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updated: 3/12/2013 7:09 PM

Bears strike first with deal for TE Bennett

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  • In need of a productive tight end who can catch passes and block, the Bears kicked off the free-agent signing period by agreeing to a deal with former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, who caught 55 passes last season, his fifth in the NFL.

      In need of a productive tight end who can catch passes and block, the Bears kicked off the free-agent signing period by agreeing to a deal with former Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, who caught 55 passes last season, his fifth in the NFL.
    Associated Press

  • New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, here catching a pass against Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk last November, has agreed in principle to sign with the Chicago Bears.

      New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett, here catching a pass against Green Bay linebacker A.J. Hawk last November, has agreed in principle to sign with the Chicago Bears.
    Associated Press

  • Former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod will be joining the Bears this season.

      Former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod will be joining the Bears this season.
    Associated Press

  • The Bears have agreed to terms with free agent offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, who played for the New Orleans Saints.

      The Bears have agreed to terms with free agent offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, who played for the New Orleans Saints.
    Associated Press

 
 

A vast wasteland the past two seasons, tight end now becomes a potential strength for the Bears with Tuesday's addition of unrestricted free agent Martellus Bennett.

And, maybe even more significant, on the first day of free agency general manager Phil Emery also was able to add two-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Jermon Bushrod to protect quarterback Jay Cutler's blind side,

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett reportedly reached an agreement in principle with the Bears on a four-year deal.

He had 55 receptions for 626 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2012, his first season with the New York Giants. That followed four so-so seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, who drafted him in the second round in 2008 out of Texas A&M.

Bennett's imminent signing was one of the first of the free-agency period. The announcement came just minutes after free agency began with the start of the new league year at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

The 26-year-old Bennett was arguably the most complete tight end available in the marketplace and is coming off a career year.

"We've utilized the tight end in this offense quite often," new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said shortly after joining head coach Marc Trestman's staff. "We'd surely like to be able to throw the football to them. We'd like them to be able to block somewhat in the running game.

"They're not going to be an offensive lineman blocking, but definitely the more weapons you have the better off you are."

The Bears have not had a tight end catch 20 passes in either of the past two seasons.

Last year's starter, Kellen Davis, had 19 receptions for 229 yards and dropped an NFL-worst 27 percent of passes directed toward him. In the five seasons since the Bears drafted him in the fifth round out of Michigan State in 2008, Davis has 47 catches for 529 yards.

Backup Matt Spaeth, primarily a blocker in two-TE alignments, caught 6 passes for 28 yards last season and a total of 13 passes for 78 yards in two seasons with the Bears.

Because of his size and route-running ability, Bennett is considered an every-down tight end and an upgrade over Davis as a receiver and Spaeth as a blocker. He's big and strong enough to block defensive ends and agile enough to provide quarterback Jay Cutler with an underneath target.

Bennett lacks breakaway speed, however, and is considered to have just average hands and run-after-the-catch ability.

In the last 48 years, the Bears have had just one tight end with at least 50 catches and 600 yards in the same season. Former first-round pick Greg Olsen caught 60 passes for 612 yards in 2009, his third season with the Bears.

Before that, Hall of Famer Mike Ditka did it four years in a row from 1961-64.

With 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez, a fullback/H-back/tight end, and second-year tight end Kyle Adams also on the roster, the futures of Davis and Spaeth are shaky at best.

The Bears could save approximately $2.5 million by cutting Davis and $1.5 million by parting ways with Spaeth.

With few dollars left under the $123 million salary cap, the Bears will need some relief to re-sign their own free agents such as Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach and Israel Idonije.

•Follow Bob's NFL reports on Twitter @BobLeGere, and check out his Bear Essentials blog at dailyherald.com/sports.

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