While the Bears desperately attempt to improve their offense -- which has only yielded Andy Dalton so far -- the defense is about to take a major hit.
A source confirmed that former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller's seven-year run in Chicago is coming to an end. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport initially reported that Fuller was getting released by the Bears, but he later clarified that a last-minute trade was still possible. Either way, a source close to Fuller said, "He's done in Chicago."
One complicating factor is the interest Fuller, 29, might draw from the Green Bay Packers on the open market. The Packers were the team that signed Fuller to a 4-year, $56 million offer sheet in 2018 when the Bears placed the transition tag on the cornerback and they could be interested again. The Bears obviously don't want to face Fuller twice a year inside the division.
The Broncos are also a team to watch, as head coach Vic Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell played a large role in turning Fuller's career around in 2017 before he received his pay day. Even if the compensation is minimal, a trade to Denver would allow the Bears to keep Fuller away from Green Bay. The complicating factor is the money. By trading for Fuller, the Broncos would assume Fuller's $13.5 million contract in 2021 and it's possible he can be had for less in free agency. One option for Denver would be to trade for Fuller and give him an extension.
Either way, trading or releasing Fuller is a big blow to the Bears, who now have a worse defense without yet improving the offense. But the move was still necessary after signing Dalton to a one-year, $10 million contract that has additional incentives. Shedding Fuller gives the Bears $11 million in cap space, while eating $9 million in dead cap.
In 2017, the Packers backloaded their offer sheet to Fuller, which meant his cap number with the Bears was always going to be high in the last year of the contract. Making it worse was a restructure late in the 2019 season, which drove the cap number up to $20 million in 2021. With a shrinking salary cap due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bears had to either extend Fuller, trade him or release him.
Meanwhile, the team is in a tough spot with another defensive star -- Akiem Hicks. The 31-year-old defensive tackle has no guaranteed money left on his contract and moving him would save the Bears $10.5 million cap space. The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday evening that the team gave Hicks permission to explore a trade. Perhaps that is not necessary after moving on from Fuller, but it could become necessary if the Bears make any offensive acquisitions. Despite injuries the last couple of seasons, Hicks is still one of the most dominant defensive linemen in football and the defense has struggled when he's not on the field.
The Bears obviously need to make upgrades on offense, but it's coming at a steep price to the defense. Losing a top pass rusher/run stuffer in Hicks plus their best cornerback would be hard to overcome.