Bears rebuilding only on surface

Underneath, with key free-agent signings, GM Emery assembling foundation for winning now

Big yellow construction trucks in the parking lot outside his office greet Bears coach Marc Trestman every morning.

Giant mounds of dirt surround the Bears' headquarters. Part of the team's Lake Forest facility remains off limits as major renovations continue. As visitors arriving Wednesday were directed to the Walter Payton Center for a news conference introducing the Bears' newly signed free agents, clearly a rebuilding project was under way.

Don't fall for the easy metaphor.

It's good for the Bears that general manager Phil Emery isn't.

"I don't know any team where somebody has made the statement, 'Hey, we're in this to rebuild,' '' Emery said.

Emery obviously has been too busy to keep track of the Cubs' agenda, but his point is well-taken. Emery's bold moves depicted a plan designed to contend for a championship in five months, not years.

Signing Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and athletic tight end Martellus Bennett signaled the Bears moving into win-now mode whether their new coach has issued playbooks yet or not. Addressing the team's two biggest needs in the second straight offseason coup for Emery suggested an urgency that figures to shorten any grace period for Trestman. Of most significance, stabilizing the offensive line and adding another downfield weapon professionalizes an NFL offense for Jay Cutler, at last, as the quarterback enters a prove-it contract year even he sounded resigned to playing out during an interview on WMVP-AM 1000.

Let Cutler's No Excuses Tour 2013 begin when he returns for — gasp — his fifth season as a Bear with a roster talented enough offensively to project success could come down to how well Cutler plays. Admittedly, the same thought crossed my mind a year ago after the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall and elevated Mike Tice to offensive coordinator. But last season's steady disintegration of the offensive line and the disappearance of complementary receivers gave Cutler plausible deniability in the demise of former coach Lovie Smith.

No more crutches exist for Cutler. The Bears hired a quarterback whisperer as Smith's replacement and signed an elite left tackle and a fleet tight end whose hands aren't Ping Pong paddles. The real Jay Cutler finally can stand up — and stay upright for a change.

"Winning a championship is not on Jay,'' Emery countered. "Winning a championship is on the Chicago Bears. It's about us doing everything possible to upgrade the team in terms of personnel and our coaches and players working together.''

To use a term that defines Emery as much as those horn-rimmed glasses accountants everywhere envy, Wednesday's synergy cannot be overlooked. When the pro personnel side succeeds, the scouting folks benefit. Suddenly the Bears can approach April's NFL draft without a sense of desperation. When Emery announced the Bears were "open for business'' regarding the No. 20 draft selection, it foreshadowed potentially their wisest move in trading down to accumulate picks every aging roster needs.

As the two newest Bears prove, quality can be found beyond the first round.

Bushrod, a fourth-rounder out of Towson, called his choice a "no-brainer'' thanks in part to the presence of Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who developed him with the Saints. The disappointment Bushrod couldn't hide in the Saints not trying harder to re-sign him will dissipate. He becomes Trestman's John Tait, the marquee free agent signed for big money to give the first-year coach a leader solid in every way.

Bennett, perhaps the first free-agent signee praised for his taste in art, promises to be as showy as Bushrod is serious. Wednesday wasn't Bennett's last 15 minutes in Chicago. Martellus more, please. Besides the origin of the former second-rounder's "Black Unicorn'' nickname, we learned he is lactose intolerant, enjoys dinosaurs and Harry Potter and enjoys the zoo more than any Bears player since Michael Haynes. Imagine how much fun Bennett will have in town when he catches Cutler passes predecessor Kellen Davis never could.

Speaking of Davis, his biggest contribution of the past year came in helping clear $5.25 million of salary-cap space when he was cut Wednesday. Budget-wise, Emery acknowledged not having "a lot of room to wiggle'' but perhaps now he can concentrate on his own neglected free agents, starting with Brian Urlacher.

"A very, very capable player,'' Trestman said.

For the understated coach, that is an endorsement in neon lights.

The Bears will wait to see if a market develops, monitoring news such as Urlacher's flirtation with the Vikings — can you imagine Mike Singletary coaching No. 54 in purple, Bears fans? But at the Bears' price, if reasonable, a 35-year-old offering intangibles coming off a real offseason of conditioning belongs at Halas Hall.

Where, despite appearances, the Bears are being built to win sooner rather than later.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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