Bears score touchdown with signings of Bennett, Bushrod in free agency

The Chicago Bears moved quickly to fill immediate needs on the offensive side of the ball as the team signed former New York Giants tight end Martellus Bennett and ex-New Orleans offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod in the opening hours of NFL free agency. Credit General Manager Phil Emery for being proactive in identifying the needs and finding the corresponding resources to find a solution.

With the moves, the Bears significantly upgraded two areas of weakness and provided quarterback Jay Cutler both a weapon and protection.

Bennett provides not only a reliable pass-catching threat with the ability to get down the seam, he’s also a sturdy blocker. Last season in New York, the 26-year old Bennett started all 16 contests and set career highs with 55 receptions, 626 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. His five receptions of 25-plus yards were tied for sixth in the NFL among tight ends in 2012. The top four games of Bennett’s career, in terms of receiving yards, all came last season including a career-high 82 yards receiving (one touchdown on five receptions) at Washington on December 3. He does carry a bit of a reputation as a guy who takes some plays off, so it will be interesting to see how big money might affect him.

The 6-6, 265-pound Bennett has started 47 of 76 games played in five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys (2008-11) and New York Giants (2012), hauling in 140 receptions for 1,472 yards (10.5 ypr) and nine touchdowns. He has appeared in two playoff contests with one start, gathering three receptions for 27 yards. Bennett has appeared in at least 14 contests in all five seasons in the NFL and all 16 contests in three seasons (2008, 2010 and 2012). He began his career in Dallas after the Cowboys selected him in the second round (61st overall) in the 2008 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M.

Meanwhile, the Bears hope they’ve solved their long-term need for a quality left tackle. The 6-6, 315 pound Bushrod will be reunited in Chicago with former line coach Aaron Kromer, now the Bears offensive coordinator-line coach. Bushrod developed under Kromer after being a little-known prospect from Towson University. The Saints drafted Bushrod in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. Bushrod, 28, made 62 starts over the previous four seasons for the Saints. He’s been a Pro Bowler the last two seasons. Bushrod’s five-year deal makes him the richest o-lineman in Bears history.

Former Bears fullback Jason McKie, who played briefly with Bushrod in New Orleans, called him extremely hard working and always in the film room.

Bushrod’s signing creates a domino effect for the Bears offensive line. It’s expected that incumbent left tackle J’Marcus Webb will shift to the right side and compete for a job, while former number one draft choice Gabe Carimi will either compete at right tackle or kick inside to guard. The Bears are also still interested in bringing back veteran right tackle Jonathan Scott.

All in all, an eventful day one of free agency for the Bears.

Paw Prints: The club also announced officially that defensive tackle Henry Melton has signed his franchise tender. The 2012 Pro Bowler has started 29 of 45 games played with the Bears recording 66 tackles, 15.5 sacks, nine tackles for losses, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. In 2012, he had 33 tackles, six sacks, five TFLs and two forced fumbles in 14 starts.

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