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Bushrod, Bennett signings have addressed problems for Bears

TAMPA FL - OCTOBER 21: JermBushrod #74 New Orleans Saints spikes ball during game against TampBay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 21: Jermon Bushrod #74 of the New Orleans Saints spikes the ball during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on October 21, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

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Updated: April 14, 2013 6:48AM



The splash didn’t create the same sizable ripples from a year ago, when the Bears opened free agency by trading for receiver Brandon Marshall and reuniting him with quarterback Jay Cutler.

But the Bears made another headfirst foray into free agency on Tuesday, agreeing to terms with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and highly rated tight end Martellus Bennett.

The Bears agreed to a five-year, $35.96 million contract with Bushrod that guarantees him $17.715 million, according to a league source, and they arranged a four-year deal with Bennett. Terms of Bennett’s deal were not known.

The moves address glaring problem areas for the Bears’ offense, which ranked 28th in the NFL last season. The Bears were in contact with the agents for several notable offensive linemen, including 2008 No. 1 pick Jake Long, ex-Bills guard Andy Levitre and Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt. It’s believed the Bears made an aggressive offer for Loadholt, according to a source, but the Vikings announced a contract with him about 10 minutes before free agency opened at 3 p.m.

Bushrod will reunite with new Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in hopes of overhauling one of the league’s worst offensive lines. Cutler has been sacked an astounding 148 times in 56 games the last four seasons. In New Orleans, when Bushrod was a starter, quarterback Drew Brees was sacked 95 times in 63 games during that four-year span.

Bushrod, though, didn’t exactly shine in 2012, according to the website Pro Football Focus, which analyzes each play and player from every NFL game. He was ranked the 44th-best offensive tackle, just three spots ahead of incumbent left tackle J’Marcus Webb, and he was flagged for six penalties (two fewer than Webb), gave up four sacks (three fewer than Webb) and eight quarterback hits (three more than Webb).

But the alarming number is quarterback hurries: Bushrod gave up 46, the second-most among NFL tackles.

Kromer, though, has been key to Bushrod’s development from a fourth-round pick into a Pro Bowl talent. In his first two seasons, Bushrod only appeared in three games. After Kromer’s arrival, Bushrod capably replaced Jammal Brown, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who was sidelined in 2009 with a knee injury.

The Saints won the Super Bowl in Bushrod’s first season as a starter.

In the last four seasons, Bushrod has missed only one game.

Bennett, meanwhile, is a proven, multithreat tight end who can help with pass protection and pass production.

According to Pro Football Focus, Bennett was rated the NFL’s fifth-best overall tight end, 11th as a receiver and third as a pass-blocker. He also was ranked 13th overall as a run-blocker.

He’s 6-6, 265 pounds and caught 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns for the Giants last season, his first as a full-time starter. Before that, he’d served as the backup to eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten in Dallas.

“We utilize the tight end in this offense quite often,” Kromer said last month. “We’d surely like to be able to throw the football to him. We’d like him to be able to block somewhat [for] the running back.”

The Bears entered Tuesday with $7.01 million in salary-cap space, and both signings keep them below that. But the Bears allowed their own — including middle linebacker Brian Urlacher — to become unrestricted free agents. Indications are, the Bears weren’t proactive during the three-day negotiating window for discussing contract numbers with their free agents.



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