Free agent focus: Which cornerbacks could Bears potentially team with Kyle Fuller?

Free agent focus: Which cornerbacks could Bears potentially team with Kyle Fuller?

The Bears used the transition tag on Kyle Fuller on Tuesday, meaning they’re locked in to pay him less (by about $2 million) than they would’ve had they used the franchise tag and will have the opportunity to match any offer made to their standout cornerback. 

The risk with the transition tag is the Bears wouldn’t receive compensation if they decided against matching an offer sheet for Fuller, though the expectation is he won’t command a ludicrous deal that the Bears wouldn’t want to match. The transition tag also gives the Bears a longer window to negotiate a long-term deal with Fuller, as opposed to the July 15 cutoff date for franchise tagged players. 

The way the Bears framed their transition tag decision was that it gave them the best chance of working out a long-term deal. It’s worth noting the Bears, most recently, used the franchise tag on Alshon Jeffery after the 2015 season and were unable to come to an agreement on a multi-year deal. 

“Kyle is a player we value," general manager Ryan Pace said. "This allows us to continue to work together on a long-term deal."

It’s not guaranteed that Fuller will return in 2018, but it seems likely. So with that in mind, what are the Bears’ options in free agency to find someone to play opposite Fuller?

Malcolm Butler, New England Patriots

Butler’s bizarre benching during Super Bowl LII cast a pall over his rags-to-riches story that saw him go from being an undrafted free agent to having that game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX and making the Pro Bowl a year later. 

Perhaps more important than being relegated to the sidelines while Nick Foles carved up the Patriots last month: Butler had a down year in 2017, picking off two passes and breaking up 10 others. Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ratings ranked Butler as the 42nd best outside cornerback in 2017. 

Still, the market for Butler should have plenty of suitors. Teams signing Butler will be betting that 2017 was an aberration — but will that bear out in the average annual value of his contract and how much guaranteed money is included in it? Assuming the Bears hold on to Fuller, Butler could be a target so long as his market doesn’t get out of control. 

Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles Rams

Johnson is regarded as the best cornerback available in this free-agent class and is likely to command a contract in the realm of the five-year, $65 million (with $40 million guaranteed) deal signed by Stephon Gilmore a year ago. His price might be even higher than that if a bidding war were to take place. 

If the Bears were to get in on Johnson, they could wind up committing upwards of $25 million to two cornerbacks in 2018. Even for a team with gobs of cap space, that’s a lot of cash to pour into one position, especially if the Bears want to pursue a top receiver like Allen Robinson or Sammy Watkins or a pricey replacement for Josh Sitton like Andrew Norwell. 

E.J. Gaines, Buffalo Bills

If the Bears want to create some competition between a solid free agent and a high draft pick, Gaines could make a lot of sense. The 26-year-old Missouri alum isn’t necessarily a big-time playmaker — he only picked off one pass and broke up eight others last year — but would be palatable price-wise for his level of play.

Signing Gaines wouldn’t preclude the Bears from drafting a cornerback with one of their first two picks in April’s draft, though if that’s the plan, the Bears likely would need to release Marcus Cooper so they wouldn’t potentially be sinking $10 million or more into their backup cornerbacks.

Bashaud Breeland, Washington

Breeland sort of had a similar 2017 from a playmaking standpoint to Fuller with a low interception total (one) and a high number of breakups (18). He might be better-served as a No. 2 cornerback, or at least as part of an equal tandem.

But after playing with Josh Norman in Washington, does Breeland want to be merely “a guy” instead of finding somewhere he can be “the guy?” The Bears wouldn’t be able to offer him the latter, so long as Fuller’s back. If some team swoops in and offers Fuller an exorbitant amount of money, though, Breeland would make a lot of sense to replace him. 

Patrick Robinson, Philadelphia Eagles

Robinson picked off four passes last year for the Super Bowl champs and was a first round draft pick of New Orleans in 2010, when Pace was still in the Saints’ front office. That clear connection makes Robinson a likely target of the Bears, and while he’s coming off a solid season for the Eagles, he won’t cost as much as the likes of Johnson, Butler and Breeland in the open market. 

Robinson will turn 31 just before the 2018 season opener and will likely want a multi-year deal after a one-year prove-it deal worth $1 million in 2017. The Bears paid Prince Amukamara $7 million for one year in 2017; Robinson could cost around that much in annual value over multiple years.

Bears takeaways from NFL’s week 3 – end of “Fitzmagic?” Leading NFCN without a leading QB, and Dowell Loggains

Bears takeaways from NFL’s week 3 – end of “Fitzmagic?” Leading NFCN without a leading QB, and Dowell Loggains

After he threw three interceptions in the first half of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh game on MNF, Ryan Fitzmagic has reverted to just plain Ryan Fitzpatrick. The result is that the Bears likely should expect to see Jameis Winston at quarterback when the Buccaneers show up in Soldier Field next Sunday.
This would not necessarily be good news for the Bears, even with Winston starting this season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
Last-place finishes in the standings by the Bears and Bucs have had Winston facing the Bears each of his three NFL seasons, all three in Raymond James Stadium. After the Bears escaped with a victory in Winston’s rookie (2015) season, the Buccaneers outscored the Bears by a combined 65-17 in Winston’s last two meetings with them.
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Needing deeper thoughts
No surprise really, but the Bears are leading the NFC North with the lowest-rated quarterback in the division:
No.   Player                         Rating
8       Aaron Rodgers         104.5
12     Kirk Cousins             98.8
23     Matthew Stafford      83.4
25     Mitch Trubisky          77.8
Trubisky does rank ahead of rookies Josh Allen of Buffalo and the Jets’ Sam Darnold but he does stand 26th in yards per attempt at a very underwhelming 5.68
But Trubisky and the offense produced produced only six plays of 12 yards or longer at Green Bay and six against Seattle. Against the Cardinals, the Bears had nine, but those included three on runs, by Tarik Cohen (21 and 17 yards) and Jordan Howard (17), plus four short completions with yards after catches.
The irony is that the offense is getting a completion rate from Trubisky – 69.2 – that is axiomatic for success with West Coast offenses. But his overall accuracy continues to inconsistent: His completion percentage is its lowest (51.16) in the red zone, and he has established zero deep threat based on accuracy on throws longer than 10 yards.
“Those are important to have and we need to start connecting on those,” said coach Matt Nagy. “It's great to take the opportunity of going deep, those are great, but they're way better and they mean a lot more when you connect on them… .
“I thought that there were some good ones and I thought there were some he could get better at. That's where we're at. He'll be the first to tell you that. We'll do everything we possibly can each week to make sure we limit those inaccuracies.”
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Remember him?
Funky stats and factoids aren’t all that difficult to find in the NFL; all the teams that could’ve drafted Tom Brady or Joe Montana, that sort of thing.
So isn’t there something at least lightly amusing about the Miami Dolphins, the Bears’ opponent on Oct. 14 coming out of the off week, sitting at 3-0 and sharing the No. 1 spot in the AFC with the Kansas City Chiefs?
Behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the NFL’s No. 3 passer (121.8 rating)?
Under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains?

Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks make Pro Football Focus Team of the Week

Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks make Pro Football Focus Team of the Week

The Bears defense did the heavy lifting in their Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, generating a turnover and forcing a quarterback change to keep Mitchell Trubisky and company in the game.

Khalil Mack was a major key to the victory, but the rest of the defense really stepped up too. It was actually Eddie Jackson and Akiem Hicks who were the Bears’ highest-graded starters in the game by Pro Football Focus.

They both made PFF’s Week 3 Team of the Week for their performances.

Technically, Sherrick McManis was PFF’s highest-graded player for Chicago, recording a sack and an interception on only five snaps played.

Mack was right behind Jackson and Hicks to lead the defense, while Jordan Howard was the Bears’ highest-graded offensive player.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mitchell Trubisky was the lowest-graded player on the team. He was the fourth-lowest graded QB in Week 3, ahead of only Tyrod Taylor and both Cardinals quarterbacks.

Matt Nagy will need better from his quarterback down the line, but for now, the Bears have found a way to ride their defense to the top of the NFC North standings.