Chicago Bears – 2016 Potential Free Agent Targets (Defense)
S Rashad Johnson, Cardinals – One of the most underrated safeties in the league and a perfect fit for what Fangio looks for at the position. Johnson is versatile enough to play deep as a free safety or in the box as a strong and has even played some corner for the Cardinals. He can cover backs, tight ends, and most slot receivers while hitting with authority against the run. Johnson should probably be higher on this list.
With the 2nd serious knee injury to Tyrann Mathieu (Honey Badger) the Cardinals may not be willing to let Johnson test the market. Living in AZ, I’ve seen the Cardinals more than any team but the Bears and Johnson would be the best safety on the Bears roster from the day they sign him and a good combo with Adrian Amos.
FS Tashuan Gipson, Browns – Last off-season Gipson would have been on the top of most free agent lists after 6 interceptions, a league leading 158 interception return yards, and a Pro Bowl nomination despite only playing in 11 games. Unfortunately Gipson’s stock has sunk with the rest of the Browns sorry organization, but he is just 25 yards old and already has two very solid seasons under his belt.
Gipson’s struggles last year could work in the Bears favor if it drops the cost and interest in signing Gipson. He’s more talented than any safety on the Bears roster (not saying much) and could get back to Pro Bowl level in the right environment.
SS David Bruton, Broncos – A former 4th round pick in 2009, Bruton entered the league as a safety prospect with ideal size (6’2 | 219) and athleticism (4.40 | 19 bench reps | 41.5″ vertical | 11′ broad) but very raw safety skills. He made his mark early in his career as a special teams ace but has developed over the years into a reliable safety for the Broncos.
Bruton still struggles in man coverage occasionally but is above average in the deep zone and a sure tackler against the run. Obviously Bears HC John Fox is familiar with Bruton from his time in Denver and Bruton’s versatility to play either strong or free safety should appeal to DC Vic Fangio.
OLB Nick Perry, Packers – The former first round pick (28th overall) in 2012 has been a disappointment for the Packers so far. Despite showing an elite burst off the line of scrimmage and the speed (4.64) to chase down QBs, Perry only had 3.5 sacks last year. He also only started one game which was the fewest in his four years in Green Bay.
Perhaps it’s just a bad scheme fit for Perry in Green Bay? Or maybe he’s just a bust? Either way, I think it would be worth a low-risk contract offer from the Bears to see if a change in scheme could unlock the natural pass rush skills Perry showed in college. Plus it would be fun to watch a former Packers 1st round bust play well for the Bears.
DE Tony Jerod-Eddie, 49ers – The Bears reportedly had interest in signing Jerod-Eddie last off-season, but he stayed with the Niners for a better chance at playing time. It didn’t work out great for either team as Jerod-Eddie only started two games for the Niners and the guy the Bears signed instead, Ray McDonald, was kicked off the team before playing a game.
Jerod-Eddie has ideal size (6’5 | 300) and athleticism (4.96 40-time) but has never produced on the field like you’d expect for a guy with his skill-set. He is only 25 though and was a development project of Bears DC Vic Fangio while he was with the Niners.
Jerod-Eddie still has the ability to be an impact player at DE, but sloppy technique and an inconsistent effort level have held him back. Reuniting him with former coach Fangio could work out well for both sides.