Part 11 of an 11-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
The Bears are riding a wave of excellence on defense heading into the 2019 season. They are young and experienced. They have a superstar in his prime in Khalil Mack. They have difference-making players on all three levels and from side-to-side. With that combination of balance and performance, almost every addition has the potential to be an upgrade.
That’s never more true than at safety, where the Bears lost veteran starter Adrian Amos in free agency but arguably are even better with former Packer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Instead of shelling out big bucks to sign Amos to a long-term deal (he signed a four-year, $36 million contract with $12 million guaranteed with the Packers), the Bears signed Clinton-Dix — a former first-round draft pick and a Pro Bowl safety in 2016 — to a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal ($500,000 guaranteed).
Clinton-Dix almost certainly could have gotten a better deal elsewhere but saw a greater opportunity to rejuvenate his market value playing with the wind at his back in a Bears defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed. That happens to the Patriots all the time but is new territory for the Bears, who were 30th and 31st in total defense and scoring defense four seasons ago and still 15th and 24th two seasons ago.
Clinton-Dix’s signing also pairs him with former Alabama teammate Eddie Jackson, who has five touchdowns on returns in two NFL seasons and made the All-Pro team last season.
“This was one of the first free-agency [situations] where I felt like players really wanted to be here,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said, “and you could feel it right out of the gate and
Ha Ha was really one of those guys.”
Like Jackson, Clinton-Dix is a ballhawk (with 14 interceptions in five NFL seasons) who is not known as a superior tackler. On a developing defense, a safety combination that lacks an outstanding tackler might be problematic. But on a team with a strong front-seven like the Bears — where quarterbacks are likely to throw before they really want to more frequently — it’s a potential bonanza to have two ballhawks like Jackson and Clinton-Dix in the secondary.
“They’re a little bit different, but we’re excited about Ha Ha’s skill set,” Pace said. “He’s obviously got good ball skills, he’s rangy, we feel like he’s interchangeable. We feel like he can play free or he can play strong, so combining him with Eddie just gives us some flexibility. But the key thing is, Ha Ha really wanted to be part of this.”
Grading the Bears’ need
Moderate. Eddie Jackson and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix are the starters, though only Jackson is proven in this defense. But the Bears have only two other safeties on the roster: Deon Bush, a true strong safety who was good enough in three starts for Jackson last year (including the playoff game), and DeAndre Houston-Carson, a special-teams stalwart.
On the roster
Jackson, Clinton-Dix, Bush, Houston-Carson.
The five best draft prospects
Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram; Delaware’s Nasir Adderley; Washington’s Taylor Rapp; Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson; and Maryland’s Darnell Savage Jr. Abram is rated the No. 1 safety by ESPN’s Mel Kiper but isn’t expected to be drafted until late in the first round.
Keep an eye on
Oregon’s Ugo Amadi is easy to dismiss at 5-9, 199 pounds, but with his versatility, athletic ability and instincts, he could be a productive player in the right defense. He has played cornerback, safety and in the slot. He scored touchdowns on interceptions and a punt return last season with the Ducks.
Close to home
Former Lake Park star Antonio Shenault played cornerback at Minnesota and missed the final six games of his senior season with a head injury. The 5-11, 190-pound Sheanult is a good athlete — he was a state-champion hurdler at Lake Park — with a nose for the ball who showed up often against better competition. He had 13 tackles against Ohio State and a 42-yard interception return against Miami (Ohio) last season.
READ MORE BEARS DRAFT ANALYSIS