Tuesday, March 12, 2013 Updated: March 13, 5:32 PM ET
Bears' free-agent frenzy
By Jon Greenberg ESPNChicago.com
CHICAGO -- Odds are Martellus Bennett will love Chicago. Whether the city loves him back is entirely up to him.
Known for his eclectic tastes, the Chicago Bears' new tight end will have his fill of good restaurants, art galleries and lucrative opportunities to show off his expansive personality in Chicago.
No one ever signs with the Bears and laments his time here, at least off the field.
Fresh off a moneymaking one-year deal with the New York Giants, the 26-year-old Bennett turned a career year into a new multiyear deal with the Bears.
Bennett carries with him a spark that should endear him to a fan base and press corps who love characters. Brandon Marshall was an instant hit. Bennett's charming, carefully cultivated reputation as a funny Renaissance man includes his own self-proclaimed nickname -- the Black Unicorn -- not to mention the YouTube video of him rapping about Cap'n Crunch.
In the annals of nicknames, Black Unicorn is certainly unique. Bennett told reporters in training camp last year he was in tiptop shape and running hard down the field. Like a unicorn, I guess.
"You go out there and you see a big, black guy running down the field, it's usually me," he said.
As at least one Twitter wit noted, the big guy falling down on the field is usually Bears tight end Kellen Davis, who is now even more unnecessary than he was yesterday.
New Bears tight end Martellus Bennett will give Jay Cutler another target next season.
It's mean, but it's true. Or true enough to necessitate spending good money on a tight end as the free-agent bazaar kicked off Tuesday afternoon. General manager Phil Emery addressed two glaring needs, signing Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod.
Was this Emery's shopping list or QB Jay Cutler's wedding registry? If Emery announces that he signed two cake trays, then I'll be worried.
These deals were fun for Bears fans already desperate for change. And change will come because now Emery, cap specialist Cliff Stein & Co. just have to rearrange some contracts and cut some guys loose to stay under the salary cap.
While Bushrod is key to fixing the offense, Bennett is the big name and will be introduced to a frothing media Wednesday at Halas Hall. The jovial Bennett will have the fans and media eating out of his hands, as long as those hands catch passes better than his predecessor. No one likes the funny guy who stinks; just take a visit to "JWebb Nation" if you don't believe me.
I don't think that's going to be a problem with Bennett, who looks pretty close to being a sure thing and has all the attributes the Bears want in a tight end under new coach Marc Trestman's aggressive offensive style. ESPN's Free Agent Tracker ranked him fifth, while Pro Football Focus ranked him as the top tight end available.
No offense to Davis, but he was no Greg Olsen, the pass-catching tight end whom the Bears traded away because he didn't fit Mike Martz's scheme in 2011. Davis was hyped by Lovie Smith as being a No. 1 option type of tight end, but now Smith is unemployed and the Bears just spent millions on Bennett, who had 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns last season, all career bests while playing on a moderate one-year deal.
The Bears need Bennett in the worst way. There was a reason Cutler was so fixated on Marshall last year. Cutler didn't have anyone else he could trust, and the loss of Olsen, a reliable target under pressure, resonated on a weekly basis.
Last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Bears targeted a tight end on fewer passes (just 66) than any other team in the NFC and finished with the fewest tight end receptions (33) among any team in the NFL. And their yards after the catch were wack. The tight ends averaged 3.4 yards after the catch, 28th in the NFL. No, you weren't just imagining Davis dropping passes and falling down last season.
It took a village to teach us that the Bears' offense would never develop into a consistently dangerous unit under Smith's leadership, which is why Trestman, an offensive guru, was his unlikely replacement.
Notice how little attention was paid to Brian Urlacher's free agency. This team needs to focus on fixing the offense first, and Bennett was the first domino.
While Cutler's radio show was great, it's safe to say the Jay Cutler Experience hasn't lived up to expectations. If Trestman can't fix what ails Jay, it doesn't look good for the quarterback, who is playing for a new deal. To give Cutler a fair shake to break the bank, the Bears must eliminate the familiar excuses. These two signings were a good start.
As Tuesday stretched into the evening, it was announced that the Bears had signed Bushrod, late of the New Orleans Saints, the other big signing on the first day of free agency.
Bushrod fills the team's biggest need, a legitimate left tackle to replace J'Marcus Webb as Cutler's blindside blocker. For those who spend time examining the minutiae of line play, Webb probably wasn't as bad as his reputation, but it was time for the Bears to start protecting Cutler with more than projects and bargain veterans.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Bushrod will get $17.7 million guaranteed, a source told ESPN Chicago's Michael Wright, which makes him the highest-paid lineman in Bears history. It's tough to judge Bushrod on his past performance, which includes a Super Bowl and two Pro Bowls, because you don't know if Drew Brees made the lineman look better than he was.
Last year, the Saints' offensive line gave up 26 sacks, with a 4.9 percent adjusted sack rate, the seventh-best in the league, according to Football Outsiders. The Bears gave up 44 sacks with an 8.1 percent adjusted sack rate. Carlos Boozer could help.
Was Bushrod the reason Brees had time to throw? It's tough to say. It's very difficult to judge individual players, even left tackles, because of all the factors that go into a play. Brees is fantastic at getting plays off and avoiding pressure. Cutler is tough and has a great arm, but is prone to taking sacks and making dumb plays.
It's tough to believe in a Bears lineman -- homegrown or imported -- but if you're the Bears, and you don't want to pay Jake Long money, you take a Pro Bowl-caliber lineman who's 28 years old anytime, even if you're concerned Bushrod is mostly a product of his environment. Hey, I'll take a product of the Saints' winning environment over someone the Bears have developed any day, especially on Sundays.
Bushrod has an existing relationship with Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, who coached Bushrod in New Orleans. While coaches often have blind spots for "their guys," I can't imagine Kromer would vouch for a guy this early if he didn't see the tools that will help Cutler stay upright long enough to throw 20 times a game to Marshall.
Just kidding, Jay. With Bennett in tow, you'll have to throw to Marshall only 14 times a game.
What matters is that Cutler's new offense is better than it's been in his four up-and-down years in Chicago. Bennett can steal the show with his personality, but Jay is still the star. He asked for help, and he got it.
All and all, it was a good Tuesday in March. We have to wait a while before we judge how good it really was.