UPDATE: The Bears will match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:
The #Bears are matching the #Packers’ offer sheet for CB Kyle Fuller, sources said. Fuller stays.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2018
It’s a 4-year deal worth $56M. The key number is $18M guaranteed. Fuller already had $13M guaranteed from the translation tag. For $5M more guaranteed, they get him long-term🔒💰
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.