Bears Strike Quickly, Sign Bushrod And Bennett
If there were any doubts as to what the Chicago Bears considered to be their most urgent needs this off-season, general manager Phil Emery wasted no time to put them to rest.
On Tuesday, the organization came to terms with former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and ex-New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett on multi-year deals. The double-barreled moves came one year after Emery addressed another chronic weakness with the acquisition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall also on the first day of the free agent season.
Bushrod accepted a reported five-year, $35.97 million offer to protect the left or blind side of Jay Cutler, who has been sacked more times (148) than any quarterback in the league in the last four seasons. Holdover J'Marcus Webb will move to the right side, where he will join veteran Gabe Carimi and possibly unrestricted free agent Jonathan Scott in competition for a starter position.
While Bushrod was among the most coveted free agents at his position, indications were that Emery and his staff had at least one player rated ahead of him.
The organization was believed to have targeted Minnesota Vikings veteran Phil Loadholt, generally considered to be the best right tackle available. Shortly before the start of the free agent period, however, the Vikings announced that Loadholt had accepted a four-year, $25-million deal, which included $7 million guaranteed.
Inquiries were also made about tackle Jake Long and guard Andy Levitre.
The relationship between Bushrod and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer played no small role in the decision to pursue him. The two spent five seasons together in New Orleans and were part of the Super Bowl team there.
Bushrod was a bit reluctant to leave the only team that he had played for in his six-year career. The Saints selected him out of Towson in the fourth round of the 2007 draft.
“It's crazy but it had to be done,” Bushrod told the New Orleans Times Picayune. “This whole process has been bittersweet. My heart is in New Orleans. I'm going to get married in New Orleans. I had my baby in New Orleans. But at the end of the day, I had to make the best move and this was it. I couldn't really wait around, and they (the Saints) knew that.”
The 26-year-old Bennett will replace Kellen Davis, who is expected to be released this week. In his only season for the New York Giants, Bennett caught 55 passes and scored five touchdowns. The Davis-Matt Spaeth tandem totaled 25 pass receptions and three touchdowns in the same span.
The front office also considered Jared Cook, but the former Tennessee Titans veteran sought an average salary in the $8-million neighborhood, which would have made him among the highest-paid tight ends in the league. Bennett signed a four-year, $20 million deal of which $9 million was guaranteed.
Bennett also is a far better run-blocker than Cook, who is a receiver first and foremost. Kromer wanted a tight end who could to play multiple roles and preferred the Texas A&M product for that reason.
Next on the agenda are restricted free agents, defensive end Israel Idonije, guard Lance Louis and linebackers Nick Roach and Brain Urlacher. Because the latest additions left the organization with little room to maneuver in terms of the salary cap, the group probably will be allowed to test the market before it decides whether to pursue any of them.