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PRO FOOTBALL: Bushrod will suit up for Bears

The emotional bonds Jermon Bushrod has formed in the city of New Orleans run deep. It’s the city where he met his fiancée, Jessica Mendez, and where they’ll be married on April 5. It’s where he bought his first house, and where his son, Jermon Jr., was born last June.

His first six years in the NFL, with the Saints, were full of plenty of memories—a Super Bowl victory after the 2009 season, a Pro Bowl selection two years later. After Tuesday, though, they’re now just that.

Bushrod, a King George native, signed a five-year, $36 million contract with Chicago Bears shortly after free agency began—a decision that is among the most difficult he’s ever made.

“At first, it was a real bittersweet situation, man,” Bushrod said by phone from New Orleans on Tuesday night. “I’m so emotionally invested in this city, so it was tough when I first realized that I won’t be playing here. It was just a shock that I’m not going to be around my boys. It’s just a totally different situation. It’s sad to leave, but this is what you work hard for, you know?”

Bushrod, 28, didn’t have much of a chance of returning to New Orleans. The Saints, like many teams, are in a salary cap crunch, and Bushrod began to realize last month that the team would not likely be able to afford him once he became an unrestricted free agent.

Still, he held out hope. For the first time, teams were able to contact players’ agents days in advance of the official start to free agency, and Bushrod waited around during the weekend hoping that his agents at Maryland-based Eastern Athletic Services would call to let him know the Saints could work something out.

“That was definitely my first priority,” Bushrod said. “At the end of the day, I had to make the best move for myself, and this just had to get done.”

Chicago, with new head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, seemed like a good fit. Bushrod started to hear word that the Bears were interested in signing him over the weekend, and his familiarity with Kromer, who served as the Saints’ offensive line coach for the past four seasons, was comforting.

Indeed, Kromer called Bushrod not long after he signed the contract, and that call gave Bushrod the impression that his former coach was the reason for the Bears’ interest.

“When everything was done, he was excited about it, I was excited about it,” Bushrod said. “You know, it’s gonna be good to reunite with him and see if we can’t put these [wins] together in Chicago and win Super Bowls.”

The Bears finished 10–6 last season, though they struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last eight games. That led to the firing of head coach Lovie Smith, who was in his ninth season with the team.

Trestman, a longtime NFL quarterbacks coach who was most recently the head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, was hired in January partly because of his familiarity with quarterback Jay Cutler.

Bushrod will likely replace J’Marcus Webb as the Bears’ starting left tackle, and he’ll assume a role on an offensive line that helped Matt Forte run for 1,094 yards last season and a rushing unit that ranked 10th in the NFL.

But there’s not much more Bushrod knows about his new team—or the city itself. New Orleans only once played in Chicago, a 27–24 loss to the Bears on a Thursday night in 2008, during his time with the Saints; coincidentally, Chicago will host New Orleans this season.

“It was freezing cold,” Bushrod recalled, dreading the change from the comfort of the Superdome. “It’s only for about two or three months, though. I’ll be OK with that.”

 

Taft Coghill Jr.: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

 

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