Prince Amukamara

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

The Chicago Bears' decision to release veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara has created a void in the starting lineup on defense, one that recent CFL free agent signee Tre Roberson will be given a chance fill. The Bears are expected to add more candidates for the job over the next couple of months but Roberson (who was courted by nine teams this offseason) will have his shot.

“I just feel real comfortable there,” Roberson told Bears All Access about why he chose Chicago. “When I came on my visit to the Bears, my workout just felt like I was at home. They made sure I was real comfortable in every aspect of the trip. I just feel like a great place to be is close to home. I’m from Indianapolis, so it’s not too far away.

"We’ve been to Calgary, so it’s a long way from home. So I just feel like it was the best place for me and I feel like I can help the organization get to the next level, which is winning the Super Bowl.”

Roberson's two-year, $1.235 million deal is a low-risk, high-reward transaction for GM Ryan Pace. At worst, Roberson turns into a contributor on special teams and a solid depth cornerback. But if the Bears catch lightning in a bottle and Roberson emerges as a legitimate and reliable starting cornerback, his contract will turn into one of the biggest bargains in the league.

Roberson had 10 interceptions during his two seasons in Canada, including seven in 2019. He was considered the top CFL free agent making the jump to the NFL this offseason and was rewarded with the most lucrative contract a Canadian League star has received since Cam Wake.

Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine (slot) have two of the three cornerback gigs locked up, and Kevin Toliver will likely get the first crack at replacing Amukamara (assuming the Bears don't add a veteran free agent this March). Even if they select a rookie early in the 2020 NFL Draft, Toliver should have the first opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. He logged 175 snaps in 2019 and looked like an ascending talent.

By the time the regular season rolls around, though, it could be Roberson who goes from starting in Calgary to lining up as a starter in Chicago.

5 players the Bears can target to replace Prince Amukamara

5 players the Bears can target to replace Prince Amukamara

The Chicago Bears released veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara on Friday in a move that was expected in order to free up salary-cap space in advance of free agency this March.

By moving on from Amukamara, the Bears will have an additional $9 million to spend on the open market, which could ultimately be used on his replacement. It could also be shifted to other positions of need along the offensive line or on that pesky veteran quarterback who's sure to rile up the fan base.

There's also the Allen Robinson contract extension that eventually needs to get hammered out.

The good news for Chicago is there are several viable options who will be available in free agency and the NFL draft that can replace Amukamara in the starting lineup. Here's a look at five of them:

5 players the Bears can target to replace Prince Amukamara

Were Bears right to cut Prince Amukamara ahead of NFL free agency?

Were Bears right to cut Prince Amukamara ahead of NFL free agency?

The Bears made the right decision to release Prince Amukamara, with the Bears announcing Friday that the veteran cornerback and wide receiver Taylor Gabriel will be cut. Those two moves save $13.5 million in cap space; Amukamara alone frees up $9 million. 

But let’s take some time to appreciate what Amukamara brought to the Bears: Steady, clean press coverage, which isn’t exactly easy to find. Refs love to call ticky-tack penalties against cornerbacks, after all. 

And yet: Amukamara was penalized only five times in 2019 — 42nd among all cornerbacks — but three of those were hands to the face flags, part of a bizarre early trend of officiating crews calling that foul against Bears players in the first four weeks of the season. Amukamara was only penalized once after Week 3 (his counterpart, Kyle Fuller, was flagged eight times in 2019). 

RELATED: 5 players the Bears can target to replace Prince Amukamara

Amukamara allowed a reception on one in every 14.5 coverage snaps in 2019, seventh among cornerbacks with 500 coverage snaps. He also wasn’t targeted much — only three cornerbacks with 500 or more coverage snaps were thrown at less than Amukamara (one target every nine coverage snaps), per PFF. 

“I think it’s huge and he’s played consistent and he’s played well,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said last year. “And he continues to do that. It’s a big part. … I think any time those (cornerbacks) can get up and mess with the timing of the offense and throw that off and take away the guy that may be the first read, may not be the first read, it’s going to help your rush and your defense. So that’s important.”

Also: The Bears are losing their chief dance choreographer. He was the lead singer in the Bears’ awesome “Motown” celebration in Detroit on Thanksgiving in 2018, which spawned #BearsSingToAnything (definitely take some time to watch these again and remember the good times). A lot of the dance moves and celebrations you saw in 2018 came from Amukamara’s brain. 

So while Amukamara didn’t have an interception in three of his last four seasons, he wasn’t thrown at much (his coverage skills had something to do with that). He’ll be missed, even if the cap-strapped Bears had no choice but to say goodbye to him. 

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