Prince Amukamara

Bears grades and needs: Critical decisions loom on free agents Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan

Bears grades and needs: Critical decisions loom on free agents Adrian Amos, Bryce Callahan

2018 Depth Chart

CORNERBACK

1. Kyle Fuller
Usage: 16 games, 96.3 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $13.5 million cap hit

Fuller led the NFL with seven interceptions and was one of the best cornerbacks in the league in 2018, rewarding the Bears for matching the Packers’ four-year, $56 million offer sheet. His durability and work ethic stood out, too — this is a guy who watched film at dinners with teammates, after all.

Fuller isn’t cheap moving forward — his 2019 cap hit is only exceeded by Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson — but he’s proven to be worth that figure over the last two years. 

2. Prince Amukamara
Usage: 15 games, 86.5 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $9.5 million cap hit

Amukamara ended his three-year interception drought with a pick-six in Week 2, and had two other interceptions with six pass break-ups in one of the better seasons of his eight-year career. His contract is structured to allow the Bears an easy out after 2019, with $9 million in cap savings and only $1 million in dead cap, per Spotrac, though that's a little ways off. He’ll be back this year as a stable, productive, physical presence opposite Fuller. 

3. Bryce Callahan 
Usage: 13 games, 64.2 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

That Callahan missed the season’s final three and a half games and still played nearly two-thirds of the Bears’ defensive snaps speaks to how important a nickel corner is for a team’s defense. Callahan, too, had a productive, box score-stuffing season: Two interceptions, five pass break-ups, two sacks and 13 total pressures. This all while playing solid coverage before a foot injury ended his season in Week 14. 

Callahan, though, has had injury issues in the past, which could give the Bears some pause about retaining him on a multi-year contract. The Baltimore Ravens signed slot corner Tavon Young to a three-year, $25.8 million contract with $13 million guaranteed, per OverTheCap.com, which could be a decent barometer for what it’ll take to sign Callahan. 

The Bears do have the cap room to sign Callahan to a similar deal. Doing so would likely mean they likely couldn’t also retain safety Adrian Amos (more on him later), but it’s hard to have a truly complete defense without solid play from a slot corner. That’s exactly what Callahan provides, provided he’s healthy. 

4. Sherrick McManis
Usage: 15 games, 22.4 percent of defensive snaps, 59.1 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,987,500 cap hit

McManis acquitted himself well in place of Callahan, which represented his first significant snaps on defense since 2015. Still, he could be better served as a core special teamer and solid backup rather than a full-time starter, though if the Bears move on from Callahan he’d be in line to compete for a starting gig in 2019 with a cheaper veteran and/or draft pick. 

5. Kevin Toliver II
Usage: 15 games, 12.8 percent of defensive snaps, 26.4 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $575,000 cap hit

The Bears saw enough in Toliver during training camp to keep him around for the regular season, but he’ll likely face competition to keep his backup job. He has good length and is a former five-star recruit, so there’s some potential to be molded there. 

6. Marcus Williams 
Usage: 3 games, 1.1 percent of defensive snaps, 4 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Williams was signed after Callahan’s injury as a backup to McManis. He didn’t play much, though is only a few years removed from having six interceptions for the New York Jets in 2015. 

7. Jonathon Mincy
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The former CFL player hung around the Bears’ practice squad last year after making the jump from the CFL's Montreal Alouettes. The former Auburn Tiger could compete for a job as a slot corner if Callahan departs. 

8. Michael Joseph
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Joseph is a neat story: He’s an Oswego alum who barely played in high school, yet kept plugging away at Division-III Dubuque and was able to stick on the Bears’ practice squad last year. He’ll be back to compete to turn heads of a new defensive coaching staff in 2019. 

9. John Franklin III
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Speaking of neat stories, Franklin — the “Last Chance U” alum — only began playing cornerback last spring. He was waived on cut-down day and didn’t return to the practice squad until Sept. 26…then was released later that day. He was brought back to the practice squad on Nov. 24 and the Bears thought enough of him to keep him around on a reserve/future deal. He’s fast and athletic, but whether he can learn how to play cornerback quick enough will determine how long his football career continues. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 9

If the Bears do retain Callahan, this need will significantly lessen. But Ryan Pace needs to make sure the Bears have slot corner locked down, perhaps more than he does the safety position opposite Eddie Jackson. Bringing in some competition at outside corner behind Fuller and Amukamara — perhaps through the draft — would be beneficial, too. 

SAFETY

1. Eddie Jackson
Usage: 14 games, 86 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: $811,449 cap hit

Jackson was one of the best safeties in the NFL in 2018, combining his rangy ballhawking skills with a deep knowledge of Vic Fangio’s scheme to pick off six passes and score three touchdowns. He grew as a leader, too, the kind of guy the Bears can envision on the back end of their defense for years to come. 

If Jackson’s All-Pro trajectory continues in 2019, he’ll be due for a hefty payday in 2020. He’s the kind of player the Bears won’t want to risk losing to free agency.

2. Adrian Amos 
Usage: 16 games, 97.7 percent of defensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Given the Bears need to earmark a sizable chunk of cash for a Jackson contract extension, Amos may not fit in the team’s long-term plans. It’s not necessarily good business to have a lot of money tied up at safety — the average salary for a safety in 2018 was a little over $2.8 million, lower than any position on defense besides defensive tackle, per Spotrac. 

Still, it’s not always a bad thing — the Baltimore Ravens had an excellent defense in 2018 with nearly $23 million committed to their starting safeties, while the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl with the second-most cap space allocated to safeties. The Bears could value Amos’ durability and steady improvement over the last two years, though Amos could take those traits and see what he can get on the open market. 

2019’s free agent class of safeties is deep, led by LaMarcus Joyner, Earl Thomas and Tyrann Mathieu (and, depending on what shakes out with the franchise tag in New York, Landon Collins) while including solid players like HaHa Clinton-Dix, Adrian Phillips, Anthony Harris and Amos. Perhaps the flooded market will decrease Amos’ price to a point the Bears are comfortable paying. If it doesn’t, though, the Bears may look to make Callahan the priority to re-sign. 

3. Deon Bush
Usage: 15 games, 14.5 percent of defensive snaps, 58.4 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $851,556 cap hit

If Amos departs in free agency, Bush would be the next man up, though he’d have to compete to win a starting job in 2019. The former fourth-round pick out of Miami played 45 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps in 2016, but wasn’t on the field much over the last two years outside of special teams. He held his own after Jackson sprained his ankle in Week 15.

4. DeAndre Houston-Carson 
Usage: 13 games, 4.4 percent of defensive snaps, 61.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Restricted free agent

The Bears could look to bring back Houston-Carson on a cheaper deal than the roughly $2 million it would take to retain him with an original-round tender as a restricted free agent. He’s been a solid special teams contributor for the last few years but has only played 70 snaps on defense since debuting in 2016. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 8

Letting Amos walk would open up a hole Pace could aim to fill with both a veteran free agent and a draft pick, along with the incumbent in Bush. Unless Amos does return, look for the safety spot opposite Jackson to produce a competitive battle during OTAs and training camp. 

Stunned Bears struggle to grasp abrupt end to such an enjoyable, successful season

Stunned Bears struggle to grasp abrupt end to such an enjoyable, successful season

A stunned, melancholy silence enveloped the home locker room at Soldier Field, the same place where the dance parties of “Club Dub” became a phenomenon on so many Sundays this year. But not this day. Not after Cody Parkey’s 43-yard field goal cruelly doinked off the left upright, and then the crossbar, to send the Bears to a 16-15 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.

The suddenness of the end of the Bears’ best season in years hadn’t quite set in. This was a good team that thoroughly enjoyed playing together, with a collective will and spirit that ran as an undercurrent to 12 wins and an NFC North championship.

And now, it’s all over. The 2018 Bears will never play together ever again.

“It did kind of hit me taking off my pads,” center Cody Whitehair, who played every single snap this season, said. “That’s the last time I’ll do it this year with this team as all of us.”

This season wasn’t supposed to end like this. Not with the best defense in the league, the kind that looked ready to cement itself among the legendary 1985 and 2006 groups in franchise history – but won’t be remembered in that echelon thanks to this quick playoff exit. Not with Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy proving they could build an offense good enough to support that staggeringly great defense. Not with week after week of celebrations and trick plays that made the Bears fun again.

In a game of wild swings, the Bears ultimately couldn’t muster any of these three things: A lengthy offensive drive to chew up clock after taking the lead, then a defensive stop to hang on to that lead and then a field goal with five seconds left to re-take the lead.

“Just with how our season was going, it was like man, it just seemed like it was meant for us,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “And yeah, it obviously wasn’t.”

The Bears head into the NFL’s offseason sooner than they expected, and are hardly guaranteed to repeat or build on the success they had in 2019. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is reportedly interviewing for two head coaching openings — with the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins — on Monday. Safety Adrian Amos and slot corner Bryce Callahan will be unrestricted free agents. Cap casualties are a routine part of an offseason roster churn. Injuries will happen to a team that had significant luck avoiding them in 2018.

The core of this group will be back when the 2019 season begins in eight months: Nagy, Trubisky, Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, Kyle Fuller, Eddie Jackson, Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, etc. The Bears could make some shrewd moves in the offseason to make themselves preseason favorites to win the NFC. The message from the Bears’ locker room was one of hope for 2019, as well it should be.

“You know what it takes now, you know what it looks like,” Trevathan said. “So now, the bar has been set high, so we’re ready to play Chicago Bear ball next year.”

But windows to win open and shut quickly in the NFL. The reality is that the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars made the AFC Championship behind the best defense in the league, then imploded into being a 5-11 disaster in 2018. The Minnesota Vikings were supposed to be one of the best teams in the league this year, and couldn’t beat the Bears to get in the playoffs a week ago. These things are not assured.

It will take a lot of hard work in the offseason by Ryan Pace, Nagy and this team to repeat as playoff participants, let alone NFC North champions. But that’s all for another day.

For now, the Bears head into the NFL’s long offseason stunned, disappointed and sad that such a wildly enjoyable and successful ride came to an abrupt end on the first weekend of January, far sooner than they expected or hoped.

“It's unfortunate that the season ended this way,” Hicks said. “This is what we got. This is what you're going to deal with. If you wanted a different result, maybe make a different play. You got to swallow this. Let it hurt for a little bit. We'll be alright."

 

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The 10 biggest plays of the 2018 season for the Bears

The 10 biggest plays of the 2018 season for the Bears

MINNEAPOLIS — Two-thousand seventeen plays on offense and defense later, the Bears’ wildly successful 2018 regular season came to an end Sunday with a 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears finished their remarkable worst-to-first turnaround season with a 12-4 record, representing almost as many wins this year as they had in the previous three years under John Fox (14). 

Of those 2,017 plays, though, there are 10 that stand out when defining the 12-win, division champion level of success this team has had under Matt Nagy in 2018: 

10. Week 17 at Minnesota: Jordan Howard’s 42-yard run 

The Bears’ second offensive play of Sunday’s game was a tone-setter, with the Bears’ line — buoyed by the return of Kyle Long — dominating the point of attack and opening up a hole for Howard, who then turned around safety Harrison Smith with a juke on his way to a 42-yard gain. That run was Howard’s longest of the season, but more importantly sent a message to a listless Vikings team that the Bears were still giving maximum effort despite having little to play for. Tight end Trey Burton called it a “dagger,” and Howard made it count a few plays later with a six-yard touchdown. That the Bears didn’t back off in Week 17, with the NFC North clinched and a first-round bye a longshot, was fitting with the kind of mentality Nagy instilled in his team all season. The Bears responded well to it, and in the process knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs on their way to a 12-4 record. 

9. Week 7 vs. New England: Mitch Trubisky’s touchdown scramble

Trubisky covered nearly 72 yards to gain eight on this play, with Cody Whitehair leading the way with a punishing final block of defensive back Duron Harmon. 

But beyond the spectacular nature of this play, it put on display a truth about the Bears’ offense: Trubisky could beat teams with his legs, and is particularly adept at sensing and avoiding pressure. Trubisky finished the year having only been sacked 24 times, while rushing for 421 yards and 29 first downs. Trubisky’s running ability is a legitimate threat, one opposing defensive coordinators have to account for even if his passing production has been uneven this year. 

8. Week 11 vs. Minnesota: Khalil Mack’s forced fumble 

It’s hard to pick one play that represents just how good the Bears’ run defense has been this year, but in a game that was a massive turning point in the Bears’ season this play stands out. The Vikings had just entered the red zone in the first quarter when Mack stopped running back Dalvin Cook for no gain and stripped him, recovering his own forced fumble. The Bears held Cook to 12 yards on nine carries in that game; the most yards a running back gained against the Bears’ defense at Soldier Field was 55 (Jamaal Williams in Week 15). For all the flash plays this defense made this season — sacks, interceptions, touchdowns, etc. — at its core, this is a dominant run defense, one that’s able to set the tone for an entire game. 

7. Week 2 vs. Seattle: Prince Amukamara’s pick six

Eight days after blowing that 20-point lead against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears needed to show resiliency on Monday Night Football against the Seattle Seahawks. They took a 14-point lead early in the fourth quarter, then quickly allowed Seattle back into the game with a Russell Wilson touchdown with about 10 minutes remaining. A drive then sputtered at midfield, giving the ball back to Wilson with a chance to tie the game. 

But Amukamara jumped a route, picking of his first pass in nearly three years and taking it 49 yards to the house, all but sealing the Bears’ first win of the year. In retrospect, it was the start of a trend of big, game-shifting plays by this defense late in games. At the time, though, it powered the Bears to an important victory, one that proved the aftereffects of that loss to Green Bay would not linger in a bad way throughout the season. 

6. Week 13 at New York: Oompa Loompa

The Bears’ improbable, furious comeback against the New York Giants was capped with a take on the “Philly Special” — but the play didn’t go exactly to plan. It called for Tarik Cohen to pass to Chase Daniel, but the Giants sniffed that out. So Cohen had to float a pass to Anthony Miller with time expiring and the Bears needing a touchdown to tie the game — and completed the pass. While the Bears went on to lose in overtime, that Nagy called for “Oompa Loompa” in a do-or-die situation was indicative of the kind of coach he is: Someone who consistently thinks outside the box of conventional wisdom and isn’t scared to be labeled as “too cute.” And that approach has worked wonders for his NFC North champion team. 

5. Week 1 at Green Bay: Khalil Mack’s pick-six

Amukamara pointed to this play as the one that truly opened his eyes to how good Mack could — and would — be for the Bears in 2018. When Mack was in the right position to pick off an ill-designed and poorly-executed screen throw from DeShone Kizer, and then dashed into the end zone, it capped one of the most dominant halves of football a defensive player has had in the NFL this year. 

“What really ignited me was the score, the pick-six, and how we all dogpiled him,” Amukamara said. “I mean, a guy that we had just knew for a week, just how we jumped on him, I really believe — I think that ignited me and that set the steps for our season and what was to come.” 

4. Week 12 at Detroit: Kyle Fuller’s game-sealing interception

Jackson’s pick-six was a massive moment in this gritty Week 12 win, but it misses the cut in the top 10 because of what happened after it: The Lions drove 64 yards to the Bears’ 11-yard line, needing a touchdown to tie the game inside the two-minute warning. The Bears’ defense looked gassed, having given an extraordinary effort only about 85 hours earlier on Sunday night against the Vikings. The defense had to dig deep to come up with a play, and after Danny Trevathan galvanized his teammates with a pre-play speech, Fuller delivered with an interception in the end zone. It was the biggest play of the year for Fuller, who’s developed into one of the league’s best cornerbacks and has been one of the most important reasons for the Bears’ success this year. 

3. Week 14 vs. Los Angeles: Santa’s Sleigh

It’s comical to think of the circumstances surrounding this play: The only touchdown in a game between two division winners, one of which possessed a high-scoring offense, came on a play with six offensive linemen and four defensive linemen on the field — and no wide receivers, tight ends or running backs. Trubisky faked a handoff to Hicks, a defensive tackle, and threw a touchdown to Bradley Sowell, an offensive lineman. If “Oompa Loompa” showed Nagy would call any play in any situation, this only cemented it — it came on third down, after all. And it also further proved how much fun this Bears team is, something that hasn’t been said in Chicago or around the NFL in an awfully long time. 

2. Week 1 at Green Bay: Khalil Mack’s strip-sack-recovery 

While the Bears would go on to blow a 20-point lead and lose to the Packers in Nagy’s coaching debut, Mack’s debut was a clear sign of just how good this team could be with him on it. While the pick-six “ignited” the Bears, as Amukamara said, this play was the one that made it clear just how massive an impact Mack could make: With the Packers driving inside the Bears’ 10-yard line, Mack — all at once — sacked and stripped Kizer, and recovered the fumble he forced, snatching the ball from the quarterback's grasp. Plays like this became the expectation for Mack in 2018, and he thoroughly delivered on it. 

1. Week 11 vs. Minnesota: Eddie Jackson’s pick-six

The Bears knew they were a good team long before Jackson stepped in front of a Kirk Cousins pass, returned it into the north end zone at Soldier Field and conducted an orchestra in an instantly-viral celebration. But this fourth quarter pick six was still a turning point for the Bears’ season, vaulting them atop the NFC North and ahead of the preseason favorite Vikings. In a way, when Jackson arrived in the end zone, it felt like the Bears arrived, too. 

Six honorable mentions, in order: 

Khalil Mack’s forced fumble in Week 3 at Arizona: With the Bears losing by a point in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals’ offense got a spark when Christian Kirk beat Kevin Toliver for a 32-yard gain to charge to the doorstep of the Bears’ red zone. But Mack knocked the ball out from a scrambling Sam Bradford, with Danny Trevathan recovering it and the Bears driving for a go-ahead (and ultimately game-winning) field goal after it. 

Mitch Trubisky’s first half three-yard touchdown to Taylor Gabriel in Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay: While this wasn’t the most impressive throw Trubisky made in his record-setting first half, it was the fifth touchdown he threw in the first two quarters — which buoyed the confidence of Nagy and this whole team, showing them just how good Trubisky could be on a given day. Bonus points for this play being “Willy Wonka” too. 

Akiem Hicks’ forced fumble in Week 6 at Miami: The Bears were one yard away from losing in brutal fashion to the Dolphins, but Hicks somehow managed to strip running back Kenyan Drake, with the Bears recovering the ball and driving for a game-winning field goal attempt. While Cody Parkey missed that kick, that Hicks fumble again proved the Bears defense was able to come up with a critical play no matter how bleak or desperate the circumstances. 

Eddie Jackson’s pick-six in Week 12 at Detroit: This was the most difficult cut from the top 10, since it provided the game-winning touchdown at a time when the Bears’ defense seemed to be tired and on its heels. But that the Bears still needed Fuller’s interception to seal the win lessened this play’s impact, even if it still was tremendous. 

Eddie Goldman’s safety in Week 14 vs. Los Angeles: This play swung momentum to the Bears and preceded the scoring drive that ended with “Santa’s Sleigh,” giving the Bears a nine-point advantage they didn’t allow the Rams to chip away at for nearly the entirety of the second half. It also encapsulated how miserable a night the Bears’ defense dealt Jared Goff, who had his worst game as a pro on that Sunday night at Soldier Field. 

Eddie Jackson’s game-sealing interception in Week 15 vs. Green Bay: This play was a fitting way for the Bears to effectively clinch their first NFC North title in eight years. Of course it was the Bears to end Aaron Rodgers’ record-breaking streak of 402 passes without an interception, and of course it was Eddie Jackson who did it. While Jackson was injured on the play, it capped a standout season in which the second-year safety proved to be one of the best players at his position in the league.