Jermon Bushrod has had a busy year.
He got married. He had a second child. He moved to a new city and bought a home there.
On Sunday, the Chicago Bears’ left tackle will add another milestone. He’ll head out to Soldier Field and, for the first time, play against his wife’s hometown team, the one he won a Super Bowl with right when his career took off.
Bushrod on Wednesday admitted to reporters it was tough for him that the New Orleans Saints let him go in free agency this offseason. He met his wife in New Orleans, reached the pinnacle of his profession there.
But he declined to talk about what precisely occurred between him and the Saints before he signed a Bears contract guaranteeing him $18 million in March. Instead, he insisted he was equally thankful for his time in New Orleans and his new gig with the Bears, now 3-1.
“They were just going in another direction, and that’s all good,” Bushrod said about the Saints, who are currently 4-0. “(Chicago) is just another opportunity for my family. ... It’s a blessing to be in this situation.”
While that may be the case for Bushrod, Saints fans who shudder that quarterback Drew Brees has already been sacked a dozen times this year aren’t calling the tackle’s departure a blessing.
The Saints drafted Bushrod out of Towson University in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. The unheralded pick appeared in only three games his first two seasons in New Orleans and started none.
But then starting left tackle and two-time Pro Bowler Jammal Brown had to miss the 2009 season because of hip and sports hernia injuries. Bushrod took over the starting job at left tackle, shielding Brees’ blind side as the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV that year.
The Saints subsequently traded Brown to Washington. Bushrod went on to earn Pro Bowl nods in 2011 and 2012.
He proved to be crucial to an offensive line that was among the best in the NFL at protecting its quarterback, allowing just 20, 25, 24, and 26 sacks on Brees in between 2009 and 2012.
“He was a mainstay,” Brees said about Bushrod. “He (hardly) missed a game in four consecutive years.”
When Bushrod became an unrestricted free agent in March, Chicago was in the market to revamp one of the NFL’s most porous offensive lines, a unit that had let quarterback Jay Cutler be sacked 35, 52, 23, and 38 times the previous four seasons.
The Bears in January had given their offensive coordinator job to Aaron Kromer, Bushrod’s old position coach in New Orleans. They then successfully targeted the 6-foot-5, 315-pound Bushrod, who liked that the Bears wanted to run a scheme similar to the one he learned in New Orleans.
“I was familiar with their offense,” Bushrod said. “It wasn’t a whole new learning process for me.”
Bushrod’s exit marked the second time in a year that New Orleans had lost a two-time Pro Bowler on the left side of the offensive line in free agency. Left guard Carl Nicks signed with Tampa Bay in March 2012, four months before Brees inked a five-year, $100 million contract extension with the Saints.
This season, Chicago’s offensive line has been much better at keeping quarterback Jay Cutler upright.
Cutler has been sacked six times, third-fewest in the NFL, operating behind Bushrod; left guard Matt Slauson, brought in this year from the New York Jets; center Roberto Garza, in his ninth season with Chicago; rookie right guard Kyle Long, a first-round draft pick; and rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, drafted in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech.
The analysis website Pro Football Focus ranks Bushrod 30th out of 51 tackles in the NFL who’ve participated in 75 percent of their teams’ snaps on offense after surrendering 12 quarterback hurries, three quarterback hits and one of the sacks on Cutler.
By comparison, his replacement in New Orleans, Charles Brown, ranked four spots lower, giving up the same amount of quarterback hurries, two fewer quarterback hits but one more sack.
First-year Bears coach Marc Trestman nonetheless credited Bushrod’s presence as one of the reasons Chicago had gotten off to a good start.
“He’s ... added to what already was a great locker room,” Trestman said. “He’s brought more character to it and obviously the understanding of what it takes to win a championship. We’re very, very lucky to have him.”
Meanwhile, Bushrod on Wednesday noted that the defense he was preparing to face in four days reminded him of one that helped him win his Super Bowl ring — one that prevented opponents from scoring, relentlessly pressured quarterbacks and created turnovers.
Though this Saints defense doesn’t blitz nearly as much as the one from a few years ago, it still confuses offenses by presenting them a plethora of looks, Bushrod explained.
Bushrod said, “That’s something that we need to continue to ... identify and communicate to the best of our abilities, ’cause they’re playing some good ball.”