Dusting off a contract procedure they hadn’t used in 17 years, the Bears gave cornerback Kyle Fuller the little-used transition tag Tuesday, setting a $12.971 million price for his 2018 season but, more likely, setting the stage for a long-term contract extension.
The transition tag pays the average of the top 10 salaries at Fuller’s position. The franchise tag, another option, would have paid $14.975 million, the average of the top five.
Unlike players given the franchise tag, Fuller can still solicit contract offers from rival teams when free agency begins next week. The Bears are allowed to match any offer and keep Fuller, but they would not receive compensation if they decline. According to spotrac.com, the Bears have an estimated $64 million in salary-cap space available for next season, enough to possibly dissuade other teams from trying to construct an aggressive, exotic offer for Fuller.
Negotiations for Fuller figure to start at around $13 million per year, roughly the same number the transition tag would pay in 2018. Last year’s top two cornerbacks, A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore, received annual values of $13.5 million and $13 million, respectively, from the Jaguars and Patriots. The Bears were interested in both players.
The Bears, who last issued the transition tag to Bryan Robinson in 2001, could move quickly to give Fuller a new contract.
“Kyle is a player we value,” general manager Ryan Pace said in a release. “This allows us to continue to work together on a long-term deal.”
Drafted by general manager Phil Emery with the No. 14 overall pick in 2014, Fuller missed all of the 2016 season after a knee procedure in August. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio openly questioned whether the Virginia Tech alum even wanted to return toward the end of that season.
The Bears, justifiably, declined to pick up his fifth-year option last offseason, which would have cost them $8.526 million for 2018.
Fuller started 16 games last season and earned praise from both Fangio and then-coach John Fox. He posted his best season, intercepting two passes to go with 22 breakups while providing the physical tackling that first drew Emery to Fuller.
The Bears entered this offseason in search of two cornerbacks and at least two receivers. Other transactions Tuesday might help them with the latter.
The Rams decided not to put the franchise tag on receiver Sammy Watkins, giving it to safety Lamarcus Joyner instead. Watkins might not be the definition of a No. 1 receiver — his 1,023 receiving yards in the last two seasons combined are less than his 2015 total — but he offers intriguing athleticism.
The Jaguars decided not to tag receiver Allen Robinson, either. Robinson, who turns 25 in August, played only one game last year before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. He had 1,400 receiving yards in 2015 and 883 the next season, starting every game both years.
The Rams and Jaguars are interested in bringing their receivers back, however. They hold exclusive negotiating rights until Monday.
The Dolphins had previously announced their plans to tag slot receiver Jarvis Landry, whom they dangled in trade talks at the NFL Scouting Combine.
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