Let's take a break from the ongoing Musical Cairs series to tackle something that has crawled around the thread several times, most recently in today's Bears Den comments thread. This is the that some of the leagues best FA corners wouldn't work in our zone system. Specifically Nnamdi Asomugha, Champ Bailey and Antonio Cromartie. Even considering that the Bears play man-to-man more often than they are given credit for, this is an idea was just begging to be researched. To the Cloud! (That's your cue to continue after the jump.....)
The Least Shall Be First. Antonio Cromartie. Former Charger. Soon to be former Jet (possibly, see the update). Cromartie probably least fits into what the Bears look for in corners. He is terrible against the run, isn't physical at all, and tends to fall victim to the ol' double move quite a bit. But that's not to say they wouldn't sign him. He does have some qualities that fit the scheme. He is pretty decent in zone coverage as evidenced by his time in San Diego, he's also a pretty good press corner, and he's a risk taking ball hawk (something that the Bears tend to like an awful lot). He also is pretty fast (4.38 40 time at his pro day) and he holds the Chargers season record for INTs with 10 in 2006. He can ball, and if he ends up on the market, his price tag might be lower than some think.
But his biggest problem is that he has, in the past, complained about playing too much zone in San Diego. But if you look past the initial complaint and pay attention to San Diego and their scheme changes, you'll see that this isn't exactly what it sounds like. San Diego, under Ron Rivera, played a ton of zone blitz. Cromartie was more comfortable under Wade Phillips and Ted Cottrell where the Chargers played a lot of zone (mostly cover 4) and a lot of press man. These are two things Chicago likes to do. In other words, Cromartie is more into Lovie's style than Ron's.
Cro has a big mouth, but he's been humbled this year, as he found out that he wasn't nearly as talented as the other CB on the field with him. A fresh start might be good for him, and while many speculate that he wouldn't fit, his abilities say differently. So does his history.
The Pro-Bowlingest Corner Ever. Champ Bailey. What else can you say about Bailey other than that he was the best corner of the last decade, and possibly the best corner ever. And he's still going strong. in 2010, Roland Champ Bailey held Fitzgerald, Bowe, Holmes and Wayne, among others, in check en route to his record setting 10th Pro Bowl in his 12 th season as a pro. He's an excellent tackler, a ball-hawking interception machine and is more than willing to get his hands dirty in the running game as well as in press coverage. And Bailey can play zone. The Broncos have used the Cover 3 frequently in the past. And don't forget that Bailey played under Marv Lewis and Ray Rhodes in Washington, and both, especially Lewis, are well versed in the zone defense. Bailey would be a true stud in Chicago and fits with virtually every need the Bears have in a corner. The guy has nearly psychic instincts, plays physical, plays the run at the right times, can cover well in man-to-man and in zone, and plays press coverage well. Only problem? He's getting up there in years and cost a LOT of money. Oh, and the fact that John Elway says that he will be a priority for the Broncos, even with his house on the market.
The Silver and Black Hole. Nnamdi Asomugha. Arguably (with Darrelle Revis and Bailey) the best cover corner of the last 5 years, Nnamdi is a true stud. And a smart one, considering that he's willing to give up a ton of money ($16.8M or the QB franchise tag, whichever is higher) to void his contract in order to maybe actually possibly have a chance to win something other than a divisional game. He's a beast in man-to-man, but he's also a beast in zone. The's great against the run and he's a very physical Corner.
Now, the Raiders play plenty of zone defense and while it's not good zone defense, it's not Asomugha's fault that it's bad. The problem with their zone is that they only have one Nnamdi. Teams attack the Raiders zones by trying to get their number one receiver into someone other than Nnamdi's zone and then getting them the ball. So the Raiders try to play less zone to keep Nnamdi on the offensive playmakers. Again, this isn't because Asomugha cannot cover in zone, but because nobody else on their defense can cover a top receiver. Raiders homer Steve Corkran wrote a pretty good piece on this leading into their first meeting with Denver this year.
The point to all of this is that thee is a very large misconception floating around that some of the higher caliber corners cannot play in our system, and that this idea is not necessarily true. Bailey would be a fantastic fit all the way around, but may be cost prohibitive. Asomugha sits in pretty much the same position, ability wise and cost wise. Cromartie is another story.
I placed him first because he is the least talented of the three players listed. And because he might benefit most from our system. Having the cover 2 safeties aiding him when he makes that break on the ball or when he gets beat by the double move can only help him. His cost is far less than what most would expect and he's not likely to get much more money this year than he did last year ($1.2225M), which is actually less than the Bears will be paying to Tillman ($3.4M) or Jennings ($1.4M) next year and about what the Bears are scheduled to pay Bowman ($1.2M). Playing for the Jets exposed Cro as a better zone corner than man-to-man back. His best years were playing in Wade Phillips zone heavy system, under both Phillips and Cottrell, who worked for Phillips in SD and Buffalo before inheriting the job when Phillips left for the Dallas HC position.
Of the three players listed, Cromartie seems like the best overall fit, though. Why? Because he's has five things: A relatively low salary for a corner, a high potential ceiling, tons of athletic ability, the confidence to break on the ball, and a list of negatives that can be hidden by the cover two/Tampa two system. For all the talk on our boards and across the net that Cro wouldn't fit in Chicago, Chicago might be the best thing that could happen to him (note that while I don't agree with this writer in his assessment of Cro's value to Chicago or Indy, I do agree with his overall assessment of him as a player, other than that he might overemphasize a bit on the technical "laziness"). Between his playmaking ability, his athleticism and the Cover 2's ability to make up for the types of mistakes that he makes most, Cro might flourish in a place like Chicago or Indy, and those defenses might be better for having him.