As Bears claim 'pretty aggressive' talks with Kyle Fuller, a deeper look at their cornerback situation


As Bears claim 'pretty aggressive' talks with Kyle Fuller, a deeper look at their cornerback situation

INDIANAPOLIS — It would be out of character for someone whose prime directives include ensuring that what’s said in Halas Hall stays in Halas Hall. But you do wonder how much negotiating Bears general manager Ryan Pace was doing through the media this week.

Not really, because Pace is clearly saying exactly the same things to agents for cornerback Kyle Fuller (and Malcolm Butler, and Trumaine Johnson, and ...): that “your client is a really good player, the Bears want him, but the draft is cornerback-heavy and there are other options, so let’s stay on Earth with those contract numbers.” And if he’s talking indirectly to Fuller, he’s mentioning to the media, that “ya know, we still do have that nasty ol’ franchise tag.” Same thing he doubtless has reminded Fuller’s agent of, just adding some public emphasis.

Divining exact intentions is never usually an exact science during the annual Scouting Combine here. But from Pace’s words and actions, some scenarios appear to be setting up.

Foremost among those is that the Bears in fact do want Kyle Fuller in a Bears uniform in 2018. That there are active negotiations point to Fuller as the Bears’ first choice for resolving matters at one of the two cornerback vacancies. For the Bears he is a known quantity, inconsistencies and his mystery absent 2016 notwithstanding, and Pace’s experiences with free agents from other teams were disastrous last offseason. As he said on Wednesday, “a lot of times guys become free agents for a reason, and we’re mindful of that.” His own guy (well, Phil Emery’s actually), Fuller, is available for the simple reason that he’s coming out of his rookie contract.

And getting a starting cornerback settled upon takes one very big position off Pace’s to-do list looking ahead to the draft.

Back to the Fuller overall: Pace said that the Bears are being “pretty aggressive” in talks with Fuller. Of course, Pace’s idea of “aggressive” might differ sharply from Fuller’s agent’s idea of “aggressive,” but the Bears are in fact talking a multi-year deal, which is in itself a statement. Not necessarily a conclusive one though: They were what they thought was aggressive on a multi-year deal with Alshon Jeffery in 2016 and still needed to resort to the franchise tag in the end.

Fuller isn’t expected to be hit with the tag, meaning the Bears will in fact be getting help from the rest of the NFL in setting Fuller’s market. A key in this process is the Bears strengthening a relationship with Fuller even as they’re saying no to a contract proposal and telling him to see if there’s a better deal out there.

Looking a little deeper at what Pace has at his disposal: As of this week at least, the Bears have not cut cornerback Marcus Cooper, a monumental disappointment from last year’s free-agency class. Consider this as Pace keeping an option open, far from his first choice but still an affordable body. Consensus from a number of different sources: Fuller is option one, followed by Johnson/Butler, then by Prince Amukamara returning, and finally by Cooper. Pace thought enough of Cooper to sign him to a three-year deal topping out at $16 million and carrying a 2018 base of $5 million.

That amount might appear outrageous, but only because of Cooper’s woeful performance, which no doubt has him ensconced in Vic Fangio’s doghouse. Which of course is exactly where Fuller was after a non-existent 2016. But the Cooper figure is about one-third of the money Fuller and presumably the other top corners are seeking per year. Best guess is that they will get close to max contracts simply because of the money supply chasing them. No one likes a bidding war, but with the massive cap spaces open, the surprise will be if the Bears have to get into exactly that, like it or not.

Pace wouldn’t do it last year for his first choices at cornerback. This year, he won’t have that choice.

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There’s one other catch in all this, that of simply getting the best/right guy, because that has been a franchise-grade problem for Pace.

How serious is that? Not many would categorize John Fox as a victim. But consider: In a must-win year for Fox, besides getting a rookie quarterback, with his No. 1 pick, Fox was given, in last offseason alone, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps, Mike Glennon, Dion Sims and Markus Wheaton. Just last offseason. All on contracts about which the best could be said, by Pace, that the deals were structured such that the Bears could exit them with relative ease.

But Winston Churchill famously declared after the heroic escape of the British Army from Dunkirk, that wars are not won with evacuations. And football teams take not even a little step forward when they exit a contract on a wrong player. That is not, in any remote respect, a victory.

The Glennon situation is perhaps the one in that group of gaffes that’s a little more interesting because of the reasoning behind it. Pace got the wrong guy, obviously, and what makes it more pointed is not specifically the money, because if Glennon had turned out to be an average or even a little below-average starting quarterback, he’d have been paid average or a little below-average money for a starting NFL quarterback.

What probably makes it sting a little more is that the Bears could’ve had Brian Hoyer back for about one-third of what Glennon cost, and the Bears didn’t even make Hoyer an offer. Ill-advised in hindsight. And ill-advised from the standpoint of mentoring Mitch Trubisky, who was Pace’s target all along. Hoyer arguably represented the best composite of Glennon as interim starter and Mark Sanchez as backup/positive influence. Hoyer’s price and value become an even bigger "what were they thinking?" when you throw in that one less roster spot would’ve been tied up in a quarterback.

But Pace, and by extension the McCaskeys and the organization, get a grudging "OK, I get it" in the context of not playing safe and in fact taking a flyer on a guy who might flash once he got his opportunity after a few years of league experience. Like the Vikings did with Case Keenum (9-16 as a starter before last year) or the Eagles with Nick Foles (Philly thought so much of Foles the first time that they traded him away for Sam Bradford), Pace was going for upside and a shot at “wow!” with an out-clause.

Wrong guy, but not a totally idiotic plan or philosophy, no matter how it ended up.

Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White


Bears' roster moves create a looming roster hurdle for Kevin White

Questions have been hanging over Kevin White ever since GM Ryan Pace opted to invest the No. 7 pick of the 2015 draft on a wide receiver with one outstanding college season on his resume. Given Pace’s strike for a quarterback with a roughly similar body of work last draft, this may qualify as a Pace “strategy,” but that’s for another discussion closer to the draft.

But in the wake of signings at wide receiver by Pace and the Bears over the start-up days of free agency, a new and perhaps darker cloud is forming over White. This is beyond the obvious ones visited on the young man by his succession of three season-ending injuries, and by a nagging belief in some quarters that White is a bust irrespective of the injuries.

The point is not that White will never amount to anything in the NFL. Marc Colombo came back from a pair of horrendous leg injuries to have a career as a solid NFL tackle, albeit with the Dallas Cowboys, not the Bears.

The problem facing White now, assuming he comes back able to stay healthy in a competition with Cameron Meredith for the spot opposite Allen Robinson, is whether there is reasonably going to be a roster spot the Bears can use for him.

This would be on top of whether Pace and the organization could bring themselves to cut ties with a quality individual in a move that would amount to admitting a failure in what was supposed to be a defining initial top-10 pick by a regime committed to building through the draft.

White is still under his rookie contract with its $2.7 million guaranteed for this season, so there is little reason to simply give up on him, even assuming an offset if White then signs on somewhere else.

But Robinson and slot receiver Taylor Gabriel account for two of the starting three wideout spots. For the other wide receiver job, Meredith, also coming off season-ending knee surgery, rates an early edge on White based on Meredith’s 66-catch 2016 season.

If White does not start, he then becomes a backup, and backups are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s what has kept Josh Bellamy in the NFL, and what new Bears tight end Trey Burton points to as his ticket to making it through his first years with Philadelphia.

White doesn’t cover kicks, doesn’t return them, doesn’t block them. The Bears have typically expected special-teams participation from their No. 4-5 receivers, although the fact that Meredith and Robinson are coming off knee injuries, and chances that the Bears will keep six wide receivers in the West Coast offense of Matt Nagy, all could tilt a decision in favor of White simply as insurance/depth, even with his own injury history.

It is difficult not to have a spot of rooting-interest in White, a young guy trying so hard to get a career dream off the ground. It’s just also difficult to see a clear fit in the new Bears world that began forming in earnest in the past several days.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.