On the NFL
9:08 PM CDT, March 13, 2013
Jermon Bushrods don't just happen.
Jermon Bushrods hardly ever are available in free agency.
Jermon Bushrods rarely are available in the draft after the first handful of picks.
So when Jermon Bushrod falls from the sky in March, and your starting left tackle gave up nine sacks and committed eight penalties last year, you pounce.
And you pay.
And you laugh.
Good fortune will wear jersey No. 74 for the Bears.
General manager Phil Emery used the term "perfect storm" to describe the circumstances that enabled him to reel in the big fish.
"When there is a high-quality left tackle available in the (unrestricted free-agent) market, that doesn't usually happen," Emery said. "When it does happen, nine times out of 10 they are going back to their own team. So chances of actually acquiring that player are mostly slim and none."
We can debate how good Bushrod has been. But it's fact he has been to two Pro Bowls. He has been a starter on a Super Bowl winner. And he has protected the quarterback's blind side on an offense that twice led the NFL in passing.
He is closer to Kobe beef than chopped liver.
Emery said Bushrod uses his hands as well as any left tackle in the NFL. He also said Bushrod's balance, ability to redirect and foot and body quickness are on a par with any of the top offensive tackles in this year's draft.
Three tackles — Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M, Eric Fisher of Central Michigan and Lane Johnson of Oklahoma — are expected to be top-15 picks. Joeckel and Fisher could be top-five picks.
The Bears, who own the 20th pick, never would have gotten a sniff at Joeckel, Fisher or Johnson. And they are the only bona fide, plug-and-play left tackles in the draft.
That is why Bushrod is a Bear.
"Most years you're not going to find a starting left tackle at 20," Emery said. "If we feel good that our team can win nine or more games on a consistent basis … when do you have a chance to draft a left tackle? So in terms of putting the resources out there from a dollar perspective, it was time to do it. There was a quality player there."
Since the late, great Jim Finks chose Jim Covert with the sixth pick of the 1983 draft, the Bears have used later first-round picks on four offensive tackles. Between them, Stan Thomas (22nd in 1991), Marc Colombo (29th in 2002), Chris Williams (14th in 2008) and Gabe Carimi (29th in 2011) have made zero Pro Bowl appearances.
That should not come as a surprise. Since 1993, every offensive tackle who has been initially selected to three or more Pro Bowls was taken in the first 13 picks, according to Tony Villiotti of draftmetrics.com. And only 16.7 percent of the offensive tackles taken in picks 14 through 40 have been initially selected to even a single Pro Bowl.
What happens is once the sure-fire left tackles dry up, teams start trying to create them. They reach. And they fail.
They do that because they are desperate for left tackles, and sufficient left tackles are not available. Once teams have Pro Bowl left tackles in their primes, they almost never let them leave.
In the 20-year history of free agency, only three previous left tackles under 30 who had played in at least two Pro Bowls signed with other teams. Will Wolford went from the Bills to the Colts in 1993. Jason Peters went from the Bills to the Eagles in 2009. And Jammal Brown went from the Saints to the Redskins in 2010.
Brown was an unusual case. He missed the 2009 season with an ACL injury and had been replaced by a player the Saints liked better — Bushrod.
Losing their left tackle hurt more for the Saints this time.
They started Tuesday over the salary cap and had until 3 p.m. to get under. They turned the trick by restructuring the contracts of linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith and cutting linebacker Will Herring.
"Jermon was in a unique situation in that they had a cap situation," Emery said Wednesday. "They were reconstructing players' contracts yesterday. As the UFA market hit, they were still doing players. That didn't give them as much flexibility as maybe they needed to sign him back. I can't speak for them, but it certainly was a factor in the reason he was available."
So a 315-pound man fell into Emery's lap.
And he couldn't stop smiling.
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