There's a debate among NFL analysts about which is more important; a pass rush or pass coverage. Considering we just watched an entire season where the Chicago Bears' pass rush was nearly nonexistent, I'd say both go hand in hand. There's no doubt that better defensive line play would have helped Chicago's pass coverage, but all things considered, the Bears did a decent job on the back end of the defense in 2022.
Chicago's secondary ended up being a strength of the team a season ago, but there's still some work to be done. While the two safeties seem set in stone, the Bears may want to upgrade one-third of their starting cornerbacks. Also, two of their returning starters are entering their contract year, so an extension decision may be on the docket this offseason.
In this 12-part series, I'll list the contract status of all the current Chicago players on a position-by-position basis while speculating on some offseason moves that could happen.
Jaylon Johnson - Signed through 2023 - Johnson has been a solid performer since being drafted by Ryan Pace in the second round of the 2020 draft, and with him due a contract extension this offseason, we'll soon find out how much the current regime values him. He would like to stay in Chicago, and they have had some contract talks.
"That's what I've always wanted to do is get my second contract after my third season with the Bears," Johnson said recently. "There's definitely been some talks. But I feel like it will heat up in due time after the free agency wave, the draft and things like that. We'll just see where it goes."
He wasn't drafted for this scheme, but he has good zone awareness and is not afraid to mix it up. His lack of turnovers could hurt him when his team heads to the bargaining table, but I would expect he signs an extension.
Kyler Gordon - Signed through 2025 - The game started slowing down for him last year, and another offseason working on his craft will do him wonders. His versatility was noticeable in 2022, but I wonder if their long-term plan is to let him settle into either nickel or outside corner. The nickel is such a critical part of every defense these days, and Chicago's scheme puts an even bigger emphasis on it.
Kindle Vildor - Signed through 2023 - Vildor proved to be a better fit for Eberflus' defense than he was with the previous regime. While he's proven to be a serviceable starter, I'd like to see the Bears upgrade and keep Vildor around as depth.
Jaylon Jones - Signed through 2024 - I wasn't expecting Jones, a 2022 UDFA, to play as much as he did, but the 5'11", 190-pounder got in 16 games while making four starts and racking up 47 tackles. A good offseason of work, and he could lock down a depth spot for the Bears in 2023.
Greg Stroman Jr. - Signed through 2023 - The Bears signed him last offseason, cut him before the year began, then brought him back to the practice squad in December. He made it into two games with one start.
Michael Ojemudia - Signed through 2023 - The former third-round pick of the Broncos in 2020 was a December waiver addition by the Bears. He played 1 snap in the season finale.
Harrison Hand - Signed through 2023 - Hand spent most of last season on the Bears practice squad, but injuries necessitated his signing to the active roster late in the season. He played in 4 games, including a start in week 18, where he made nine tackles against the Vikings, the team that drafted him in the 5th round in 2020.
Josh Blackwell - Exclusive rights free agent - The Bears claimed Blackwell on waivers before the season started after the Eagles cut the 5'11", 180-pound UDFA from Duke. He started 1 of the 16 games he appeared in and was third on the team with 245 special team snaps. I expect he'll return as an ERFA.
Breon Borders - Restricted free agent - The Bears are Borders' tenth team since being a 2017 UDFA, and I suspect he'll be looking for an eleventh in 2023.
2023 OUTLOOK - I don't expect a huge free agent signing at cornerback, but I could definitely see this regime wanting one more established corner on the roster. I like the young potential of Jones and Blackwell, and Vildor can play a bit, but give this secondary one more legit guy, and I think it's set.
If the Bears did want to drop some cash at the position, then Tampa Bay's Jamel Dean (26 years old) would be a good long-term fit, Philadelphia's James Bradberry (29) would make sense on a 3-year deal, and the Raiders Rock Ya-Sin (26), who used to play for Matt Eberflus with the Colts, could be in play.
The NFL Draft has solid corner depth, it just depends on how the Bears' board is stacked up, but a day-three guy to compete makes some sense. Stay tuned for our look at cornerbacks in our Building the Board project.
Will a young corner step up in 2023, or should the Bears address it in free agency?