By Chris Emma–
(CBS) Jermon Bushrod’s locker stall sits in the near corner at Halas Hall. Walk through the entrance and it’s out of peripheral view, obscure from plain sight unless you choose to notice.READ MORE: New ILogin Verification System Is Locking Out Illinoisans Trying To File Unemployment Claims
On Monday, the 31-year-old Bushrod cleaned that locker out and prepared for an offseason of uncertainty. A two-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Bushrod started just 12 games and was benched early in the season in favor of Charles Leno.
The most challenging year of Bushrod’s nine-year NFL career came to a close with the cleaning of that locker stall.
“There just comes a point in time where this business side of this game will catch up to you,” Bushrod. “Sometimes, you might get put in situations you don’t like, that you don’t agree with, but at the end of the day, I was in the same situation I dealt with the same stuff.”
In 2009, Bushrod ascended as a rising star on the Saints’ offensive line. He became a player the team couldn’t leave on the bench. Jamaal Brown, a Pro Bowl tackle just the year before, was moved to Washington that June, and New Orleans moved forward with Bushrod at the position.
Brown, before his exit, and the Saints’ offensive linemen were supportive of Bushrod, then a young player looking to find his place in the NFL. Such a moment is fresh on Bushrod’s mind as he dealt with adversity this season.
Bushrod saw that he couldn’t pout around Halas Hall. He had to pay it forward to his replacement and help Leno grow.
“Probably the biggest role model I have right now,” Leno said earlier this season. “The guy is a true professional. I look up to that.”READ MORE: Dolton Police Involved In Incident Where Shots Were Fired On Bishop Ford Freeway
Helping a young player through transition wasn’t easy to do. Bushrod’s a competitve person who wanted to win back his spot. Bushrod’s lingering back injury and shoulder pain opened the door for Leno, and he took full advantage.
Still, Bushrod battled through a tough situation and embraced his opportunity to serve as a mentor. He was a constant for Leno, right tackle Kyle Long and the rest of Chicago’s young offensive line.
“I would be doing a disservice to this league if I didn’t find a way to handle it the way older vets in my position handled it,” Bushrod said. “When I was coming up, I had a lot of guys I could lean on who would help me out in tough times. As frustrating as it is individually for me, I had to put my competitiveness aside, put my ego to the side and realize this is a business, this is the situation that was going on now, and all I could do was help the process.”
Later in the 2015 season, Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase made Bushrod the team’s eligible sixth lineman, lining up as a tight end in running situations. It’s a minimal role reserved for backups, but Bushrod embraced it. The chance to be on the field meant a lot.
Now, the Bears must make a decision on Bushrod, who has become expendable with two more years left on his contract. Retirement remains an option if Bushrod so chooses, though he hopes to play at least two more years of football. On Monday, none of that was on his mind.
Bushrod cleaned out his Bears locker for perhaps the last time. Emotions ran through the big offensive tackle, whose Pro Bowl career may enter a new chapter. He left Halas Hall holding his head high, knowing he paid if forward.
“It’s tough,” he said. “I’ve grown close to the guys here. I love this organization and everything it’s about. We don’t really know how it’s going to shake out, but we’ll see how the future works out. Either way, I’ve cherished my time here. I’ve worked — worked hard, and that’s all you can do.”MORE NEWS: Chicago Weather: Cool Changes