Chicago Bears Could Have Done Better Than Jermon Bushrod in Free Agency

Andrew DannehyCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2013

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 08: B.J. Raji #90 of the Green Bay Packers rushes against Jermon Bushrod #74 of the New Orleans Saints during the NFL opening season game at Lambeau Field on September 8, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Saints 42-34. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bears paid a lot of money for left tackle Jermon Bushrod, but it's arguable if he is an upgrade at that position and clearly was not the best tackle they could have signed.

The comparison most are making is between Bushrod and incumbent starter J'Marcus Webb. However, the most important comparison is with rest of the free-agent market.

The Pro Football Focus' overall ratings favor Bushrod slightly, but Webb has graded out as a better pass-blocker. 

According to PFF, Webb has allowed one hurry every 19.8 snaps since moving to left tackle in 2011. Over that same period of time, Bushrod has allowed a hurry every 17.8 snaps. Going further back in his career, Bushrod has allowed one hurry every 17.65 snaps since he became a starter in 2009.

While those are hurries and not sacks, in many ways that can be worse. Half of Cutler's interceptions came when he was under pressure last season, according to PFF.

PFF did their own story on this topic, providing even more to the comparison between Bushrod and Webb.

There is a lot that goes into those numbers. 

Those who support Bushrod note the difference in terms of help they got, and there is something to that. The Saints kept one or more blockers in on 35.1 percent of their dropbacks, while the Bears did so on 74.4 percent of theirs, according to PFF.  Even if the Saints didn't give Bushrod a lot of help, the numbers clearly indicate they should have.

The teams didn't have many common opponents, but both played Green Bay this season. In two games, the Bears kept in at least one extra blocker on 34 of their 68 passing attempts. In one game, the Saints had extra blockers in on 31 of their 58 attempts. Both Webb and Bushrod allowed a total of three hurries against the Packers last season (all numbers according to PFF).

The perception that rushers had an advantage against the Saints simply because they threw more isn't necessarily true. Even without as good of a running game, the Saints' line was regularly in better position to succeed.

Last season, New Orleans faced third-and-long on just 15.2 percent of Brees' snaps and gave up nine of their 26 sacks in those situations, according to ESPN. The Bears, meanwhile, faced third-and-long on 22 percent of their attempts with seven of their 44 sacks coming on those plays. 

Another thing to take into consideration is that the Bears threw deep on a higher percentage of their snaps, making blockers have to work for longer. Jay Cutler threw beyond 20 yards on 15.9 percent of his passes, while Drew Brees threw deep on just 11.9 percent of his throws, according to PFF.

Whether Bushrod is better than Webb isn't what is important, because Webb will almost certainly still be starting on the right side. The fact that it is arguable means it was a bad signing.

I did not have Bushrod in my list of Top 10 Players the Bears Should Target in Free Agency because of the strong right tackle market. Simply put, they could've gotten a better player for cheaper. 

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bears gave Bushrod a five-year deal worth a total of $39.9 million, including $17.715 million guaranteed

Gosder Cherilus gave up one hurry every 30 passing attempts, according to PFF—significantly better than Bushrod's rate—and signed with Indianapolis for less money solely because he's a right tackle. 

Minnesota re-signed Phil Loadholt for four years and $25 million. Loadholt is known as a great run-blocker, but he was a better pass-blocker than Bushrod, giving up a hurry every 26.95 snaps, according to PFF.

Perhaps Webb can develop into that kind of right tackle, but that isn't always as easy as people think. Webb's worst season came on the right side when the Bears forced him into action as a seventh-round rookie in 2010.

What makes the signing even more curious is that general manager Phil Emery stated he used  PFF to evaluate his own players. Clearly, he clearly didn't use them to evaluate players on other teams. Bushrod was also rated below Webb and Carimi on Scouts Inc. prior to the 2012-13 season.

The bottom line is that with the Bushrod signing, the Bears are better, but not as good as they could be. They are left with below-average pass-blockers at both tackle spots when they could have saved money by signing a terrific right tackle, then helped the left tackle as needed.

The goal of paying a left tackle big money is to help protect the quarterback. The Bears should still be better in that area, but not as good as they could be.