Jermon Bushrod: Upgrade or Side Step?

Analyst Ben Stockwell weighs in on Chicago's decision to sign Jermon Bushrod as a replacement for J'Marcus Webb at left tackle - is it a coup or have the ...

| 4 years ago

Jermon Bushrod: Upgrade or Side Step?

In a busy first day of free agency the most contentious signing on the PFF Twitter timeline was without doubt the buzz and discussion around the Bears signing of former New Orleans Saints left tackle Jermon Bushrod to replace J’Marcus Webb on Jay Cutler’s blindside.

On the surface, and at the simplest level, this appears to be an absolute slam dunk, no-brainer upgrade for the Bears. They’ve just secured a two-time Pro Bowl left tackle to replace a tackle who has been prone to some absolutely dreadful performances in his two seasons as the Bears’ left tackle. However, as you’ll know if you were following twitter last night, we here at Pro Football Focus don’t view the move as such a clear cut upgrade worthy of the Bears’ investment.

As one of the most intriguing and debated signings of the first day, I felt it was worth a closer look to see things from both sides and see how this deal pans out now and the factors to consider moving forward.

What Do The 2012 Grades Say?

If you look on the surface of our Premium Stats section you’ll see the grades that were quoted by many on twitter last night to illustrate just how close the full body of work these two put forth was last season. In terms of overall grade they were separated by little more than 2.0, and just three positions in our grading ranks for the regular season. Bushrod weighed in at 44th with an overall grade of +1.5, with Webb just behind in 47th and -0.8. Head to our Signature Stats section and you’ll see a similar story, with Webb slightly ahead in terms of Pass Blocking Efficiency at 94.2 (43rd overall) and Bushrod trailing just behind at 93.6 (55th overall). Our opinion goes further than just taking the overall picture, but at this broad brush stroke level, and for their full seasons, these two are not separated by much at all.

Dig a little deeper though, and go game by game with the grades and you see even more just how similar these two were last season — each had a solitary game (Webb in Week 1, Bushrod in Week 11) around a +5.0 grade, which is extremely good for an offensive tackle, while they also each had a trio of games of -2.5 overall or below. At least in 2012 you can clearly see that in grading terms these two are playing to a very similar level.

The Development Curve

However, you don’t just hand out contracts based on the previous season — contrary to the weight of players in the past getting paid for “contract year” performances — you get paid based upon what you have done in the past and how that projects forward to the duration of the contract the team is looking to negotiate. So the Bears won’t just have been looking at what Bushrod and Webb did in 2012, they will have looked at their development in recent seasons (with new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer providing the knowledge on Bushrod’s development) and how they think that projects forward for the upcoming three to five seasons. In terms of Bushrod’s development as a four-year starter in New Orleans you can see a clear upward drive in annual overall grades, but within each season the same inconsistency has remained. His pass protection grade had improved every single season as a starter until 2012 where a shoddy start to the season (-7.5 after three weeks) handicapped him for the rest of the campaign. Bushrod hit his high watermark in 2011 with a +14.0 overall grade and a +8.1 pass protection grade (including playoffs), and it is that Bushrod the Bears will be hoping they have signed.

Now, that development curve is clearly there for Bushrod, a product of Towson State, but in Webb the Bears had their own offensive tackle from a lower division college (West Texas A&M) who was toeing a clear upward trend in his performance level. Webb was thrust almost immediately into the starting lineup as a rookie in 2010, but on the right side of the Bears’ offensive line. This is a common development ploy for teams with young offensive tackles, but if they are unfamiliar with the right side and don’t naturally have the footwork to switch sides (a concept Sam Monson explored with help from current NFL players during last season) then you won’t see the best from them and Webb clearly struggled with the right side and the whole step up in competition to the NFL level. However, since that dismal rookie year (-35.0), when just about every start was a disaster, he has improved season by season. In 2011, his first season back on the left side of the line, he showed his potential with a series of positively graded games (three of +2.0 or above) and an improved, though still poor, overall grade (-16.2). This season Webb made similar strides, and for much of the season was not in the least bit of a problem for the Bears. However, what blighted Webb, and ensures that he retains his most vocal of critics, is that he was still prone to some dreadful performances in pass protection and unfortunately for him they tended to come in front of a national audience.

That final point on Webb, and the next hurdle in his development, is the crucial deciding factor in whether you perceive he deserved another year to prove he could continue to develop, or whether you think it was time for the Bears to move on. If you think that isolated performances like the dressing down he got from the Green Bay Packers (-3.0 overall, 2 sacks and 2 hurries allowed) in Week 2 and the dismal performance in San Francisco (-6.4 overall, 3 sacks and 5 hurries allowed) preclude you from being a starting left tackle, then the other 14 games would need to be exceptional to convince you he gets another year. However, if you view eliminating those games as the next step in his development, and he has cut them down in each of the last two seasons, then you might be willing to give Webb another season. With a fan base baying for a change of plan at left tackle it would’ve been a very brave move to leave Webb in place for the 2013 season.

So, A Worthwhile Move Or Not?

The question, however, is not entirely whether Webb needed to be replaced or whether Bushrod at that price is the right man to replace him. As much as Webb is prone to dreadful isolated performances, so is Bushrod. In the first three weeks this season he surrendered 20 pressures (1 Sk, 4 Ht, 15 Hu), and back in 2011 (his best season) he had three terrible games in pass protection that have all the hallmarks of Webb’s worst games. He surrendered eight pressures (-4.5 pass protection, 1 Ht, 7 Hu) to the Bucs in Week 6, six pressures (-3.1, 1 Sk, 5 Hu) to the Rams in Week 8 and 10 pressures (-4.3, 1 Sk, 4 Ht, 5 Hu) to the 49ers in the Saints’ playoff defeat. Those are single-game performances eerily reminiscent of Webb’s worst games in 2012.

The key difference between these two is that Bushrod has reached his high watermark in 2011 and Webb, with fewer years as a starter, has not done that yet. This statement by the Bears suggests that they do not have the patience for Webb to finish his development, or the belief that he will. Right now this appears to be a marginal upgrade for what appears to be a fairly large free agent contract.

However, at the end of the day we’re all waiting for the 2013 NFL season to kickoff to find out how this deal plays out for Chicago. Until we see Bushrod in a Bears uniform protecting Jay Cutler’s blindside and trying to spark Matt Forte in the running game we won’t know for sure what value the Bears have got out of this deal.

Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben




| Director of Analysis

Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.

  • Mike O

    Not loving the move. Webb was developing nicely, but who knows what the Bears plans are for him. Chicken legs Carimi might be gone by season start and Webb can be moved back to RT.

    • Stu Miller

      I think there is no doubt that 1 of 2 things are going to happen. Webb and Carimi will compete at RT (and I think Webb wins) or Webb gets the job and they have Carimi compete at RG*. I am a lot closer to calling Carimi a total bust than I am Webb at this point. And I would still like to see the Bears sign a C who can start and move Garza to LG..

      * even if they resign Lance, he is going to be a question mark.

    • Stu Miller

      I think there is no doubt that 1 of 2 things are going to happen. Webb and Carimi will compete at RT (and I think Webb wins) or Webb gets the job and they have Carimi compete at RG*. I am a lot closer to calling Carimi a total bust than I am Webb at this point. And I would still like to see the Bears sign a C who can start and move Garza to LG..

      * even if they resign Lance, he is going to be a question mark.

      • BigBearsFan

        If Mike Tice were still coaching, Webb(his protege)is still at LT. Now that Kromer is coaching the line, he gets to bring in his protege. I also believe the only reason JWebb is still on the team is due to the Bears salary cap situation. Besides, I believe JCutler and maybe a few other Bears have no confidence in JWebb.

  • interested

    i cant believe how high webb graded…. his failures over the last 2 years have been so spectacular that it sticks out in my mind much more than any of the games he had that he wasnt really noticed…. is cutlers ability to avoid the pass rush helping webb’s numbers… i gues i would have to understand your grading system better

  • Daniel Jones

    Thing is, at the moment it isn’t Bushrod in Webb out, it’s just Bushrod in. If the Bears slide Webb to RT then there is a chance that both tackles are improved by this move.

    • Stu Miller

      Completely agree. Webb is not a bust yet if he can move to RT and be successful. If he can (and Carimi can be RG or even a decent backup), the OL got multiples better with one move.

  • taospan

    I believe this piece- and the PFF O-Line metrics ignore a huge consideration when comparing Webb and Bushrod. The Bears gave Webb a ton of help from adjacent linemen, chip blocks, etc – they held his hand on every down possible. They knew he couldnt handle a one on one assignment. This was not at all the case for Bushrod.
    I don’t know how you would quantify this difference – if the metrics attempt to do so I’d love to know how. If they don’t you’re comparing a cheeseburger to a hot dog.

    • Silver12345


      Webb’s “progress” each year coincides directly to the increased amount of help he gets as the season goes on.
      They start him off by himself … he can’t handle the job. Matthews makes him look like he’s standing still. So they help him out a little more and he does a little better.
      Then the Niners and their speed rushers come along and once again he looks like he’s playing in quicksand.

      After that, they constantly brought help to his side … which also, not coincidentally, makes the offense even less efficient than normal. And all of a sudden, he’s “playing much better”.

      I don’t watch a ton of Saints games, but I’d be shocked if the Saints had to help Bushrod anywhere near as much.

      In fact, I’d suggest that it’s likely they put him out there on his own most of the time … primarily because he IS pro bowl caliber.

      • MTCityHunter

        Saints fan here. Bushrod requires significant help on the edge to excel. The Saints chip and help out a TON on the edges, and when they do, he’s been good. They rarely left JB on his own, and most of the time when they did leave him on an island (or were simply forced to, for example how S.F. repeatedly brought stunts inside to occupy the help), Bushrod got killed.

        He’s a solid T, but not real deserving of those probowls (especially in 2012). He’s solid at funneling pressure upfield, but will never stonewall anyone, and gets abused by the better pass rushers, especially speed guys. Cutler had better be prepared to get rid of the ball quickly and step up in the pocket. If he tries to get OUT of the pocket when things break down, it won’t be pretty with Bushrod back there.

        The Bears got a good solid OT. Definitely an above average starter. Metrics aside, he will be significantly better than Webb IMO. But having watched him for 4 years, its pretty obvious to me that the Bears overpaid significantly for his services.

        Always seemed to be a good guy though. I could be wrong if he continues to develop. I wish him the best in Chicago.

        • MTCityHunter

          Also, to be clear, I’d have preferred the Saints kept him, but not at anything approaching that price.

      • Aaron Hart

        Go watch the Saints Vs 9ers playoff game from 2 years ago, it’s on youtube (shhh)….Bushrod was getting help on nearly half the passing plays from another lineman. Not just a TE or RB, another OL and not just a chip, a straight up double teams. Whereas Webb against the same team (another game thats on youtube) got no help, at all.

    • Stu Miller

      Absolutely on the help part. If Bushrod does not need as much, it makes the Bears offense much more dangerous than with Webb at LT. This move also allows Webb to go to RT or be a Swing which also improves the line. Plus it gives them a lot more freedom int he draft.

      And looking at what guys like Loadholt (RT) and Cherilus (RT) went for, I don’t think the Bears really overpaid much if any. I think OL, in general, may have just increased in price this year. Maybe a supply and demand issue.

      Time will tell but I think this was a smart move.

    • Paul

      Webb getting lots of help is a total myth.

      Look at the tape from the near the end of the season, when he was performing his best. Hardly gets any help at all.

      • Silver12345

        I’ve watched each Bears game from this past season many many times … and you’re just simply wrong.

      • Aaron Hart

        You’re correct sir. People let their blind hate for Webb get in the way of facts.

    • Aaron Hart

      You sir are wrong…I just found the Saints vs 49ers 2011 Divisional game and last years
      bears vs 9ers game on youtube and did a breakdown of every
      play…Bushrod got help from Carl Nicks or Jason Stithcomb who’s an OT
      that lined up at FB behind Bushrod 25 out of 49 passing plays. Whereas Webb didn’t get help…at all…. in the first half (saving the 2nd half for tomorrow…Feel free to look it up and do the same, watching them back to back really opened my eyes on just how awful the blocking scheme was.

      • Jacob

        Bushrod received help 34% of the time in 2012. Webb received help 75% of the time. Instead of looking at one game look at an entire season.

        • Aaron Hart

          How much of that was a straight up double team from his LG or an extra tackle? And how much was it merely a chip from a TE or RB? San Fran is a good measuring stick as to help given as they are one of, if not the, top team when it comes to getting to the QB. It tells me that Bushrod got better help against the games most elite pass rusher while Webb got none. It’s really no fault Bushrod that he was given a better chance to succeed against Smith nor is it Webbs fault that he was set up for failure but it is what it is. Bushrod got straight up double team help from one of the best OGs in the league while Webb got a chip here and there vs Aldon Smith. If they switched teams and blocking schemes I truly believe Webb would have graded out better than Bushrod. When going 1v1 Webb held up better than Bushrod did.

        • Silver12345

          Some people just can’t face facts Jacob.

  • eli

    Its funny how your article does not support your point of view. I read all of your articles and I have lost some respect for you after reading this one. You say that there isn’t much of an upgrade between Busrod and Webb you even say Phil Loadholt is better but you couldn’t be more wrong. Stats don’t tell everything, PFF doesn’t take into account that the saints attempted over 670 passes to 370 rushes. Vikings 483 pass attempts to 486 rushes. Chicago bears 485 pass attempts to 470 rush attempts. Against the saints a pass rusher knows they are not going to run the ball and more often then not they will not leave additional blockers. So pass rushers really can completely focus on beating 1 man to get to Bress there really is no running threat. When teams play the Vikings they know there is a running threat so if a play action pass is called pass rushers must respect the run so they slow down giving Phil Loadholt an easier task of blocking the opposing pass rusher. Even with all the help the bears gave Webb he still couldn’t block a guy. I watched every bears game and I can say there where a lot of plays where Webb was beat but the other guys where beat quicker and Cutler ran out the Pocket which gave Webb better stats. With the run threat the bears have and a more balanced offensive attack Bushrod will be great LT for the bears because guys will have to slow down due to the run threat making it easier for Bushrod. PFF doesnt take that into account so get your facts straight!

  • brett

    If Webb is equal to Bushrod, then the Bears should trade Webb to the Saints so he can be their left tackle……because according to you he’s about equal, right?
    I’ll place a bet that the Saints don’t make that trade.

  • Freeman Student

    The signing of Jermon Bushrod is an obvious upgrade for the Bears in several ways. J’Marcus Webb has been brutally awful the past two years, and I’m with the bears in thinking he will not be getting much better. I’m not saying this signing will completely solve all of our problems on the offensive line, but it will certainly help. On top of that, having a player who has a superbowl ring and who is coming off two consecutive pro bowl appearances will certainly boost our team morale, especially on the o-line.

    • Big Swede

      1- JWebb was NOT brutally awful. As stated in the article, his 2 worst games came on national TV, and while he may have been brutally awful in those 2 games, he improved immensely by seasons end.

      2- The Bears have NEVER indicated an opinion that Webb “will not be getting much better” as is YOUR thinking. If they thought “J’Marcus Webb has been brutally awful the past two years,” why in the world would he still be on their roster?

      3- Team morale does not come from signing players who obtained accolades on other teams from previous seasons. Morale comes from winning and bonding as a winning team.

      4- Pro Bowl appearances come from a combination of votes by fans, players and coaches. They DO NOT indicate that these players are the BEST players in the NFL. For the record, Jermon Bushrod was not the starter in the 2011 Pro Bowl and was a replacement for the REAL guy in 2012.

      “Bushrod will replace San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley at the Pro Bowl.”

  • Jack

    I don’t see how the stats support the opinion that these guys are equal. You say Bushrod’s 3 worst games last season, he allowed 20 pressures including 1 sack during 137 dropbacks. That’s 15% pressures allowed and 0.7% sacks given up. Webb’s 2 worst games last season he allowed 12 pressures including 5 sacks during 49 dropbacks. That’s 25% pressures allowed and 10% sacks given up. Those numbers aren’t “eerily similar”, they are miles apart.

    • justsaying

      Brees > Cutler ?

      • Jack

        That’s fine, but also completely negates any comparative statistical analysis between Bushrod/Webb, which is the aim of this article.

      • Daniel Lawson

        Brees isn’t as elusive as Cutler either… nor did Bushrod have to face two of the best pass rushers in the NFL twice a year

  • Your Boy Chase

    While Bushrod is replacing Webb at LT he isn’t replacing Jamarcus on the roster. The Bears still have a chance to develop Webb . Also, let’s not forget everybody on the Saints had a down year with the absence of head coach Sean Payton. The first 3 games for Bushrod don’t mean much to me because that coaching staff was missing their two best offensive minds. The team finished 7-4 and Bushrod was much better during that stretch.

  • ChiSaintFan

    Everyone forget’s that Bushrod did benefit from Brees quick release and offensive schemes that rolled to the right AWAY from the left tackle protection. Webb was also affected by his QB. Most Bears fans constantly complained that Cutler held the ball too long that resulted in a lot of hits on QB and forced throws. Not saying Webb is better but considering how much better the Saints vertical game is there wasn’t the significant statistical disparity you would expect. Like everything else, time will tell.

  • Justin

    Another thing to consider when evaluating Bushrod’s performance last season is that he had shoulder surgery last offseason. Perhaps that along with the Saints bounty scandal contributed to his slow start.

  • Jcut06

    Terrible read. If this is indicative of your analysis, i’ll find another source form now on.