Chicago Bears Re-sign CB Al Louis-Jean
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
The Chicago Bears have locked up one of their three¹ exclusive rights free agents² in cornerback Al Louis-Jean. The financial terms of the deal haven’t been released yet, but it has been announced as a two-year deal. The 21-year old rookie corner was a surprise addition to the Bears roster this year, making the team after a mini-camp tryout. Louis-Jean not only wasn’t drafted but was bypassed during the priority undrafted free agent stage of the off-season as well. He had a solid preseason with two interceptions and nearly a third. Louis-Jean was released during final cuts, but quickly re-signed to the practice squad where he spent the first five weeks of the season before being called up to the 53-man roster when slot corner Isaiah Frey was released.
It was surprising to see a 6’1 corner with 4.5 speed go undrafted and then unclaimed as an UDFA, but Louis-Jean had an unusual college career. He was a 4-star recruit headed to Miami, but de-committed after head coach Randy Shannon was let go. He decided on Boston College and looked like a future shut-down corner in 5 starts as a freshman under HC Al Skinner. Louis-Jean wouldn’t start another game in college. He missed the entire 2012 season with a foot injury and then HC Al Skinner was fired before the 2013 season. Louis-Jean feuded with the new coaching staff and his sophomore season (2013) was marred with a suspension, minor injuries, and limited playing time. Most analysts thought Louis-Jean would transfer before the 2014 season since he still had two years of eligibility left, but he surprised everyone by declaring for the draft. His decision turned out bad at first, going undrafted and unsigned, but it worked out well for the Bears.
With almost no college experience I’m sure the Bears were planning on stashing Louis-Jean on the practice squad all year to develop his coverage skills, but the release of Isaiah Frey and injuries to Tillman, Hurst, and Jennings depleted the Bears secondary. After a few snaps in week 6, Louis-Jean was elevated to slot corner for the Bears week 8 match-up with the Patriots due to a Tim Jennings injury. It was a long day for Louis-Jean as he was repeatedly picked on by Tom Brady and gave up 7 catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. He bounced back with a strong performance in week 12, giving up only 1 catch against the Bucs in 38 defensive snaps.
Here is my take on Louis-Jean from my post on Bears free agents back in January:
CB Al Louis-Jean – Was thrown in the fire this year despite starting less than 10 games in college due to an injury and a coaching change. The 20-year old corner made some mistakes, but also flashed natural cover ability. Louis-Jean has great size (6’1, 200) and sub 4.5 speed. He has the potential to be a starting NFL corner in time, but needs to improve his technique and more importantly just get the developmental snaps that he missed in college. Not only was Louis-Jean not drafted, but he wasn’t even a priority free agent; he made the Bears on a mini-camp tryout, so he’s not going to cost much to keep. The minimal investment could pay off in a year or two if Louis-Jean can develop into a starting corner.
New Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio preferred tall aggressive corners in his time with the 49ers and Louis-Jean seems like a perfect fit for his coverage scheme which uses a mix of press and zone coverages. Expect more moves to come in the Bears defensive backfield with starting slot corner Demontre Hurst an exclusive rights free agent, veteran Charles Tillman a free agent, and 2-time Pro Bowl CB Tim Jennings a possible salary cap casualty.
¹ CB Demontre Hurst & LB DeDe Lattimore are the other two ERFAs
² An exclusive rights free agent (ERFA) is a player whose contract has expired and has three or fewer tenured years in the league. If his original team makes a contract offer at the two or three year veteran minimum, the player must return to his team. His original team must make a contract offer by the league deadline or the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. No draft pick compensation is awarded if a team loses an ERFA.