Ryan Pace’s Cornerback Dilemma
Ryan Pace will have some tough decisions to make at cornerback this spring.
There have been plenty of things that have gone wrong for the Chicago Bears this season, but there have been quite a few things that look promising as well. One of the most pleasant surprises of this season has been the play of the secondary.
If you told Bears’ fans at the beginning of the year that Quintin Demps would miss almost the whole season and Marcus Cooper would struggle so much he would find his way to the pine, fans would assume that the Bears’ secondary was a mess.
That hasn’t been the case, the Bears safety duo of Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos looks like they are coming into their own and thanks to the duo of Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, the cornerback play has been strong as well. This has given the Bears one of the top 10 pass defenses in the entire NFL, despite the fact that an anemic offense has kept the Bears’ defense routinely on the field.
Entering this offseason, the first secondary move the Bears will most likely make is releasing Cooper. He has not played well and has fallen out of the rotation. The Bears can save money for the 2018 cap if Cooper is gone, so that most likely will happen.
Bryce Callahan is a restricted free agent. Callahan has proven himself as an excellent slot corner, but he has had some struggles staying on the field. Ryan Pace is going to have to decide if Callahan is worth keeping on a multiyear deal with his injury history.
If Callahan’s price is reasonable, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be, the Bears would almost certainly bring Callahan back and hope that his injury issues are mostly behind him.
While those two decisions are more straight forward, the other two cornerback positions are far from easy choices. Fuller is in a contract year and has played outstanding football this season. He’s had moments where he shows signs of becoming a true shutdown corner.
But it doesn’t change the fact that Fuller is the same player that regressed throughout his rookie season and into his second season and missed his entire third season with an injury. The injury certainly didn’t seem that severe and it reached a point in the organization where some questioned Fuller’s desire.
Fuller appears to have turned the corner and has become a film rat in the process. But at the same time, Fuller is in a contract year and the Bears will have to wonder if they sign him to a multiyear deal if his motivation remains the same.
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Amukamara is also re-entering free agency. The Bears signed him to a one-year deal this past offseason, thinking he would pair with Cooper, but it was Fuller that stepped up opposite Amukamara. Prince has had his best season as a pro, but he has also dealt with injuries throughout his career which means investing in him is also quite a risky proposition.
If Pace decides both Fuller and Amukamara aren’t worth the money, that means he probably keeps Callahan and Cooper and tries to readdress the situation again via free agency and the draft, but that certainly opens the team up to regression at that position.
If the Bears keep Callahan (and again, why not?), keeping both Fuller and Amukamara is going to be a major hit on their cap space. While both Fuller and Amukamara have played well, do the Bears really see this duo as a tandem that’s worth spending $25 million per season to keep on the field? Because Fuller is going to fetch probably around $10-12 million and Amukamara will probably land a contract worth a little more than that per season.
Pace’s best plan will be to most likely keep Callahan in the slot, let Cooper walk and then keep one of the two corners and let the other one leave via free agency. If that’s the decision that you make, which one do you keep? Do you keep Fuller who may only be playing at this level because it’s a contract year and his previous three seasons left quite a bit to be desired? Or do you keep Amukamara who has been a far steadier player but has struggled to stay on the field?
Pace may go the safer route and sign Amukamara, but, at this point, the Bears shouldn’t be going with safe paths. They need to look at upside. Amukamara is steady, but isn’t going to improve much (if at all) beyond what he already is, which is a solid CB2 when he’s healthy.
Fuller, while probably a bigger risk, has shown more upside into developing into a CB1. If Fuller can continue to develop and he stays motivated and becomes a true shutdown corner in Chicago, that’s going to put the Bears secondary in a very strong position with Fuller shutting down WR1s across the league and Amos and Jackson contributing from the safety position.
Many of the Bears decisions as to who to keep and who to release are pretty cut and dry at this point, but what the Bears decide to do at the cornerback position is a tricky one that will greatly impact the team in 2018.