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Why it’s best for the Bears to find a way to keep CB Kyle Fuller

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Adam L. Jahns and WGN Radio’s Adam Hoge have co-hosted a Bears podcast since the 2015 season. The “Hoge & Jahns Podcast” can be found on chicago.suntimes.com and wgnradio.com. It’s also available on the WGN Radio app, iTunes and the TuneIn app.

Adam L. Jahns: What should the Bears do with cornerback Kyle Fuller? When general manager Ryan Pace is done sorting through his coaching staff, he should turn his full attention to him. No Bears player has earned a bigger payday than Fuller. When it comes to personnel, Fuller should top Pace’s list this coming offseason.

Adam Hoge: The evaluation of Fuller is complicated, especially when you look at his 2017 season and his four-year body of work. There’s no doubt he has put together a good season this year and, frankly, saved his NFL career. But there have also been a few tough games sprinkled in there — two against the Packers and one against the Lions, all NFC North opponents. Should the Bears bring him back? Probably, but at what price?

Jahns: The price likely starts with the franchise tag in negotiations, and that’s a hefty price. CBS Sports’ current projections have the franchise tag for cornerbacks in 2018 at over $15 million. That’s a lot of money for Fuller. But cornerbacks always get paid on the open market. Last year is a perfect example. The Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million contract that guaranteed him $31 million when he signed. A.J. Bouye got a five-year, $67.5 million deal, including $26 million guaranteed at his signing, from the Jaguars.

Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson celebrate the former's interception Sunday. (Getty Images)

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Hoge: That is why you have to consider Fuller’s entire body of work. He looked like a first-round pick in his first and fourth seasons, but what about the two years in between? Injuries were a factor, and his development seemed to slow when the Bears switched defensive schemes in 2015. The point is, whichever team pays Fuller is going to be taking a risk. Bouye was in a similar situation last year. He only had one really good season for the Texans, but his signing has paid off for the Jaguars.

Jahns: It helps that Bouye plays opposite Jalen Ramsey, the fifth overall pick last year, with the Jaguars. But if the Bears move on from Fuller, what are they left with heading into the draft? Prince Amukamara will turn 29 this summer and is finishing up a one-year, $7 million contract. Marcus Cooper has a three-year contract, but he was benched for a reason this season. Pace didn’t draft Fuller, but he knows him better than other cornerbacks who will be available in free agency. He’s younger and better than most of them, too. In general, it’s also bad business to say goodbye to your team’s high-round picks, especially when they’re healthy and productive.

Hoge: Cornerback is a need for the Bears, so it’s just not smart to let go of a 25-year-old playing at a high level. This is similar to the Alshon Jeffery situation a year ago, and it’s just not a good look for your franchise to let two good draft picks walk two years in a row. Remember, the Bears have only given contract extensions to five of their own draft picks since 2007, which is stunning. With better drafting, that number should start to go up, but Fuller is a good place to start.

Jahns: Jeffery’s situation definitely is worth noting here. The Bears used the franchise tag on him in 2016 because they had questions about him. Fuller is in the same boat. The Bears rightfully have their concerns about Fuller, especially after he missed the entire 2016 season following routine arthroscopic surgery on his knee. If the Bears can’t agree on a long-term deal with Fuller, use the franchise tag and make him prove his worth all over again.

Follow Jahns and Hoge on Twitter at @adamjahns and @AdamHoge.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com