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.
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.
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.”