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Bears sign free agent TE Bennett; DT Melton signs tender

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Associated Press
3/12/2013 10:31:24 PM
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bears insisted they would get Jay Cutler the help he needed. Clearly, they were serious.

The Bears addressed a huge hole on the offensive line by agreeing to a five-year contract with New Orleans Saints Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and filled another need by signing versatile tight end Martellus Bennett away from the New York Giants on Tuesday.

With two big moves as free agency kicked into gear, the Bears gave their quarterback protection on his blind side and another playmaker at tight end.

Considering they also hired an offensive-minded coach in Marc Trestman this off-season and already had a star receiver in Brandon Marshall and solid running back in Matt Forte, it appears Cutler now has the weapons he needs -- or at least more of them.

The Bears still might look to add to the offensive line in the draft. They also have some other issues to address after going 10-6 and missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years -- particularly on defence. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton seeking a long-term deal after signing his $8.45 million franchise tender and franchise icon Brian Urlacher hitting the market for the first time. Strong side linebacker Nick Roach is also a free agent.

But the Bears addressed their biggest concern by bringing in Bushrod.

A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that the deal is potentially worth about $36 million, with $17.7 million guaranteed. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the terms had not been released.

Bushrod was drafted in the fourth round by New Orleans in 2007. He started on the Saints' 2009 championship team and made the Pro Bowl the past two seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 315-pound tackle fills a major hole on a line that has ranked among the league's worst in recent seasons. He reunites with Bears offensive co-ordinator Aaron Kromer, his position coach in New Orleans.

With Bushrod in the fold, J'Marcus Webb could find himself in a reserve role or maybe competing at right tackle. Either way, it looks as though the revolving door that has also seen players such as Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams pass through ever since John Tait retired following the 2008 season is stopping.

That has to be good news for Cutler, who has taken about as big a beating as any quarterback since he arrived in a trade from Denver in 2009. Only Aaron Rodgers (168) and Ben Roethlisberger (152) have been sacked more than Cutler (148).

The Bears were also looking for an upgrade at tight end over Kellen Davis, so they're turning to Bennett, who spent his first four seasons in Dallas before signing a one-year $2.5 million contract with the Giants last March. He had career highs with 55 receptions, 626 yards and five touchdowns.

Martellus Bennett (Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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