When right tackle Kyle Long was shaken up and had to come out for one snap during the Bears’ loss on Sunday to the Lions, Charles Leno shifted over from left to right tackle and there was Jermon Bushrod, for a brief snapshot back at left tackle.
It was the position the Bears targeted him for in 2013 free agency, signing him to a five-year deal to protect Jay Cutler’s blind side and anchor the left edge of the Bears’ line.
It didn’t work out the way Bushrod or the Bears wanted.
After missing a total of just three games over the previous six years, Bushrod missed four straight games with a concussion and shoulder injuries suffered in the Seattle game. By the time he was healthy enough to play again, Charles Leno had played well enough in Bushrod’s place that coaches decided to leave Leno as the starter, relegating Bushrod to the bench except for spot duty as an extra blocking tight end.
But that spot duty saved Bushrod’s love of the game, although probably not his roster spot for the final two years of his deal.
“I’m fortunate that [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase gave me the opportunity to do a little extra, the big tight end,” Bushrod said on Monday. “For someone like me, it kept me motivated. This sport motivates me but to have the opportunity to go and contribute, that means a lot. It really means a lot to me.
“That’s what I struggled with earlier this season when things didn’t go my way. The fact that I can compete, you just like to be a part, win, lose or draw. You want to be a part, to hang your hat on what you go out and do. That’s my mindset going forward throughout this thing and I think it’s going to buy me another year or two in this league.”
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Bushrod is on the books for $6.4 million of salary and a cap hit of $8.7 million in 2016, more than twice Leno and Long combined salaries. That is too much for a backup tackle at age 31, and Bushrod has known that ever since his job became Leno’s.
“There just comes a certain point and time where the business side of this game will catch up to you,” Bushrod acknowledged. “Sometimes you might be put in situations or positions you don’t agree with, but at the end of the day, I was once in the same situation [with New Orleans].
“I dealt with the same stuff. I had to take over when an older guy went down. In this league, if you are fortunate enough to be a veteran, someone these guys look up to, you have to pay it forward.”
Bushrod has paid it forward, serving as a mentor to both Leno and Long. That added to his emotional investment, particularly with the support he gave Long while the latter was going through first-time struggles after switching to tackle.
“Yeah, it’s tough,” Bushrod said. “I’ve grown close to the guys here. I love this organization and everything it is about. We don’t know how it’s going to shake out, but we’ll see what happens in the future.
“But either way, I’m appreciative of my time here. I’ve cherished my time here. I’ve worked hard and that’s all you can do. This year was tough for me physically, mentally and emotionally, but with the right people around me we got through it.”