Bears nab left tackle, tight end as free agency begins

2013-03-12T20:30:00Z Bears nab left tackle, tight end as free agency beginsBARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer nwitimes.com
March 12, 2013 8:30 pm  • 

The Chicago Bears agreed to terms with T Jermon Bushrod on a five-year contract today. Also today, tight end Martellus Bennett agreed to a four-year contract with the Bears, leaving the Giants after one season, and defensive tackle Henry Melton signed his franchise tag tender at $8.45 million.

A two-time Pro Bowler, Bushrod has started 62 of 66 games in six seasons (2007-12) at left tackle for New Orleans after being selected by the Saints in the fourth round (125th overall) in the 2007 NFL Draft. He has also started all six postseason contests at left tackle, including Super Bowl XLIV. He has been named to the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons.

During his time as a starter for New Orleans (2009-12), the Saints offense allowed just 96 sacks, tied for fewest in the NFL, led the NFL in total offense (413.6 ypg) and was second in scoring offense (29.7 ppg). The Saints ranked in the top five in fewest sacks allowed in each of those four seasons.

The 6-5, 315-pound Bushrod has started all 16 contests in each of the last three seasons and anchored the Saints offensive line during their Super Bowl Championship season in 2009, starting 14 of 15 games played that year.

As free agency kicked off Tuesday, the Baltimore Ravens were paying the price for winning a Super Bowl.

The NFL champions lost two key components of their defense, linebackers Paul Kruger and Dannell Ellerbe. On Monday, they traded star receiver Anquan Boldin, a key to their title run, to San Francisco — the team the Ravens beat 34-31 to win the championship.

Kruger went north to division rival Cleveland for a five-year, $40 million deal, while Ellerbe headed south to Miami for $35 million over five years. Steelers receiver Mike Wallace joined Ellerbe in choosing the Dolphins.

The 49ers didn't go untouched, either. After giving up a sixth-round draft pick for Boldin, they saw tight end Delanie Walker leave for Tennessee.

San Francisco also confirmed the trade of backup quarterback Alex Smith to Kansas City, a deal that was known for weeks. The 49ers will receive the Chiefs' second-round pick, 34th overall, in this year's draft and a conditional pick in next year's draft.

The 32-year-old Boldin expressed surprise that he was traded.

"I thought this was the last stop of my career but regardless of the circumstances I came here to win a Championship ... and in February we came home Champions," he said on Twitter.

Ellerbe also tweeted as he moved on to the Dolphins.

"Just wanna take time to THANK GOD for being in this position I'm in! Before I make da BIGGEST DECISION in my life I just wanna thank him!!!" Ellerbe said.

Kruger led the Ravens with nine sacks and added 2½ in the playoffs and two in the Super Bowl. But he was too expensive for Baltimore to keep.

Wallace will give Miami the speedy receiver it has sought after getting just three touchdown catches from its wideouts last season.

Denver ensured that Peyton Manning will be the Broncos' quarterback through at least 2014.

The four-time MVP's contract called for a guaranteed salary of $20 million in 2013 and 2014 if he was on the Denver roster Tuesday. The final two years of his contract are worth $19 million each, but are not guaranteed.

Coming off multiple neck operations, Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns last season and was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year. He turns 37 on March 24.

Kansas City was busy finding support for Smith on both sides of the ball. The Chiefs agreed to a four-year, $16 million deal with tight end Anthony Fasano, a three-year, $12.6 million contract with defensive tackle Mike DeVito, and a three-year deal with Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel.

Teams also made cuts Tuesday. The biggest were Ryan Fitzpatrick in Buffalo and Nnamdi Asomugha in Philadelphia.

The Bills' starting quarterback was released 1½ years after getting a six-year, $59 million contract extension. Fitzpatrick struggled after signing the new deal, and the Bills went 6-10 in 2011 and in 2012.

Buffalo has not made the playoffs since 1999, the longest active streak in the NFL. For now, the Bills' No. 1 quarterback is Tarvaris Jackson.

Bills general manager Buddy Nix said: "Difficult decisions often have to be made and so we are moving forward. Our focus remains on adding another quarterback to our roster and we will continue to explore every option available to us."

Philadelphia released cornerback Asomugha, who two years ago got a five-year, $60 million contract with $24 million guaranteed when he left Oakland as a free agent. Asomugha was a flop in Philly, often victimized in single coverage.

Asomugha was scheduled to make $15 million next season, with $4 million guaranteed.

Earlier, Tony Gonzalez changed his mind and decided to return to the Falcons.

The NFL's career leader among tight ends with 1,242 receptions and 103 touchdowns said he was 95 percent certain he would retire after 2012, but the other 5 percent won out.

Hours before free agency began Tuesday, Gonzalez tweeted:

"The lure of being on such a great team and organization, along with unbelievable fan support was too good to pass up."

Also Tuesday:

—Defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, both implicated in the Saints' bounty scandal, agreed to restructure their contracts to remain with New Orleans.

The 31-year-old Smith and 30-year-old Vilma, both veteran defensive captains, would have taken up about $23 million combined in salary cap space without the redone deals.

—Minnesota finalized the trade of receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle, released 14-year veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield and re-signed right tackle Phil Loadholt. The Seahawks are sending their first-round and seventh-round draft picks this year plus their third-round selection in 2014 to the Vikings for Harvin.

—Tennessee agreed to terms with Buffalo guard Andy Levitre and Walker. Levitre, one of the top offensive linemen on the market, got a six-year deal worth nearly $47 million. He will replace Steve Hutchinson, who announced his retirement earlier Tuesday. Walker will help replace Jared Cook, whom the Titans declined to tag as a franchise player because he wants to be paid more like a receiver.

The Titans waived safety Jordan Babineaux and guard Mitch Petrus.

—Pittsburgh re-signed linebacker Larry Foote and wide receiver Plaxico Burress, and tendered offers to four restricted free agents: receiver Emmanuel Sanders, running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, all of whom could be starters in 2013, and nose tackle Steve McLendon. Burress should provide depth with the Steelers losing Wallace in free agency, but Burress struggled to get onto the field after returning to the Steelers last November.

Foote also came back to Pittsburgh last season and will stay at inside linebacker, where the other starter, James Harrison, was released this week. Foote got a three-year deal.

—Denver agreed to terms with guard Louis Vasquez, late of San Diego. According to STATS, he has allowed just 11 sacks and had one penalty during his time with the Chargers.

—Cincinnati re-signed defensive ends Robert Geathers and Wallace Gilberry. Geathers enters his 10th season with the Bengals, the longest tenure on the current roster.

"Robert brings us not just fine and consistent play, but leadership and experience," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He's a big part of our success with his own play, and I know our younger guys have talked about how he's made them more effective players."

—Houston cut receiver Kevin Walter, who was due to make $2 million in salary. Walter never became the threat opposite Andre Johnson that the team hoped for. He caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns in 2012.

—Carolina cut linebacker James Anderson, a seven-year veteran who set a franchise record in 2011 with 174 tackles.

—San Diego released 11-year veteran tight end Randy McMichael and signed kicker Nick Novak to a four-year contract; the New York Jets cut nose tackle Sione Po'uha and restructured the contract of receiver Santonio Holmes; and Arizona re-signed safety Rashad Johnson to a three-year contract.

—Indianapolis agreed in principle on contracts with tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Lawrence Sidbury, guard Donald Thomas, cornerback Greg Toler and linebacker Erik Walden. Each of the deals is pending a physical.

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