Ryan Pace has drafted five cornerbacks since he became the general manager of the Chicago Bears and so far only one, his second round rookie in 2020 Jaylon Johnson, has been able to crack the regular starting lineup.
Because of injuries in their secondary a year ago, the Bears were forced to play two youngsters meaningful reps at corner and nickel, but neither made much of an impact. In 2021 they’ll likely need one of these guys to step up and make their presence felt on the defense.
Here’s how the Bears are set at the cornerback position right now.
Kyle Fuller - Signed through 2021 - Technically Fuller’s contract expires after this next season, but he had two void years added to his deal to help spread out his salary. Considering he’ll have a $20 million cap in 2021 I think the Bears may look into signing the 29-year old to an extension. A contract extension would help lower their hit for this year, and also lock up a good player that has started 64 straight games.
Jaylon Johnson - Signed through 2023 - After having some injury issues in college, the injury bug jumped up and bit him towards the end of his rookie season and he didn’t play from week fifteen on. But in those thirteen games he did play in he was one of the best rookie corners in the NFL.
Buster Skrine - Signed through 2021 - Skrine is one of the obvious cuts on the current roster, as letting him go would save about $3 million in cap space for 2021. He also had some void year money pushed forward through 2023, but at his age (he’ll be 32 in April), and his injury history (he missed time a year ago with the 6th concussion of his career), I can’t see the Bears trying to work out an extension. EDIT: The Bears cut Skrine.
Duke Shelley - Signed through 2022 - Shelley, a 6th-round pick in 2019, mostly filled in at nickel when Skrine went down. He had a few reps outside at corner too, but at 5’8” his future with the Bears is going to be in the slot. He played well over 80% of the team’s snaps on defense in their last four games and he had 16 tackles and a pass defended.
Kindle Vildor - Signed through 2023 - As a fifth round rookie a year ago, Vildor played special teams all season and also had some reps filling in for Johnson late in 2020. At 5’10” with long arms he could project outside, but if Skrine is cut he’ll be a candidate for the number one nickel job along with Shelley too.
Teez Tabor - Signed through 2021 - The Bears brought him in late last year for the practice quad, and they elected to bring him back on a reserve/futures deal. I don’t see him making the team at all in 2021.
Xavier Crawford - Signed through 2021 - The Bears’ activated him for a few games late in the season and he mostly helped out in the third phase. I could see him back on the practice squad next season.
Artie Burns - Free agent - Burns spent all of 2020 on injured reserve, but I could see the former first round draft pick signing another vet minimum type deal to return in 2021 and compete for a roster spot.
Tre Roberson - Signed through 2021 - The Bears signed Roberson out of the CFL last year, but an offseason training injury eventually led him to injured reserve for all of 2020. The Bears were hopeful he would be in the mix for a roster spot last season, so now that he’s healthy, he could push for a reserve role in 2021.
Michael Joseph - Exclusive rights free agent - Joseph was another Bears’ corner that spent all of last year on IR, and as an ERFA I think he comes back for their offseason roster.
2021 OUTLOOK - The Bears are set at outside corner with Fuller and Johnson, and at this point I’m assuming Skrine is cut, so between Shelley and Vildor they hope to have a serviceable nickel with some upside. If one of those two young DBs don’t take control of the slot job this offseason and through training camp, the Bears could look for a low cost veteran to come in and stabilize the position. The lower salary cap could lead to a few veterans willing to take less for an opportunity.
The Bears could also use a viable outside corner, so they could turn to a vet there too. I’m not talking big money, but once teams start trimming salary the Bears may get lucky and find some depth.
I also wouldn’t count out heading back to the NFL Draft for a corner, because you can never have enough young defensive backs, but with Chicago’s offensive needs I wouldn’t expect them to look to the secondary until day three.
What do you think the Bears will do at corner in 2021?