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With the start of free agency right around the corner (March 10th), I’m going to be breaking down a few free agent options for the Chicago Bears at every position. You can access the positions I’ve covered so far via the links below and will be covering cornerbacks today.
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The Bears still have a few important decisions to make on their cornerback group but have already decided to bring back two young corners in Al Louis-Jean and Demontre Hurst. The big decision still remaining is whether or not to give Charles Tillman another year or two to see if he still has something left. As a big Tillman fan, I hope they do it, but I’m not sure how much football sense it makes. Special teams standout Sherick McManis is also a free agent, but he has struggled to stay healthy and didn’t play up to his special teams “ace” reputation last year. Pro Football Focus had McManis as the 5th best kick/punt coverage guy on the Bears and one of the worst in the NFL last year. I’d be surprised if the Bears brought him back based on his tape last year. As part of this series I will be listing the Bears internal free agents at each position with links to posts I did earlier this off-season on whether the Bears should keep that specific player.
Below I will be listing free agent corners who I think could help the Bears in 2015 and beyond. These aren’t necessarily rankings of the top free agents at the position, but players I think the Bears should target based on scheme fit, salary, and future potential. I’ve broken each position down to four parts: the big ticket signings, starters, young players with starter potential and depth players. At the end of the post, I’ve made my recommendation on which players I think the Bears should target at the cornerback position.
Free Agent Breakdown:
Cornerback – Bears Free Agents
Al Louis-Jean (update: re-signed to 2-year deal)
Demontre Hurst (update: re-signed to 2-year deal)
Cornerback – Current Situation
The Bears have signed their two youngest free agent corners already in Al Louis-Jean and Demontre Hurst. Those two players combined with last years 1st round pick Kyle Fuller give the Bears three promising young corners to develop over the next few seasons. The Bears depth is pretty well established now, but the starters are a bit of a question mark because of uncertainty about what scheme the Bears are going to run.
As far as last year’s starters go, 2-time Pro Bowl corner Tim Jennings is coming off his worst season with the Bears and has a sizeable cap number, while Charles Tillman is a free agent and may not even be brought back next year.
Based on the scheme that new DC Vic Fangio ran in San Fran, he has preferred big corners who have the ability to play press coverage at the line and then drop into zone coverage. Charles Tillman in his prime would be a perfect fit for that scheme which could lead to him being re-signed. Tim Jennings, on the other hand, is a bad fit for Fangio’s scheme which could lead to a trade of Jennings pre-draft or an outright release. Most of Jennings roughly $6M salary this season is dead money ($5M) so I would be surprised if the Bears ended up releasing him for just about $1M in cap space. Another option would be moving Jennings to the slot which would open up a hole on the outside even if Tillman is re-signed.
The corner position is definitely in flux right now. Do they bring back Tillman? If they do, does he play corner or safety? Does Jennings get released despite a $6M cap hit? Or maybe moved to the slot or traded? I could see the Bears signing 1-2 free agent corners and/or selecting a young corner or two in the draft. It’s one of the biggest question marks on the team so my list will have a wide range of options.
Cornerback – Free Agent Options
* There are better and more expensive options than the one’s listed below, but I can’t realistically see the Bears going after guys like Revis, Cromartie, Tramon Williams, or Byron Maxwell who are all rumored to be asking for $10M plus per season.
CB Kareem Jackson – 26, Texans (6’0 | 196): After being considered a 1st round bust for the first two seasons of his career, Jackson has finished two of the last three seasons graded as one of the top 12 corners in the league according to Pro Football Focus. He has played both outside and in the slot and would give the Bears the flexibility to move Tim Jennings to the slot as they planned on last year before Charles Tillman was injured. Jackson won’t be cheap, but good young corners are hard to find.