Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix

Under Center Podcast: Ha Ha, Bears a great fit for Clinton-Dix

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Ha Ha, Bears a great fit for Clinton-Dix

It's been a almost a week since the Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix signing and it's still looking like a total win for the Bears. JJ Stankevitz, Cam Ellis and Paul Aspan on why the Bears appear to have gotten a bargain (1:00) , how Dix could be the perfect fit for this defense at this time, and the chemistry he'll have with former 'Bama teammate Eddie Jackson. Plus probably too much punter talk after the Bears bring back Pat O'Donnell (9:30), and some more edge rusher possibilities in the next wave of free agency (14:00). And of course an update on the Chicago Football Madness as 7-seed Alex Brown makes a desperate attempt to launch a comeback and avoid an upset against 10-seed Robbie Gould (22:10)

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The match between Bears, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks ideal

The match between Bears, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix looks ideal

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. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Takeaways from early ’19 free agency: Bears not flashy, just better

Takeaways from early ’19 free agency: Bears not flashy, just better

Most of the mystery money in the shape of cap space from contract restructures for Eddie Goldman and Khalil Mack is still lying somewhere in a Halas Hall corner, waiting…just…waiting, waiting presumably for some roster purpose yet unseen.

An offhand guess is that general manager Ryan Pace has marshalled funds, borrowed from the future, anticipating a cut or player coming free elsewhere in the NFL sometime before Opening Day, and Pace will have the Bears positioned to strike. In 2016, that cut (in September, by Green Bay) was guard Josh Sitton.

In 2017 it was an August contract extension for left tackle Charles Leno. Last year it was the September trade for Khalil Mack, accompanied by the then-largest contract ever given to a defensive player.

In the meantime, though, the Bears went about their business well below the level of roster pyrotechnics in places like Baltimore (RB Mark Ingram, S Earl Thomas), Cleveland (WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Olivier Vernon), Oakland (WR Antonio Brown, OT Trent Brown, S Lamarcus Joyner), WR Tyrell Williams), San Francisco (LB Kwon Alexander, DE Dee Ford, Tevin Coleman) and the Jets (RB Le’Veon Bell, LB C.J. Mosley).

A qualifier here is that of all those big-ticket teams, only the Ravens were in the 2018 postseason, and a one-and-done like the Bears at that.

But the question isn’t necessarily how much or on whom, but whether or not the Bears improved, because “you’re either getting worse and you’re getting better,” as Matt Nagy said in the postseason wrapup. They already have a young roster with an assemblage of rising players from whom performance jumps are expected, either from straight development or from second years in an offensive system.

And the conclusion from the signings of the week – S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, RB Mike Davis, C/G Ted Larsen, WR/RB/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Buster Skrine – is that the Bears have in fact gotten better.

Were bigger options available? Of course. Landon Collins instead of Clinton-Dix? Davis or Bell? Larsen or Mike Iupati? Patterson or AB?

But consider:

Clinton-Dix - The Bears had a not insignificant offer of an extension on the table for Adrian Amos last offseason and looked to have it done. Amos ultimately decided against signing and now he’s in Green Bay.  But while Amos carries the better rep and perception, Clinton-Dix rates an edge in coverage, and Bears opponents threw on 61 percent of their snaps in 2018. Clinton-Dix has not missed a game in five seasons and had as many interceptions (three) in 2018 as Amos has had in four full NFL seasons.

Chuck Pagano is mildly unique in that he occasionally employs rotations in his secondaries. The Bears may not be done shopping for defensive backs, and Bryce Callahan has not gotten the play that was widely expected.

Davis - The career backup is not an upgrade from Jordan Howard. But he is from Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell, and that’s the apples-to-apples comparison.

Larsen - Eric Kush served as fill for a couple seasons but Larsen has been a starting center and guard, and is a size and performance upgrade over Kush or Bryan Witzmann behind James Daniels and Kyle Long.

Patterson - The NFL’s worst kickoff return team just got exponentially better, and neither Tarik Cohen nor Anthony Miller need be exposed back there anymore. With his 7.9 yards per carry and average of 31 catches per season, he should fit in just fine with an offense that throws touchdown passes to offensive tackles, hands off to defensive tackles for scores and fields a cluster of five defensive linemen in goal-line skill positions.

Skrine - A Callahan return shouldn’t be ruled out until he signs elsewhere, but in the meantime, Skrine does not represent a precipitous falloff in sub packages. Skrine has interceptions in five of the past six seasons and at least a partial sack in the last three.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.