Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix could’ve signed elsewhere for more money. Washington reportedly wanted him back; surely there was a solid market for a safety with 14 career interceptions.
But Clinton-Dix chose a one-year deal worth a reported $3.5 million with the Bears. These are the kind of signings good teams are able to make when a free agent wants a shot at a Super Bowl more than a larger payday, at least for one year.
“I was getting calls from other teams who wanted to sign me and the money was more,” Clinton-Dix said. “You see so many guys get to the end of their careers, their successful careers, and now they’re trying to chase a ring. I have the opportunity to do that in my prime.”
Clinton-Dix sees the Bears as a team that was “an Eddie Jackson away from winning a Super Bowl” in 2018, a nod to his friend and fellow safety’s ankle injury that kept him sidelined for the Bears’ wild card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. From that standpoint, the Bears presented the best opportunity for him to build his free agency value a year from now while also providing a legitimate chance at winning a Super Bowl.
And it's a lot easier to build your value as a free agent when you're making plays on the NFL's biggest stage.
“Prove that I’m one of the best, man, and go out and win a championship,” Clinton-Dix said of his 2019 goals. “I think I got the perfect opportunity, coming into something great that coach (Matt) Nagy has created over there in Chicago, and I’m excited about my opportunity.”
Having a strong relationship with Jackson only sweetened the deal.
Jackson was hosted by Clinton-Dix on his recruiting visit to Alabama, which came 11 days after Clinton-Dix and the Crimson Tide throttled Notre Dame in the 2013 BCS Championship (this was back when Jackson was listed on Rivals.com as a three-star wide receiver recruit. Nick Saban wanted him as a safety. That was the right call). The two stayed close after leaving Alabama, with Jackson citing Clinton-Dix as someone on whom he relied for guidance before, during and after the 2017 NFL Draft.
Clinton-Dix saw Jackson at Halas Hall on his visit and had a chance to chat with him, which further confirmed the conversations abut the Bears the two had in previous weeks.
“He talked to me in this process about the culture in Chicago and I bought in, man,” Clinton-Dix said. “I was on for the ride, and I’m excited about it. Me and Eddie, we’re very similar players and that makes it tough on quarterbacks. We both can play left and right. It’s going to be fun and a challenge for other teams.”
General manager Ryan Pace talked at the NFL Combine about how safeties have to be interchangeable, not just be solely be a rangy free safety or in-the-box strong safety. Clinton-Dix made note of that versatility between him and Jackson, and said the transition to the Bears’ defense shouldn’t be difficult given the scheme similarities between that of Mike Pettine (in Green Bay) and Chuck Pagano, who spent time together with the Indianapolis Colts.
Clinton-Dix has had at least three interceptions in each of the last three seasons, including a five-pick 2016 that earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl. In having Clinton-Dix as Adrian Amos’ replacement, the Bears may be trading some discipline (a strength of Amos) for playmaking ability (a strength of Clinton-Dix). That’s not necessarily a bad thing given Pagano’s defense profiles as more aggressive.
Ultimately, the Bears likely did well to find a starting safety as accomplished as Clinton-Dix for the price they're paying. He may not be a solution beyond 2019 — after which Jackson will be due for a rich extension — but for the Bears’ chances of winning a Super Bowl, and for Clinton-Dix’s chances of landing a big contract a year from now, the match is ideal.
“If there was any way I could come on to this team and contribute, man, and make plays and get my name back out there, I’m excited about that,” Clinton-Dix said.