The Bears defense, unlike the offense, isn't in disrepair. It doesn't need a facelift nor does it need a big-name splash signing in free agency.
But there are several tough decisions general manager Ryan Pace has to make this offseason that will directly impact the starting lineup on that side of the ball. The salary cap will play a big factor in several of those choices, which include deciding between Nick Kwiatkoski and Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker, whether to keep cornerback Prince Amukamara for another season, and how much is too much to pay safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who reset his market value with a successful first season in Chicago.
There are two factors working against the Bears realistically bringing Clinton-Dix back in 2020. First, Pace doesn't have much salary-cap space to work with. According to Over The Cap, the Bears have $7.7 million in cap space after the Eddie Jackson contract extension, which is the second variable in the case against Clinton-Dix returning. Will the Bears invest top dollar in two safeties? It doesn't seem like a sound strategy, especially with bigger needs at more expensive positions like quarterback and offensive line.
Clinton-Dix finished 2019 with a 74.2 grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranked 30th among all safeties. He's a legitimate NFL starter who lived up to his first-round grade as a collegiate prospect in 2014. He's going to several suitors on the open market, and as a result, the Bears need to be prepared with a backup plan in case No. 21 isn't lining up alongside Jackson next fall.
Here are three players Pace should consider in free agency if Clinton-Dix leaves town.
Karl Joseph (Raiders)
Joseph played in just nine games in 2019 because of a season-ending foot injury suffered in Week 10. The injury could force him to take a one-year prove-it deal much like Clinton-Dix did last offseason, which gives the Bears a chance to strike again. Joseph had 48 tackles and one interception in his nine games and would bring the kind of hitter's mentality Chicago's secondary was missing last season.
Jeff Heath (Cowboys)
Heath isn't a sexy name, and his play is uninspiring at times. But he's an experienced player who's started 44 games over the last three seasons. He finished 2019 with 59 tackles and seven passes defended. His salary demands should be in line with what the Bears are willing to spend if Clinton-Dix is priced out of their budget.
Vonn Bell (Saints)
Bell started 13 games for the Saints in 2019 and has 45 starts over the last four years in New Orleans. He missed three games last season with a knee injury, but finished the year as Pro Football Focus' highest-graded run-defending safety.