The Bears’ biggest free agent signing in 2019, in terms of a financial commitment, was slot cornerback Buster Skrine, who will receive $8.5 million guaranteed over the life of his three-year contract. So while Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Cordarrelle Patterson or Mike Davis will receive plenty of attention and headlines, it’ll be Skrine taking home the most money.
It was a little surprising, too, to see the Bears move quickly to agree to terms with Skrine while Bryce Callahan didn’t sign his three-year deal (with $10 million guaranteed) until March 15, a few days after the first wave of free agency ended. Callahan still received a well-paying contract, but that he had to wait until the Friday of free agency suggests it may not have been what he hoped for earlier in the week.
So that begs the question: What did the Bears see in a guy who turns 30 later this month, didn’t have an interception in 2018 and has a reputation for committing penalties (though he only was flagged six times last year, per Pro Football Focus)?
“Buster is a guy we’ve always liked,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “When he was a free agent the first time (2015), he was a guy we talked about. It’s a guy that our scouts liked independently, we liked independently and then our coaches really admired him when we were preparing to play him. So we just acted quickly to ensure that we addressed the nickel position and we’re happy that Buster’s here.”
To the point about Bears coaches admiring Skrine when preparing for the New York Jets in Week 8 of 2018: Coach Matt Nagy said a few days before that game that Skrine was “one of the better nickels in the league, if not the best.” The touchdown Skrine allowed in the Bears’ 24-10 win was more about a standout throw by Mitch Trubisky and excellent catch by Anthony Miller than any wrongdoing by Skrine, who did have Miller draped in coverage on the throw.
“That touchdown to Anthony Miller — back hip — (Miller) just made a great play,” Nagy said. “He was covered. Buster did a great job, but (Trubisky and Miller) just made a better play.”
It’s worth noting there’s a belief in some NFL circles that slot corner success is, to an extent, dependent on the quality of the defense surrounding a player at that position. And Skrine, recently, hasn't been a part of a good defense (the Jets ranked 21st in defensive DVOA in 2018).
Less of an unknown to the Bears but moreso to the general public is how Skrine fits with what new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano hopes to do in 2019. He’s proven to be more durable than Callahan, which counts for something, too.
Still, a lingering question on Skrine is if there were other teams besides the Bears who would’ve made him a priority free agent. But the Nagy/Pace pairing is willing to do what it takes to acquire a player with whom they have conviction. That was the case with Skrine.
“He’s one of those guys where he’s always around the football,” Nagy said. “He’s feisty. He’ll stick his nose in there on a nickel slot blitz. He’ll go in there and take your legs out. He plays the game hard, and he’s not a big guy. He’s not big at all, but he plays hard. I always thought he was just kind of sticky.
“… I’ve always appreciated him, and him coming in and talking to him when he was in the building, you see he’s a mature professional. He’s going to be all-in with what we’re doing.”