At the outset of free agency, the Bears offered free agent offensive tackle John St. Clair a modest contract which he eventually turned down in favor of a deal with the Cleveland Browns, leaving the team with three unproven tackles on the roster: Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, and Cody Balogh. Three days later, the Bears have yet to respond, nor do they appear to be in any hurry to do so.

Three conclusions can be deduced from their inaction. Either they don’t like what is available at the tackle position remaining on the market, they’re waiting until after the draft when other tackles will become cap casualties and prices decline, or they’re looking at drafting a tackle with the 18th pick in April’s draft.

Quite possibly, all three assertions could be true.

Any NFL executive will tell you the best way to build a franchise is through the draft, which is particularly true for franchises like the Bears, who choose not to be big spenders in free agency. And in an off-season such as this one, where the economy is bad and the pickings are slim, most teams are avoiding spending sprees in favor of diligence in the draft.

It’s possible the Bears are looking to find a second offensive tackle to join last year’s first round pick, Chris Williams, to become the bookend tackles for the next decade. But if they don’t find that player, and things don’t unfold the way they’re counting on them to, they could be scrambling for leftovers after the draft.

At this particular time, I’m not overly concerned with the lack of depth on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Although several disgruntled Bears fans will disagree with me, Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith are intelligent football men. They wouldn’t be where they are today if that wasn’t true. I trust them to recognize that both a first-day rookie and a steady veteran are needed to stabilize the ends of the offensive line. And I’m confident that Omiyale will compete for a starting guard spot — as opposed to tackle — as was the original intention when the Bears signed him, or so I’m hearing.

If the Bears don’t grab a tackle in the first or second round of the upcoming draft, and they don’t sign a capable veteran afterward, Kyle Orton and Matt Forte might not make it through a full season. I have to believe Angelo and Smith agree with that assessment and are plotting accordingly.