Best Remaining Free Agents
GM Ryan Pace did an admirable job filling many of the Bears roster holes via free agency, the draft, and signing undrafted free agents, but it would be naive to think that there still aren’t plenty of positions that could use more depth or even starting caliber players. Pace has stated his off-season goal of building legitimate competition across every position on both sides of the ball and has done that, but there are still positions that don’t have enough quality talent.
Over the next few months there will be plenty of veteran players released due to salary cap issues or to make room for promising rookies, so there will be more talent available on waivers than there is now but that doesn’t mean there aren’t useful players available today that could help the Bears in 2016 and beyond.
I’ve gone through the list of players available for the Bears on both sides of the ball and broke down the ones I think could have a legitimate shot of making an impact in 2016 or at least adding the competition Pace wants at each position. I’ve already covered the offensive free agents available and today I’m covering defensive free agents who could help the Bears year.
Here is my list of players at positions of need, who the Bears may want to take a closer look at before the start of training camp.
The Bears were able to add three defensive backs in rounds four through six of the draft, but all three project better at safety in the NFL, with the exception of maybe Deiondre Hall. They did add two corners with legitimate NFL potential as undrafted free agents, in Kevin Peterson (Oklahoma St) and Tavese Calhoun (Mississippi St), but neither player is ready to contribute right away in the secondary.
That leaves the Bears dangerously thin at corner with just starters Kyle Fuller, Tracy Porter, Bryce Callahan, and maybe Jacoby Glenn as their only competent contributors in week one of the 2016 season. With teams using three, four and even five receiver sets more often, the Bears still need more depth at the position. Luckily for the Bears there are a few players still available who could step in and upgrade their depth at the position right away.
CB Chris Culliver (6’0 | 190 | 4.45)
Tall corner who had his best seasons under Bears DC Vic Fangio in San Fran, but struggled last year after signing a big deal in Washington. The Redskins signed him to a lucrative 4-yr, $32M deal last season but he only played six games, struggling through most of them allowing a 126.7 passer rating against while being a non-factor against the run.
Culliver was also penalized too often and gave up multiple big plays. In his defense, Culliver was often used on an island in man-coverage which isn’t his strong suit but he actually played well in short and zone-coverage where he’s excelled throughout his career.
At only 27 years old and with the size to be a physical zone-corner back in Fangio’s scheme where he once excelled, the Bears could get a deal on a corner who has the talent to push Fuller for the starting gig or be an above-average sub-package asset. Despite a poor season last year, Culliver posted positive grades according to Pro Football Focus in all three seasons with the 49ers under Fangio.
The Bears have plenty of room under the salary cap still and reuniting Culliver with Fangio would give the Bears some much needed depth at corner, with the upside to earn a starting job if Fuller regresses or Porter gets hurt again as he has often during his career.
Culliver was a disappointment in his brief stint with the Redskins, but in his 20 starts over two years under Fangio’s tutelage, he had six interceptions, 30 pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and 92 tackles.
Here is my take on Culliver before he signed with the Redskins last season:
"Bounced back from an ACL injury in 2013 to finish as the 14th best corner in the NFL last season according to PFF. Culliver is a big, physical corner who is familiar with Vic Fangio’s scheme and could line up across from Kyle Fuller to give the Bears excellent size and physicality in the secondary. Culliver has had a positive grade from PFF in all three seasons he was on the field, but wasn’t a full-time starter until this past season. He has played his whole career under Fangio and new Bears DB coach Ed Donatell and could be reunited with them this season. Culliver could take the other starting CB spot across from Fuller allowing the Bears to move Jennings inside to the slot."
Unless the Bears are extremely confident in unproven assets like Jacoby Glenn, Sherrick McManis, and De’Vante Bausby… Signing a player like Culliver makes a ton of sense. The Bears have the financial ability to pull it off with ease, clearly have a need at the position, and Fangio has a familiarity with Culliver that should give the Bears brass the confidence to make the deal.
Next: More Cornerback Options