I still can’t believe the Chicago Bears went into last season with that collection of untested players at the cornerback position. Corner is a position that you can never have enough depth at, but former Bears’ general manager Ryan Pace never got that memo. Jaylon Johnson is a legit NFL starter, but after him the position was a mess of inexperienced and bad players. There were so many instances in 2021 where opposing quarterbacks would simply target the nickelback, whomever he may be, and that started week 1 and continued all season long. Quarterbacks also seemed to have their way with the CB2 all year too.
It’s a testament to last year’s first time defensive coordinator Sean Desai that he was able to get his unit up to a top 10 DVOA ranking.
In this 12-part series I’ll be listing the contract status of all the current Bears players on a position by position basis, while speculating on some offseason moves that could happen.
Jaylon Johnson - Signed through 2023 - Johnson started shadowing top wideouts last year on both sides of the field, but he wasn’t asked to take them when they moved to the slot. To be fair, there aren’t many corners in the league that can line up with receivers anywhere they go. Johnson should be instinctive and physical enough to transition to the new scheme under defensive coordinator Alan Williams.
Kindle Vildor - Signed through 2023 - It’s not Vildor’s fault he was forced into a starting role as a second year pro, but he was the best the Bears had to offer. He’s under contract, so he’ll be in camp trying for a reserve role.
Duke Shelley - Signed through 2022 - Shelley was Chicago’s most effective nickel a year ago, which isn’t saying much. They can’t head into the 2022 season with him as their primary slot corner.
Xavier Crawford - Exclusive rights free agent - I’d usually be fine with the Bears bringing back their ERFAs to continue their development and to compete for a depth spot, but the Bears need some new blood.
Artie Burns - Free agent - Again, the Bears need some more talent at the position, so they need to let Burns walk.
Marqui Christian - Free agent - Christian was a core special teamer, but he’s a bad defensive back. He started the season at nickel and was toasted all night long against the Rams. He’s gone as well.
Thomas Graham Jr. - Signed through 2022 - The Bears not getting Graham more playing time late last season was one of the dumbest decisions that former head coach Matt Nagy ever made. He only played 10 snaps on defense their last 2 games after looking like a promising player in his week 14 start. Graham was an instinctive player at Oregon and I’m excited to see how he takes to the new defensive scheme.
Lamar Jackson - Signed a Reserve/Futures contract - Jackson played about half the Jets snaps as a rookie in 2020, but last year he only managed to see 5 snaps on special teams.
BoPete Keyes - Signed a Reserve/Futures contract - The Bears are Keys’ fourth NFL team since being a 7th round pick of the Chiefs in 2020, and one of the teams was the Colts for almost three months in 2021 with Matt Eberflus.
2022 OUTLOOK - The Bears need to attack the corner position in free agency. If they look towards Eberflus’ old team, the Colts have 9-year veteran Xavier Rhodes coming out of contract. At a soon to be 32-years old his deal won’t break the bank, but with 29 starts the last two years in Indy he’ll know the defense the Bears will be running.
Carolina’s Donte Jackson will be a bit pricier, but the Panthers have a deep corner room and they are likely looking to re-sign Stephon Gilmore. The Texans’ Desmond King played corner for Lovie Smith last year, but he also has played in the slot in his career as well.
Chicago may need to spend their way out of the current corner mess they have, but they need to be ready to pounce on one in the draft as well.
If the Bears want a guy on day 2, they may be able to land Kaiir Elam from Florida. Elam has good size (6’2”, 193), he’s physical enough to play some press and rally after the ball in zone, and his football IQ got him on the field as a true freshman for the Gators. Oregon’s Mykael Wright (5’11”, 182) can play outside or the slot, and he’s a physical and athletic player that could be had on day three. I would also expect the Bears to be active in the UDFA market too, because this group need a big overhaul.
What do you guys see the Bears doing at corner in 2022?