Going into free agency the Bears biggest need was defensive end. GM Phil Emery struck fast and locked up a top 3 defensive end in Lamarr Houston on the first day of free agency and then top 10 free agent DE Willie Young a few days later. The Bears could probably use one more 3rd down pass rusher, but they can find that player in the draft or the free agent scrap heap. Defense end is no longer a priority.
Despite Emery signing five defensive free agents and re-signing two of the Bears own defensive free agents (Ratliff, Collins) the Bears still have a couple of holes on defense. It’s time for Emery and the Bears to switch gears and target a new position. The Bears could use a 3-technique DT, but they have Nate Collins who is solid with some upside at only 26 years old. They could use a safety, but have already signed two players at the position and are probably done till the draft. Their biggest need right now is a #2 corner.
Going into March corner was the Bears deepest position with 2-time pro bowl corner Tim Jennings, promising 3rd year player Isaiah Frey and recently signed veteran Kelvin Hayden. Every other defensive position needed more attention but after signing two defensive ends, two safeties, two defensive tackles, two linebackers, and no corners… Cornerback is now the Bears biggest defensive hole, specifically the #2 corner position across from Tim Jennings. With Jennings being barely 5’8 it limits the Bears options across from him. For the last few years 6’1 Charles Tillman has manned the position and I think the Bears will be looking for a corner with at least above average size (5’11+) in order to match up with some of the division’s taller receivers. Most of the top free agent corners have already been signed but there are a few guys still available who could step into the #2 corner position and upgrade the Bears defense:
Top Available Cornerbacks:
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Walter Thurmond (27, 6’0) – He’s already been linked to 5 teams and is visiting the Jags & 49ers over the next two days so the Bears will have to act fast if they have any interest in the guy who I think is the best long-term fit for the Bears. It’s risky since Thurmond has struggled with injuries and adderall, but when on the field he is the most talented corner still available and has pro bowl upside. His biggest flaw is a lack of straight-line speed, which isn’t really an issue in the Bears scheme.
Brandon Browner (30, 6’3) – He’s already been rumored to have deals in place with two different teams, so I don’t expect Browner to be on the market for long. He’s going to miss the first 4 games of the 2014 season due to his frequent off-field issues and he may be too much of a headache for the Bears to take on. Those off-field headaches will also drive his price down much lower than his talent warrants. If Browner can stay out of trouble he is exactly the big, aggressive, play-making corner the Bears need to replace Charles Tillman. I wouldn’t break the bank for Browner, but if he can be signed for around $2M per year, then I think he’s worth the risk.
Tarell Brown (29, 5’11) – Has been a very solid corner for the last three years (10.2 avg grade). Brown missed a little time with a rib injury last year, but returned in time for the playoffs and played very well in 2 of the Niners three playoff games including their loss in the NFC championship game. I’m not sure why there isn’t more interest on Brown as he seems like a good value pick to me. The Niners are offering 3 yrs for $10M, which seems reasonable and should be in the Bears price range.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (28, 6’2) – Serious issues with motivation and effort level. When DRC pays hard he is one of the best corners in the league, but more often than not it looks like he doesn’t give a s*!t out there. I wouldn’t be able to justify spending more than a few million on DRC, which is about a third of what he’s asking for.
Charles Tillman (33, 6’1) – I have yet to talk to a Bears fan that doesn’t want Tillman back. He may have lost a step or two but he plays with heart and has the best “fumble-punch” I’ve ever seen. Tillman is good for 5+ turnovers every year and even if he just played in sub packages, would provide leadership that was solely missed when he was out with an injury last season. I am rarely sentimental about Bears players, but Tillman has been one of my favorites for years and I hope Emery brings him back.