General manager Phil Emery continued to build around the quarterback Tuesday, making aggressive moves in the first three hours of free agency in agreeing to contracts with tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod to fill two big needs.
A year ago, Emery traded for Brandon Marshall at the outset of free agency. Now, Cutler has a four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver in Marshall, a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle in Bushrod and a Pro Bowl running back in Matt Forte as he prepares to digest Marc Trestman's new offense.
Bushrod becomes the highest-paid offensive lineman in franchise history. His five-year, $35.97million contract averages $7.19 million per season, exceeding the contract John Tait got in 2003 when the Bears signed him away from the Chiefs. Bushrod gets $17.72 million guaranteed.
J'Marcus Webb, the starter at left tackle the last two seasons, will have to figure as a backup or perhaps in a competition at right tackle.
Bushrod, 28, was a fourth-round draft pick in 2007 and developed into a starter by 2009 under new Bears offensive coordinator/line coach Aaron Kromer. Bushrod is the latest example of a quality lineman the Saints have allowed to leave via free agency, following a path taken by Carl Nicks, Jeff Faine and Jonathan Goodwin.
In part, the Saints probably did that because they were confident Kromer could plug in a new part, but they made a bid to keep Bushrod.
Adding Bushrod might not be the only move on the line. By spending big, Emery purchased himself two starters and bought great flexibility for the draft and the 20th pick in the first round. The Bears could seek a right tackle such as Alabama's D.J. Fluker or a guard or look on the other side of the ball for help at linebacker or cornerback.
The addition of Bennett probably takes Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert out of consideration for the Bears, whose tight ends have the fewest receptions in the NFL since 2011. Bennett is coming off a career season with the Giants in which he had 55 catches for 626 yards and five touchdowns. In comparison, Bears tight ends produced 29 catches for 297 yards and three scores.
His addition -- with a four-year deal likely to be considerably higher on average than the one-year, $2.5 million deal he had last season -- figures to put Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth or both in jeopardy of losing a roster spot.
Cutting Davis would create a salary-cap savings of $2.5 million, and releasing Spaeth would free up $1.63 million. Davis is entering his second season of a two-year, $6million contract. The Bears entered Tuesday with a little more than $6.5 million in cap room and likely will have to make some moves to create more room before the contracts for Bushrod and Bennett are executed.
Some linked the Bears to Jared Cook, the former Titans tight end who signed with the Rams. While Cook is a greater vertical threat, Bennett is more multidimensional. The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder can be an asset as a run blocker while also providing a reliable target in the middle of the field.
Earlier in the day, the Bears were involved in bidding for Vikings right tackle Phil Loadholt, according to an NFL source. Ultimately, Loadholt re-signed with the Vikings, and the Bears might have driven up the price in their bid to weaken an NFC North rival.
Now, Emery might turn his focus toward his own players who had a quiet entrance into free agency, such as Brian Urlacher, Lance Louis, Israel Idonije and Nick Roach. Emery stated the Bears had hoped to bring back Jonathan Scott, but the addition of Bushrod may have altered those plans. Gabe Carimi, the first-round pick from 2011, and Webb could vie to start at right tackle.