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Bears Get Their Man In Bushrod — Or Did They?

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Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears believe they addressed their greatest need with the acquisition of Jermon Bushrod in the free agent market earlier this week.

Indeed, as the five-year, $35.97 million commitment indicates, the organization has high expectations for Bushrod, a two-time Pro Bowl selection. He's highly durable and reasonably athletic for his size. He's the only player on the active roster with a Super Bowl ring, which makes for instant credibility in the locker room.

Yet not everyone is convinced that Bushrod will emerge as an elite player in a new system with different personnel, quarterback Jay Cutler in particular. According to Pro Football Focus, he ranked 44th among tackles in the league last year, three spots ahead of J'Marcus Webb, who will move to the right side of Chicago's line.

In New Orleans, Bushrod protected the blind side of Drew Brees for four seasons. The Saints ranked no lower than fourth in pass yards in the league and sent five different offensive linemen to the Pro Bowl in that span. No one suggests that Brees threw for all those touchdowns (156) on his own. He had plenty of assistance along the way.

At the same time, a number of talent evaluators will tell you that, because Brees has such an innate sense of feel in the pocket, he makes the talent around him that much better. The Saints have allowed several accomplished linemen to walk out the free agent doBears Get Their Man In Bushrod — Or Did They? Bears Get Their Man In Bushrod — Or Did They? or in recent years, which confirms the belief that Brees is the only irreplaceable part of their offense.

Brees isn't the most nimble quarterback, but he possesses a quick mind and equally quick release that make up for a lack of height and athleticism. For that reason, linemen normally aren't required to hold their blocks for as long as they would elsewhere.

While Brees doesn't possess his mobility and arm strength, Cutler isn't nearly decisive in the pocket. Nor does Cutler have his stable of talented, experienced receivers to target downfield. That could pose a problem for Bushrod, who struggles against elite pass rushers at times.

By his standards, Brees comes off an ordinary season, throwing more interceptions (19) and for fewer yards per attempt (7.7) than the previous one. The decline was largely attributed to increased pressure in the pocket. Critics pointed to the line play as the primary reason for it.

Nonetheless, Bushrod remained popular among his teammates, several of whom lobbied on his behalf, Brees among them.

“Jermon Bushrod has certainly cemented himself as one of the best left tackles in this league," Brees said earlier this month. “Obviously, I want him back. I'd love to have him back. I understand how this business works and everything else, but we'll wait and see how that all transpires. But, man, I really hope he's back with us."

Yet the Saints never intended to pay market value for Bushrod. The front office not deciding to aggressively pursue Bushrod said more about its faith in Brees than anything else. Unless a replacement is found in the free agent market, which is unlikely, the untested Charles Brown will take over the left side. The former second-round draft pick was plagued by injuries in the last three seasons.

Then again, new offense coordinator Aaron Cromer knows what Bushrod can and cannot do as well as anyone. They were together with the Saints for five seasons, four of which Cromer served as offensive line coach.

Many of those who followed the Saints believed their game plans also disguised the weaknesses of the offensive linemen. It's possible if not likely that Cromer will include similar short drops and pass routes in his system, which will take some pressure off the linemen especially on obvious pass downs.

So will Bushrod turn out to be the Pro Bowl-caliber pass-protector who was part of the most prolific best offenses in NFL history? Or will he prove to be no more than a marginal upgrade over Webb, who took a lot of heat for his uneven play last season.

The organization has invested $17.7 million in guaranteed money that the answer will be the former, not the latter.