Bears

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 grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

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USA Today

Bears grades: The return of D's and F's, except for the linebackers

QUARTERBACKS: D

Mitchell Trubisky threw three interceptions, with two of them particularly deflating: His first pick came on the second play of the third quarter when he overthrew Kendall Wright while rolling to his left; his second came in the end zone on third down. The last one came late in the fourth quarter when he and tight end Daniel Brown weren’t on the same page. Those mistakes were disappointing for a guy who hadn’t thrown an interception since Week 12, and now has as many interceptions as touchdowns (seven). But Trubisky did make a number of good throws, like when he stared down a blitz and found Markus Wheaton for a 22-yard gain. He also appeared to be the reason why the Lions to jump offsides twice, a good sign for his development with his cadence. But while he threw for over 300 yards for the first time in his career, the turnovers are the most important thing here. 

RUNNING BACKS: D

While some of the Bears’ running issues on Saturday were the product of some shaky run blocking from an offensive line that lost its two starting guards (Tom Compton and Josh Sitton) to injury, Jordan Howard wasn’t able to do much, either. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t break a tackle, and Howard finished with only 37 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Tarik Cohen didn’t get on the field much, playing only 25 of the Bears’ 63 offensive snaps and gaining one yard on two rushing attempts. The good news, perhaps, for this group: Howard caught all four targets he received for 26 yards, and he, Cohen and Benny Cunningham combined for 12 catches on 15 targets for 75 yards with the Bears’ only touchdown (which went to Cunningham). 

WIDE RECEIVERS: D

The stats for this group are inflated by the Bears’ having to try to pass their way back into the game in the second half, but while Kendall Wright (seven catches, 81 yards), Josh Bellamy (five catches, 70 yards) and Markus Wheaton (two catches, 42 yards) seemed to be productive, that trio only caught 14 of their 24 targets. Trubisky’s accuracy issues had something to do with that, but there were some poor plays in there too, like when Wright couldn’t hang on to a pass on the Bears’ first drive that was dislodged by safety Quandre Diggs. Also concerning here: Dontrelle Inman was invisible for the second straight week, only catching one of two targets for five yards six days after Trubisky didn’t look his way at all in the Bears’ blowout win over Cincinnati. Bellamy was also whistled for two penalties. 

TIGHT ENDS: D

Not having Adam Shaheen (chest) on Saturday was a blow to this group, especially after it functioned so well with the rookie in there last weekend in Cincinnati. Dion Sims caught his only target for nine yards, while Daniel Brown caught three of four targets for 32 yards — but that one target he didn’t catch was intercepted. That the Bears struggled to run the ball falls some on the tight ends, too: Only three of the nine plays with Sims and Brown on the field at the same time were runs, and those went for a meager nine yards. 

OFFENSIVE LINE: D

Four penalties were assessed to the Bears’ offensive line: Holding and a false start for Charles Leno, holding for Hroniss Grasu and illegal hands to the face for Cody Whitehair. Losing Sitton and Compton stretched this group to its max, and the Teryl Austin’s Lions defense had some success run blitzing the Bears. But it’s hard to find positives when the production from the Bears’ running game wasn’t there, especially a week after this offensive line dominated the Bengals’ front seven. 

DEFENSIVE LINE: C-

Akiem Hicks hit home on a sack for the first time since Week 8 and added a tackle for a loss, but he whiffed dropping Matt Stafford on that 58-yard heave to Marvin Jones in the second quarter. The Lions averaged 4.6 yards per carry, over a yard higher than their season average (3.4, 31st in the NFL). Eddie Goldman returned to the defense and only got on the stat sheet because of a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty he committed on the first play of the game. 

LINEBACKERS: A-

Sam Acho (one sack, one TFL, one hurry and a forced fumble) and Lamarr Houston (two sacks, two hurries, two tackles for a loss) each had huge games, while Nick Kwiatkoski had a solid game (eight tackles) as well. Pernell McPhee, prior to suffering a shoulder injury, had a few decent pressures and sniffed out a screen to Ameer Abdullah for a loss of six (he was injured on that play). This unit was not the problem with the Bears on Saturday, to say the least. 

DEFENISVE BACKS: D-

Eddie Jackson did some good things in the open field, but allowing Jones to catch that 58-yard jump ball in the second quarter — which was on a third-and-18 play and set up Detroit’s first touchdown of the game — was rough. Kyle Fuller struggled, too, allowing catches all five times Stafford threw his way for 61 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Fuller was flagged once, while Prince Amukamara had two penalties assessed on him. Stafford has been kryptonite for this group, with passer ratings of 120.2 and 115.3 and no interceptions against the Bears in 2017. 

SPECIAL TEAMS: D-

There were two bad penalties assessed to the Bears on special teams on Saturday: First, DeAndre Houston-Carson was flagged for holding on what was otherwise a 90-yard kickoff return by Cohen. And John Timu was whistled for holding on a shanked punt that only went 24 yards, leading to the Bears beginning a third quarter possession at their own 36 instead of own 46. 

COACHING: F

Another week of undisciplined play (13 penalties) doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff. John Fox’s decision to punt on fourth-and-one from the Bears’ own 45-yard line in first half was head-scratching for a team without anything to lose. Not kicking an onside kick down 10 with about two and a half minutes left was odd, but made more confusing by Mike Nugent kicking a pooch kick instead of going deep. This postgame quote from Wright about why the Bears played so poorly six days after playing so well wasn’t necessarily meant as a criticism of the coaching staff, but can be read as sort of an inadvertent one:

“I have no idea,” Wright said. “I have no idea. That’s a question I can’t even answer. I would say we came out flat, but I don’t really think so. I think everybody was ready to play and everybody had the energy to play. It’s not anything I can put on that.”

Under Center Podcast: What’s the game plan!?! Bears lose 10th game to Lions

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: What’s the game plan!?! Bears lose 10th game to Lions

Laurence Holmes, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down the Bears 20-10 loss to the Lions on Saturday.

Why didn’t the game plan include more runs for Jordan Howard? How did Mitchell Trubisky play so poorly despite a career-high in pass yards? And where is the leadership on this team? Plus – could the Bears actually lose to the Browns and hit rock bottom?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: