Bears release veteran offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod


Bears release veteran offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod

An expected roster move came to pass on Tuesday as the Bears terminated the contract of tackle Jermon Bushrod, a move that became increasingly inevitable with the development of Charles Leno Jr. in five weeks of filling in last year while Bushrod battled injuries.

Bushrod was due $6.4 million in base salary for 2016 plus a $100,000 workout bonus, too much for a backup offensive lineman, which Bushrod effectively became during the course of last season.

“We thank Jermon for his contributions to the Bears,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “I have so much respect for how he carries himself on and off the field. He was a locker room leader and contributor in helping the younger players on our team grow. We wish him and his family the best as they move forward.”

A fourth-round pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 2007 draft, Bushrod developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle under line coach and former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and became a starter in 2009 in the Saints’ Super Bowl season.

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He turns 32 in August, but one positive of sitting out extended periods, as Bushrod did last season, is that the body has a chance to heal at least a little.

“Do I want to keep playing? Absolutely,” Bushrod said at the end of the 2015 season. “I feel like over the year I felt better. Honestly, I’ve been feeling good, I just haven’t been able to really put it all together like I wanted to. I started off the season and I felt like I played good. But things happen, situations change ... that’s just the way this league works and how it operates.”

Bushrod was a priority signing at the outset of the 2013 offseason, coming off two straight Pro Bowl appearances for the New Orleans Saints. Since the retirement of John Tait the Bears had struggled to find a true solution at left tackle (Orlando Pace, Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale, J’Marcus Webb) and Bushrod had not missed a game in more than three seasons when he signed a five-year deal worth $35.9 million, with $22.4 million guaranteed on Mar. 12, 2013, the same day the Bears landed tight end Martellus Bennett.

Bushrod started 16 games in 2013, then missed two mid-season games in 2014 with ankle and knee injuries. The injury issues became more significant last season with concussion and shoulder injuries suffered in Week 3 at Seattle. After starting the first three games Bushrod was inactive for the next five.

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During that stretch Charles Leno Jr., who’d failed to land the right-tackle job during preseason, emerged as a viable option at left tackle. Bushrod worked back into the lineup as an extra lineman in the Bears’ “heavy” package, starting Week 17 in that role.

But Bushrod refused to become a malcontent even as he was enduring the demotion and was a mentor to both Leno and Kyle Long in their early stages as NFL tackles.

“Is it frustrating? Absolutely,” Bushrod said. “But at the end of the day, look at the position I’m in. I can’t be upset. I can’t have negative energy. Do I have it? Yeah, I go back and forth.

“But I have to be positive because your number could be called again. If you have a negative attitude or things aren’t going your way and you get in a situation where you might be back in, you just want things to go your way.”

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He left without rancor or regrets, other than not being part of a team that he sees on the upswing.

“I just want people to know that I competed all the time and I worked,” Bushrod said. “Although I was frustrated, I worked. All we want to do is win because winning makes everyone feel better. I see that in the future for this team, and we’ll see how it all works out.”

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.