In January 2013, Alabama asked star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to show a promising, late-blooming recruit around campus. Like Clinton-Dix, the recruit was a defensive back from Florida.
His name was Eddie Jackson.
“[Coach Nick] Saban loves Florida guys, and they just wanted me to holler at him,” Clinton-Dix said Friday. “He was one of Saban’s guys. Saban treated him like his son, and he loved him to death. Once Saban felt that way, I knew I had to get him on the squad.”
This week, Jackson returned the favor.
When the Bears were recruiting Clinton-Dix to sign Thursday, Jackson popped into Halas Hall to say hello. The two safeties have been friends since Jackson committed to the Crimson Tide. Last year, they spoke on the phone every week, even though Clinton-Dix played for the Packers and, after he was traded at the deadline, the Redskins.
“We joke around and challenge each other each and every week,” Clinton-Dix said. “Just to come over to the other side and be a part of something special, it’s something that I’m very thankful for.”
Count Jackson among the main reasons that, despite getting more lucrative offers, Clinton-Dix took a one-year deal worth a reported
$3.5 million to join the Bears.
“I was getting calls from other teams who wanted to sign me and the money was more,” he said. “But … 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.”
He said the Bears were an “Eddie Jackson away from winning a Super Bowl last year.” Jackson, who later would be named a first-team All-Pro, sprained his ankle while returning a division-clinching interception against the Packers in December and was unable to return for the playoffs.
“If there was any way I could come onto this team and contribute, man, and make plays and get my name back out there, I’m excited about that,” Clinton-Dix said.
The one-year deal gives Clinton-Dix a chance to build up his value and, if he chooses, try to land a lucrative long-term deal. The Bears, meanwhile, get a 26-year-old with first-round pedigree at a fraction of the $12 million the Packers gave Adrian Amos to switch sides in the rivalry.
The Bears will spend the offseason figuring out how Clinton-Dix will fit alongside Jackson. Clinton-Dix already has a feel for new coordinator Chuck Pagano’s defense. He played half of last season under Packers coordinator Mike Pettine, who worked alongside Pagano on the 2008 Ravens.
He’s more of a playmaker than Amos — totaling 14 interceptions in five years, compared to Amos’ three in four — but less of a sure tackler. In a league trending toward spread passing attacks, there’s value in having two ballhawking safeties.
“Me and Eddie, we’re very similar players, and that makes it tough on quarterbacks,” he said. “We both can play left and right. It’s going to be fun and a challenge for other teams.”
Clinton-Dix was vague when asked why his 4½-year tenure in Green Bay ended with a midseason trade, saying that “they were just looking for a change” and “my time was up.” The Bears figure to open the season against the Packers, giving him a chance to prove something to his former team early.
Clinton-Dix sounded more concerned about where the Bears could end their season than who they’ll play to start it.
“Prove that I’m one of the best, man, and go out and win a championship,” he said. “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.”