15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 12 - Eddie Jackson

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 12 - Eddie Jackson

If the Chicago Bears are going to have any chance of competing in the NFC North in 2018, they'll need extraordinary play from the secondary. 

One of the most important pieces in the defensive backfield is second-year safety Eddie Jackson, who after joining the Bears as a fourth-round pick in 2017, is on the cusp of league-wide recognition as one of the best at his position.

Jackson wasn't supposed to start as a rookie last year. He was coming off an injury-plagued final season at Alabama and was viewed as a classic day-three pick with upside. Then came training camp.

It quickly became apparent that Jackson was one of Chicago's most talented defenders and he earned an opening-day starting job. He turned in a phenomenal rookie year that ended with 16 starts, 70 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. Jackson brought that missing playmaking element back to the secondary.

RELATED: 15 Most Important Bears of 2018: 15 - Taylor Gabriel, 14- Trey Burton, 13 - Danny Trevathan

Still, Jackson has room to improve in 2018. His 77.1 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 53rd among safeties last season. He gave Bears fans their first taste of timely turnovers since Mike Brown's departure in 2008, but it wasn't a perfect year. Jackson has to take another step in his development for Chicago's defense to become, potentially, an elite unit.

Jackson is an even more important variable than Adrian Amos, who ranked as the second-best safety in the league last year by PFF. Amos is more of a thumper. He excels against the run. But the best defenses create turnovers, and that's where Jackson can be truly special. He's a legitimate center fielder with great range and the physical makeup (length) needed to become a perennial Pro Bowler. 

If Jackson becomes that guy for the Bears in 2018, the sky's the limit for Vic Fangio's defense.

With Drew Brees officially returning to the Saints, all eyes are on Teddy Bridgewater

With Drew Brees officially returning to the Saints, all eyes are on Teddy Bridgewater

The quarterback market leading up to the 2020 season keeps getting more interesting. 41-year-old Drew Brees had officially announced that he will live to play another season in the NFL, posting on Instagram that he is excited to “make another run at it!”

With Brees returning to the Saints, all eyes are now on where free-agent Teddy Bridgewater will land.  The Saints currently have two backup QBs, restricted free-agent Taysom Hill and unrestricted free-agent Bridgewater. Head coach Sean Payton has made no secret that the team cannot afford to keep both on the roster. The writing on the wall says Bridgewater will be the one to find a new home, with fans and analysts alike speculating where he will end up.

It was reported earlier this week that Bridgewater will command a starter-caliber salary in free agency. Bridgewater went 5-0 as a starter while Brees was injured last season, completing around 68% of his passes, and earning above-average rankings in adjusted yards per attempt (15th), QB Rating (11th), TD Rate (13th) and completion rate (6th) among 38 QBs to start at least five games in 2019.

While this makes Bridgewater a very attractive candidate for Ryan Pace, the price tag of approximately $30 million per year may not be doable with the Bears current salary cap situation. 

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Is Bears TE Trey Burton on the chopping block?

Is Bears TE Trey Burton on the chopping block?

Addition by subtraction. Sometimes, that's the only way to get better. And in the case of the Chicago Bears' underachieving tight end group, general manager Ryan Pace may have no choice but to move on from 2018 free-agent signing, Trey Burton, this offseason.

According to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer, Burton could be facing the chopping block over the next couple of months.

Chicago has a tight cap situation, and Burton’s coming off a rough year that ended on IR. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears conduct a complete overhaul at his position.

If it wasn't for Burton's prohibitive contract terms, a move like this would be a near-certainty. However, Chicago would be on the hook for $7.5 million if they decide to move on from the oft-injured pass-catcher as opposed to $8.5 million if he's on the roster this season. Despite his underwhelming production, the extra $1 million to keep him around for the chance that he has that kind of year Pace assumed he'd produce in Matt Nagy's offense is probably worth it.

Besides, who else can the Bears realistically turn to at tight end right now?

There are some appealing options in free agency headlined by Falcons emerging star Austin Hooper, but he'll cost even more than the four-year, $32 million contract Burton signed two offseasons ago. The 2020 NFL Draft will offer a cluster of good-looking prospects who Chicago can choose from in the second round, which seems more likely considering the cost control over the next four seasons at a position Pace has already overspent on twice in his tenure as GM (Dion Sims nightmares are very real).

Burton appeared in just eight games last seasons (five starts) and finished the year with 14 catches for 84 yards and zero touchdowns.

If there isn't a massive uptick in production in 2020, it'll be his last as a Bear. His dead-cap figure drops to just $1.75 million if Chicago cuts ties with him in the 2021 offseason. 

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