fifth-year pro to miss another game.

On Thursday, Ian Rapoport reported via Twitter that Whitehair tested positive for COVID-19. Fellow offensive lineman Jason Spriggs tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week.

Overall, Chicago’s offensive line has been decimated by COVID-19 and injuries. Starting guard James Daniels tore his pec a month ago and had to get placed on injured reserve. Right tackle Bobby Massie recently suffered a knee injury that also landed him on IR.

Now, without Whitehead anchoring the middle of the line, Nick Foles could have a rough day at the office against a talented and physical Titans team.

Can Chicago snap its two-game losing streak on Sunday?

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With both teams in the midst of two-game losing streaks, the Titans and Bears have plenty of motivation to play at a high level on Sunday. Tennessee sits in first place in the AFC South, but Mike Vrabel’s team did not play well last Sunday.

The Cincinnati Bengals held Ryan Tannehill and Co. to just 20 points. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow earned his second career victory by throwing for 249 yards and two touchdowns.

Don’t expect the Titans to surrender 31 points again, though. In fact, the Bears may have a tough time reaching double digits because of their personnel problems. An offensive line that won’t have Cody Whitehair in the middle will be put to the test by a defense featuring Jadeveon Clowney, Jeffery Simmons, and Rashaan Evans.

Can Chicago’s line protect Foles and open up holes for David Montgomery? Or will the Titans succeed in applying consistent pressure against a depleted unit?

On the other side of the ball, the Bears boast far more talent. However, they have to contend with Derrick Henry and his league-leading 775 rushing yards. Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith headline a defense that ranks eighth in points allowed. It will be interesting to see if the Titans can overpower a Bears front seven that features several elite playmakers.

However, given all of their issues on offense, the Bears will have a difficult time putting points on the board. As long as the Titans control the line of scrimmage, they should emerge victorious at home.

All contract data courtesy of Spotrac. All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.