Phil Emery landed the surprise of the 2012 off-season with his acquisition of Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins for a pair of third-round picks. Marshall rewarded Emery by delivering one of the most impressive offensive seasons in the history of the Chicago Bears and in my opinion allowing Emery the grace period which led to the firing of Lovie Smith in the aftermath of the ten-win 2012 campaign.
The first day of Free Agency 2013 was nearly as surprising.
Within minutes of the official signing period opening, word leaked out of Chicago/New York that former Cowboys and Giants tight end Martellus Bennett had reached an agreement (in principal, of course) to join the Chicago Bears. Bennett, much like Marshall did a year earlier at wide receiver, immediately validated the tight end position. If he repeats his 55-626-5 from a year ago over the four-year duration of his contract, Kellen Davis will become no more than a trivia answer to questions asked by negativity-prone intoxication monkeys in Rossi's on North State.
Emery was not done.
As the clock moved from five to six in the middle of this country, Emery and the Bears inked a long-term deal with former Saints tackle, Drew Brees blindside protector and certifiably pornographic last name holder Jermon Bushrod. The deal is worth a bit more than $17 million guaranteed.
Around these parts much has been made about the Pro Football Focus grading of Bushrod as equivalent to J'Marcus Webb in 2012. A few points on this:
- Emery acknowledged PFF in his post-season press conference. These were not numbers unknown to the Bears GM. These were numbers unimportant.
- Aaron Kromer, the Bears current "offensive coordinator", was Bushrod's position coach in New Orleans. If Bushrod is a marginal player and marginal improvement, Kromer must simply not care or decided to stay quiet.
- Bushrod is not only an improvement at left tackle for the Bears. He also drastically improves the right tackle position by allowing Gabe Carimi and J'Marcus Webb to battle for the spot in camp. Best case for Bears? Carimi beats Webb and becomes a swing tackle with a year plus experience on both sides of the line.
In one day the Bears upgraded their two most vulnerable positions: left tackle and tight end. Did they overpay? Perhaps. But during Cliff Stein's tenure in Chicago the Bears have rarely, very rarely, faced anything approaching cap trouble. They'll be just fine.
Now the club has the flexibility heading into the NFL draft. Now they can use their first round selection on a middle linebacker or guard or wide receiver or whomever they believe to be the best player available. Emery has used free agency to address the needs. Now he can use the draft to address the desires.