Cornerbacks for Chicago Bears in late free agency
A year ago, the Bears’ cornerback situation took a complete nosedive with two experienced players dropped from the lineup, Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine.
The problem was not losing them, but knowing what they were doing to replace them. Duke Shelley struggled in the slot, seemed to improve a little after half a season, but then ran into injuries and COVID-19 issues.
The Bears had no answer at left cornerback because Ryan Pace’s answer brought in Desmond Trufant to compete with Kindle Vildor.
The Raiders actually got some decent play from Trufant in a reserve role in their playoff run after he left for Chicago, but his acquisition underscored the market situation in free agency last year. The moment Pace addressed this cornerback situation, the market dried up and his money supply was never good enough for a better cornerback option.
This year, Ryan Poles has both cornerback spots to tackle and says he’s focused on the secondary or tertiary markets of free agency. Last year was bad, this year not so bad.
In fact, while the high price tag of a top-tier cornerback may scare off any team on a budget, the projected prices for the next tier are very reasonable and the supply plentiful.
Here are the best second and third phase options among free agency cornerbacks.
Levi Wallace, Bills
A consistent starter with great area-covering ability that would be fine in Chicago, but his cost is borderline above the second phase of free agency. Pro Football Focus says he will sign for three years and $19 million in total, but Spotrac.com pegs his market value at $9.6 million a year and that would likely be too high.
Rasul Douglas, packers
This is your free agency boom-or-bust cornerback. The Packers got spectacular play from this tall (6-foot-2) cornerback last year, but there are real questions about whether he can maintain the level of play like when he had a grade. passer of 44.5 versus last year or whether he will return to the previous two. seasons without interceptions and passer ratings vs. 114.2 and 108.5, all stats according to NFL stats partner Sportradar. It’s anyone’s guess and it’s reflected in the fact that Pro Football Focus predicts he’ll get a three-year deal at the top end of the line, worth around $20.25 million in total, while Spotrac.com estimates that he will get a deal with a high-end cash average. $9.2 million per year.
Joe Haden, Steelers
While he’s not exactly a good fit for the Bears because he’s at his best at man-to-man coverage, he’s 33 this season and would only be a bridge candidate. PFF estimates $5 million this year for a 13th-year player who has 29 career interceptions.
Robert Alford, Cardinals
A better fit for the Bears as a stronger player in the zone. He played with Trufant in the Falcons’ secondary from 2013-18, then suffered injuries and a withdrawal in 2019-20 before emerging last year with a passer rating of 81.7 against, 57.1% of completions allowed more than 70% of defensive plays. But he will be 34 and is just a bridge. PFF estimates a one-year contract at $5 million.
Bryce Callahan, Broncos
Yes, the former Bears cornerback who left for a big contract and suffered injuries like he did in Chicago. He is still very effective in the slot machine and is 30 years old. And he’s still very injury-prone, perhaps because of the all-out effort he puts in every game. He could have played 43 total games for Denver in three years and was only able to play in 21 PFF estimates a deal averaging $4.5 million a year, but it’s not the same style of defense he played in Chicago or Denver, so he might not be in good shape.
K’Waun Williams, 49ers
Another well-respected cornerback who PFF says will be a win-win acquisition somewhere at $2.5 million for one year. A real asset to a zone team like the Bears, his passer rating against has gone up slightly each of the last three years but not by much and was still at 91.7 last year. He is now 30 years old.
Ahkello Witherspoon, Steelers
The Steelers had him on the bench for half the season after leaving the 49ers as a free agent, but he came on strong with just 14 completions allowed on 37 targets and a spectacular passer rating against 35. .1, although for just over a third of the team’s defensive snaps. At 6-2, he has a good size and he moves well. Still, PFF reckons he’ll only take out $2.5 million, possibly $2 million guaranteed. He had been more of a zone cornerback, but with the Steelers he showed a real knack for playing man-to-man.
Sidney Jones, Seahawks
A young cornerback who got more starts last year than in his first three seasons, he only allowed an 84.3 passer rating and that was more in line with what he did with the Eagles in limited action in 2019. In 2020 he struggled in Jacksonville, but it was Jacksonville. PFF estimates $4.25 million for one year and it might be pretty reasonable to invite a Bears offer.
Chris Harris, Chargers
A cornerback who had been effective in the past with Denver in zone coverage but had foot and shoulder injuries. He turns 33 this year and is a bridge contender who PFF says will receive $5 million.
Jason Verrett, 49ers
Coming from a torn ACL, he had been an effective player but probably more in man-to-man coverage. Injuries always seem to be a problem with him. PFF says $3 million for one year.
Mike Hughes, Chiefs
At times in his career, Hughes played at very high levels. He can be a good area coverage cornerback but probably needs to play outside and not in the slot because he struggled there with the Vikings. Last year with the Chiefs, he forced four fumbles. PFF estimates a $5 million signing with $4 million or more guaranteed.
Kyle Fuller, Broncos
Yes, they could go straight back to their former starter, but they won’t find the same player who left Chicago as a pick victim. He was one of PFF’s lowest-rated cornerbacks in the league last year, but they think he’s still worth $5.75 million this year and could bounce back. He tried to expand his repertoire after being benched last season and even tried a cornerback, but wasn’t good there. Perhaps a cheap return to Chicago would reinvigorate his career at 30.
Desmond King, Texas
A nickel that fits well as a strong zone cornerback in Lovie Smith’s defense. Part of the reason PFF sees him so strong in the slot is his ability to tackle against the run. He will bring in $2.5 million for a year, which might be low for a player who only allowed 66% completions in the slot and out while playing 86% of snaps defensively.
Xavier Rhodes, Foals
An ideal bridge at 32 this season for what PFF says could be a year and $3 million, he knows Matt Eberflus’ defense well and had two respectable seasons (84.5 and 97.0 passer ratings) after having wrestled in his final year with the Vikings. His cleared completion percentage in three of the last four years has never reached 62%. Only the disastrous 2019 in Minnesota weighs on its production.
Darius Phillips, Bengals
After suffering a lot last year for the first time, he could be ruled out here by the Bengals. He’s been a slot for the most part and has been highly rated by PFF in 2019 and 2020, years in which Sportradar says he only allowed 37.5% and 51.7% completions. Phillips spent the last month and a half of the season on injured reserve with a shoulder injury and did not make the Super Bowl run. As such, PFF says it could be had for $1.7 million, which seems a little low.
Eli Apple, Bengals
Scorned by many for all his penalties – more than any cornerback in the past three years (25) – and for giving up interceptions, he can still cover well. And PFF thinks he’ll sign for a year at $4.25 million to prove himself. He will be with his fifth team in seven seasons and he is still young. He played a lot last year and had a respectable 86.6 passer rating to just three touchdowns allowed and a passing rate of just 60.3%. Whether a team committed to reducing penalties can endure their flagging issues would be the question for the Bears.
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