Players change teams all the time, but usually it’s not like this.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was cast off by the Packers last year and played in nine games for the Redskins, joined the Bears this spring and walked into a fully loaded defense in which he was the singular new starter. There are Pro Bowl players everywhere, most still in their prime.
If you walk into a locker room and can’t figure out who the weak link is, it’s probably you.
That’s the pressure Clinton-Dix faces this season. As the Bears make their bid for the Super Bowl, he’s the question mark until proven otherwise. He replaced Adrian Amos, who defected for a $37 million contract with the Packers.
Clinton-Dix is up for this challenge. He’s coming off a season that left him unfulfilled after falling short of his own standards, regardless of what anyone else thought.
“This is a tough business, and it’s about performing,” he said. “We’ve got a game in 10 days, and that’s my first opportunity to write my story here.
“I didn’t meet a lot of goals that I wanted to meet last year. I left a lot of plays out there that I could’ve made, that I wish I could have back. . . . You can’t miss those opportunities. I’m ready for them this year.”
Going by the numbers, Clinton-Dix really wasn’t that bad. He had three interceptions, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and 93 tackles — all near or above his career averages. Pro Football Focus ranked him the No. 21 safety in the NFL based on its weekly grades.
None of that cheered him up. He expected better.
Clinton-Dix goes into this season at an odd phase of his career.
He is two years removed from making the Pro Bowl. Green Bay traded him for a fourth-round pick last October, he turned down the Redskins’ offer to re-sign him and decided his best option was a one-year, prove-it deal with the Bears. At $3 million, he’ll make about half what he did last season.
Yet he’s only 26, and that’s way too early to write off anyone who’s this talented. Not only does Clinton-Dix have the ability to be exactly what the Bears need this season, he can re-establish himself in the NFL as a player worthy of a long-term investment.
“Most definitely,” he said. “I’m here to win a championship. I’m excited about it. I just want to win here and set the market.”
The Bears have been nothing but pleased with Clinton-Dix’s work throughout the offseason. Coach Matt Nagy said he already made clear that “he’s definitely all in” and has blended in well with the defense.
Despite the salary decrease, he might have picked the perfect spot to reset his career. The Bears needed a budget-friendly safety to pair with All-Pro Eddie Jackson, Clinton-Dix’s former teammate at Alabama, and they plugged him into a defense in which everyone else is sure to make his job easier.
The Bears’ pass rush is as good as any in the NFL — “The ball’s gonna come out hot,” Jackson said — and they have top-notch corners in Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. It’s a playmaker’s paradise at safety.
Even better for Clinton-Dix, those new teammates wanted him here. Several of them, including outside linebacker Khalil Mack, talked with him when he came in for a free-agent visit and laid out an enticing pitch on what it would be like to come aboard.
“I had a chance to talk to those guys about the culture here, the expectations and how things work here as a whole,” Clinton-Dix said. “Getting their input definitely pumped it up for me to come here.
“It’s been amazing. Since I’ve come in, guys have been open-arms with me. I’m acclimated, man. I’m a puzzle piece that fits right in.”