Draft analysis: After committing almost $100M to CBs, Bears need backups
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The Bears rewarded their cornerbacks last offseason.
It took some prodding by the Packers, but the Bears gave Kyle Fuller a four-year, $56 million contract extension. Prince Amukamara, who had played for three teams in his three previous seasons, got a three-year, $27 million deal.
Those numbers must have made Bryce Callahan salivate. It didn’t take the Bears long, though, to move on from their nickel cornerback when free agency opened in March. His asking price was too high, and the Bears couldn’t afford to wait.
“You get a feel for things as free agency’s approaching, especially your own players because you’re communicating with their agents,” general manager Ryan Pace said last month. “So we had an idea of where that thing could potentially head, and we had to be ready.”
The Bears quickly moved on to Jets cornerback Buster Skrine, signing him to a three-year, $16.6 million contract, with $8.5 million guaranteed. Combine his salary with Fuller and Amukamara, and the Bears are paying $99.6 million — not all guaranteed, of course — to their starting cornerbacks.
Callahan eventually reunited with Broncos head coach Vic Fangio on a three-year, $21 million deal, with $10 million guaranteed.
“Buster is a guy we’ve always liked,” Pace said.
The Bears were originally interested in Skrine when he hit free agency in 2015. Coach Matt Nagy praised Skrine before the Bears played the Jets in October, calling him “one of the better nickels in the league, if not the best.” After meeting with Skrine last month, Nagy called him a “mature professional” who “is going to be all-in with whatever we’re doing.”
To reward the Bears the way Fuller and Amukamara did, though, is a high bar for Skrine to clear.
Playing under defensive backs coach Ed Donatell — who followed Fangio to Denver — Fuller finished last season tied for the NFL lead with seven interceptions and earned first-team All-Pro honors and a Pro Bowl berth. Amukamara had his best season, intercepting three passes after totaling only seven in the first seven years of his career.
More importantly, both stayed healthy: Fuller played all 16 games, while Amukamara missed only one game, a Week 4 blowout win against the Buccaneers with a hamstring injury.
The Bears can’t count on the same injury luck this season.
Sherrick McManis, the team’s veteran special-teams ace, filled in nicely at nickel cornerback last year, and figures to do so again if Skrine gets injured. The Bears’ other backups are unproven — rookie Kevin Toliver is the only reserve outside cornerback who played last season, and he played 12.8% of the team’s defensive snaps.
There’s room for the Bears to draft and develop a long, rangy cornerback later this month. But with a need at running back, the Bears don’t figure to select a cornerback until the final day of the draft.
Grading the Bears’ need: Medium. The Bears are set at their starting positions but still need to develop depth on the cheap behind Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. At 5-9, new arrival Buster Skrine will start in the slot, but he lacks the size to move outside.
On the roster: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Buster Skrine, Sherrick McManis, Kevin Toliver, Michael Joseph, John Franklin III and Jonathon Mincy.
The five best draft prospects: LSU’s Greedy Williams; Georgia’s Deandre Baker; Washington’s Byron Murphy; Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin; and Michigan State’s Justin Layne.
Keep an eye on: Where Williams gets drafted. He’s considered the best cornerback on the board, but NFL Network reported last week that he had yet to make a single official visit or conduct a private workout. Is that a great sign, or a bad one?
Close to home: Before he set a Notre Dame record with 39 career pass breakups, Julian Love led Nazareth to consecutive state championships and was named the 2015 Sun-Times Player of the Year. How important was Love to the Irish defense? He left this year’s national championship semifinal in the first quarter with the game tied at 3-3. By the time he returned, Clemson was ahead 23-3. Love decided to leave school a year early after reportedly receiving a second-round draft grade by the NFL’s College Advisory Committee. At 5-11, 195 pounds, he projects as a pure cover cornerback and is expected to be selected on the second day of the draft.