A little more than two hours after the Bears made one of the first big splashes of free agency by agreeing to terms with tight end Martellus Bennett, they addressed an even greater area of need by adding two-time Pro Bowl offensive left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
That combination gives quarterback Jay Cutler a better supporting cast than he has ever had in Chicago and raises expectation for the coming season, the last on his current contract.
It also leaves the Bears needing to reduce or eliminate other salaries to squeeze under the $123 million salary cap.
Among their own unrestricted free agents, the Bears especially want to re-sign guard Lance Louis, who was their best offensive lineman last year.
Louis, linebackers Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach, along with defensive end Israel Idonije all hit the market Tuesday.
Bushrodís deal is for $36 million over five years and includes $17.7 million guaranteed. He will be reunited with new Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who was his position coach with the New Orleans Saints.
The fourth-round pick out of Towson University in 2007 became a starter in 2009, Kromerís first year as O-line coach, and helped lead the Saints to victory in Super Bowl XLIV that season.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Bushrod immediately upgrades a Bears offensive line that has allowed an unacceptable 149 sacks over the past three seasons, second most in the NFL behind the Arizona Cardinalsí 162.
Bushrod, who turns 29 in August, will replace JíMarcus Webb at left tackle.
Webb could take over at right tackle, where his deficiencies as a pass protector wonít be as noticeable.
Although Webb allowed an NFL-worst 14 sacks in 2011, he was better in that area last season. He also has the size and strength to upgrade the right side of the line, which was a disappointment last season.
Gabe Carimi, the 2011 first-round from Wisconsin, failed to lock down the right- tackle spot despite multiple opportunities.
The Bearsí O-line has allowed Cutler to be sacked 113 times since 2010, the most per pass attempt of any NFL quarterback. During the same time, Bushrod started all 48 games for the Saints, who feature one of the NFLís top five offenses.
The addition of Bennett and Bushrod gives Cutler two of the ingredients he has lacked since the Bears traded a pair of first-round picks and a third-rounder to acquire him before the 2009 season.
A year ago they added wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was voted to his fourth Pro Bowl last season after catching 118 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Cutlerís contract expires after this season, and general manager Phil Emery has provided him with plenty of ammunition for a career year.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.