In the NFL, teams can never have enough cornerbacks.
Even with what appears to be a new trend in the league this season back toward dominant ground games, a number of the most prolific quarterbacks and pass offenses in NFL history are active right now.
It also is a golden era at the wide receiver position, with Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill – to name only a few setting records every Sunday.
Fortunately for the Bears, they are in relatively good shape at the position ... but you never have too many good cornerbacks.
Kyle Fuller is one of the best corners in the game right now, a first-team All-Pro in 2018 who returned to the Pro Bowl this season.
His interceptions were down, but there are few guys playing as physically and confidently as Fuller, who literally single-handedly saved victories in Denver and Detroit.
Prince Amukamara continues to play some of the best football of his career, and is good enough that teams are forced to test Fuller on occasion – even if they’d rather not.
Buster Skrine had a really solid season in the slot, his first with the Bears, and it was primarily the play of those three that allowed the defense to finish ninth against the pass and eighth in average gain a pass allowed.
Kevin Toliver appears ready to push Amukamara for his job, while the Bears still are intrigued by second-year backup Michael Joseph, and rookies Duke Shelley and Stephen Denmark are stuck buried behind the talent in front of them.
Every one of them is under contract for 2020.
2019 matter of fact: The biggest drop-off the Bears faced on either side of the ball from a 12-4 2018 to this season’s 8-8 finish was in takeaways, and more specifically, interceptions, slipping from 27 in 2018 to only 10 this past season.
Bears corners had 12 of the 27 picks in 2018, when Fuller led the team – and shared the league lead – with seven, Amukamara had three, and departed nickel Bryce Callahan had the other two.
In 2019, Bears corners combined for only three interceptions, all of them coming from Fuller.
The fact that the drop-off at the safety position was almost as steep – from eight interceptions in 2018 to four this season – suggests the issues were as much about pressure/pass rush as cornerback play. After notching 50 sacks in 2018, the Bears managed only 32 last season, and not playing on the lead nearly as often was a big problem.
Cap commitment: The Bears have $35.5 million committed to the secondary for 2020, 16.45% of their total cap, which ranks sixth in the NFL.
However, that is skewed by the new contract just awarded to Eddie Jackson, making him the highest-paid safety in the league.
Still, at an average of
$13.5 million/year, Fuller is the eighth-highest-paid corner in the league, at $9 million Amukamara is 18th and at $5.5 million Skrine is 34th, giving the Bears one of the most expensive CB rooms in the NFL.
With needs elsewhere, something may have to give, and with Toliver appearing ready to take on more, in spite of his great presence in the locker room and leadership, Amukamara is a potential cap casualty ahead of his age-31 contract season.
Offseason need (1 lowest,
5 highest): The Bears’ need at cornerback is a 2 at the moment, but it becomes a 3 if they move on from Amukamara.
Available prospects to watch: It is not a good year to be looking for promising young corners in free agency, and if Amukamara is a cap casualty, that’s the only kind the Bears could afford.
If he isn’t, they won’t be looking.
Day 3 of the draft is where the Bears would be most likely to shop for corners, and Troy Pride Jr. (Notre Dame), Lamar Jackson (Nebraska), Lavert Hill (Michigan), Jaron Bryant (Fresno State), A.J. Green (Oklahoma State) and Tariq Castro-Fields (Penn State) are only a few names to keep an eye on.