After early hold-backs, Bears strike for two cornerbacks in makeover of secondary

After early hold-backs, Bears strike for two cornerbacks in makeover of secondary

The Bears pulled out of huge-ticket bidding for A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore on day one of free agency in their quest for a starter-grade cornerback, or two. But they didn’t back out too far, coming back to wrap up contracts with a pair of 27-year-old cornerbacks on Saturday: a one-year contract with former New York Giants No. 1 pick Prince Amukamara and following that with a three-year deal for Marcus Cooper, who started 13 games last season for Arizona and led the Cardinals in interceptions last season.

The Bears have now signed six unrestricted free agents from other teams within the last 48 hours: corners Amukamara and Cooper, safety Quintin Demps, quarterback Mike Glennon, tight end Dion Sims and receiver Markus Wheaton. Amukamara and Cooper are both 27 and give the Bears, who have Tracy Porter turning 31 this August, potential longer-term solutions at a position that has been wanting outside of Porter.

With the signing of Demps on Friday, the Bears have done a near full makeover of a secondary that produced historic-low takeaways the past two seasons. The Bears still hold the No. 3 pick of the draft, with elite talent available at both cornerback and safety and the Bears positioning themselves closer to the ideal of being able to secure max-impact, best-available players rather than draft to fill position needs.

The cornerback market exploded early, with Bouye and Gilmore netting five-year packages in excess of $65 million. But the Bears struck back with $7 million guaranteed for 2017 on Amukamara’s deal, and invested on a three-year pact with Cooper, who has had looks at safety as recently as last season.

[RELATED: Bears officially sign Prince Amukamara, re-sign Christian Jones, Johnthan Banks]

Where the Bears did not want to get into the financial blizzard around the early signings, they lured Amukamara with a deal that may have been short term but was at the right level for one season, giving the former No. 1 pick a chance to take his career to the level he’d hoped coming into the NFL as the 19th overall pick of his draft.

“Not a lot of people were agreeing with me,” Amukamara said, laughing, “which is what free agency is all about. It was down to the wire and I was considering a long-term deal with another team but the Bears just made it worth my while.”

Amukamara played with Demps as a member of the Giants’ secondary in 2014, Demps leading the Giants with 4 interceptions. “He knows how to get the ball,” Amukamara said. 

Cooper, 27 and a Pro Bowl alternate last year, was a seventh-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 but was cut before the regular season. He went to Kansas City (2013-15) before being traded to Arizona prior to last season. He has played in 56 games, starting 24 after not sticking with the defense under then-coordinator Vic Fangio in San Francisco his first time around.

“I’m a very big fan of Vic. I was with him in San Francisco and also with [Bears secondary coach] Ed Donatell,” Cooper said. “These guys are two geniuses of the game, been around a long time, seen a lot of things and have great defensive schemes. I’m looking for this time to be very productive. We’ve already had familiarity with each other, know how one another thinks, and I’m looking to come in with him and get things done.”

Cornerback and safety have been tough fills in free agency for the Bears at too many times. When free agency in its current form began a quarter-century ago, the Bears marked the moment by signing former San Diego Charger Anthony Blaylock. Blaylock’s career ended after that season due to injuries. Since then, cornerbacks have not typically been hits for the Bears in free agency.

Blaylock. Tom Carter (’97-98). Thomas Smith (’00). Dismal results. Draft hits on Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher afforded the Bears the luxury of staying out of the market at the pricey position but eventually Vasher faded. The Bears scored with Tim Jennings (’10-14) and Tracy Porter (’15-16).

But Porter turns 31 in August, Kyle Fuller has not developed to the level of his first-round selection, Alan Ball was a failed fix, and lower-tier additions (Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn, Demontre Hurst, Deiondre’ Hall) have not established themselves as starter-grade answers.

Safety has seen myriad failed, one-year tries with Adam Archuleta, Chris Hudson, Ryan Mundy (injured) and most recently Antrel Rolle.

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.

Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.

But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)

So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”

Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.

Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”

Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”

Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:

First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.

The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.

What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.

What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.

The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.

Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).

And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.

“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

USA Today

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

UPDATE: The Bears will match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:

The move means this: The Bears aren’t messing around and wanted to show Fuller their confidence in him, most likely. They could’ve let the Packers twist in the wind a bit and wait the full five days to match, but quickly matching with Fuller shows a confidence in the cornerback that has been evident for months.


When Ryan Pace placed the transition tag on Kyle Fuller, he knew he was opening up the Bears’ best cornerback to overtures from 31 other teams. Only one of those teams could make an offer to Fuller that, if he signed it, would truly put Pace under the microscope.

That team is the Green Bay Packers, and according to the Chicago Tribune, they did just that on Friday, signing Fuller to an offer sheet, the terms of which the Bears have five days to match. If Pace declines to match it, Fuller will sign with the team’s longstanding archrival in a move that would come with brutal optics for the Bears’ general manager. 

Before total panic sets in, the Bears logically are unlikely to let Fuller go. This was the risk Pace took when he used the transition tag, and not the more expensive franchise tag, on Fuller earlier this month. Pace has certainly allocated money to signing him — the transition tag guarantees Fuller $12.971 million in 2018 — and has talked openly about wanting to move toward signing the 2014 first-round pick to a long-term contract. 

“Those are things that we talked about a lot kind of behind the scenes,” Pace said Thursday when asked about negotiations with Fuller. “When we get into the contracts and the details, those are kept behind the scenes. Obviously, you guys know how we feel about Kyle. We value Kyle. We like Kyle, and we just figured that was the best course of action.”

Green Bay could’ve structured its offer sheet to Fuller to include a ton of guaranteed money up front, which wouldn’t necessarily be palatable to the Bears. That’s the bigger deal here than how much the total contract is worth, or its annual average value. But again, when Pace decided on the transition tag, he had to know a front-loaded offer sheet was a possibility he may have to deal with. 

If Pace didn’t foresee an offer sheet coming Fuller’s way, he might've read the market wrong given the contracts signed by this year's two top free agent cornerbacks. Trumaine Johnson signed a five-year deal with $45 million of it guaranteed, and $34 million of that is guaranteed in the first two years, according to Spotrac. Malcolm Butler’s five-year deal with the Tennessee Titans includes $30 million in total guaranteed money. Fuller could be right behind, or in line, with those two cornerbacks in terms of the offer sheet he received. 

So Pace had to be prepared to give Fuller a market-value — or, potentially, higher than market-value — contract when he placed the transition tag on him. But the benefit to that move was letting the market set itself and then being able to match an offer sheet for a cornerback who broke up 20 passes, intercepted two more and proved to be a physical presence against the run in 2018. This seems like the most likely scenario. 

The added risk, of course, if the Bears were to lose Fuller is they would almost have to draft a cornerback with the No. 8 pick in April’s NFL Draft, given how the rest of the cornerbacks in this year’s free agent market are locked up. Unless the Bears were to jump on Bashaud Breeland, whose three-year, $24 million deal was voided after he failed his physical with the Carolina Panthers, there’s not a No. 1 cornerback available to pair with Prince Amukamara besides getting one via the draft. 

So this is an intense calculation for Pace, who has five days to match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller. Losing him to Green Bay would look terrible among a fanbase that’s not only seen four consecutive losing seasons, but is used to the Packers being the better team in the long-running rivalry (that is, unless the Bears are convinced Fuller is a one-year wonder; though in that case, why would they tag him at all?).

But the Bears haven't lost him yet. Until we get some clarity on this, let’s hold off on panicking about the thought of Fuller playing in green and gold next season.