Kyle Long didn't sound optimistic Sunday afternoon. After the Bears' 15-14 home loss to the 49ers, the veteran offensive lineman briefly discussed the injury that knocked him out of the game after the Bears' third offensive series.
"I don't know the extent of it," Long told reporters. "I jacked up my shoulder pretty good. I'll know more tomorrow."
As it turns out, the setback was enough to end Long's season. On Tuesday afternoon, the Bears placed Long on injured reserve, an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion to a season filled with physical setbacks.
The move came on Long's 29th birthday and is a continuation of a three-season stretch of frustration. His 2016 season ended after he suffered serious damage to his right ankle in a Week 10 loss to the Buccaneers. The previous year Long dealt with the mentally taxing transition from guard to tackle, a move he was asked to make just days before the season opener.
Now it's fair to wonder just what's next for Long as he heads into another uncertain offseason with more physical issues to address.
Long's recovery earlier this year from reconstructive ankle surgery required significant time. He was not placed on the physically unable to perform list when the Bears reported to training camp in July. But Long also wasn't anywhere close to fully healthy when camp began and spent much of the preseason trying to regain strength and balance and wound up aggravating the injury.
Long missed the Bears' first two games of the season. He also failed to finish games against the Saints (because of two dislocated fingers) and 49ers. And his only action against the Packers in Week 10 was one snap on the field-goal protection unit, in emergency relief of Josh Sitton.
A torn labrum in Long's left shoulder has been a problem since the 2016 preseason. But the Bears lineman opted not to have the injury surgically repaired before that season began and then again after he underwent his ankle surgery last year. It remains to be seen what course of action Long will take this time around.
Long, the Bears' first-round pick in 2013, was invited to the Pro Bowl after each of his first three seasons -- twice as an alternate. General manager Ryan Pace awarded him with a contract extension in September 2016, a deal that included $18 million guaranteed and up to $40 million overall over four years.
Now it's fair to question whether the Bears will realize a satisfying return on investment on that deal with no guarantees that Long will be able to right himself enough physically to emerge as a consistently dominant force up front.
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