According to the Bears, S Danieal Manning was offered a three-year contract worth $6 million, with $2 million guaranteed, during last season. Manning's agent, Russell Hicks, denies that claim but it looks more and more like the former second-rounder will test free agency.
Manning played well last season starting all 16 games at strong safety. He also has plenty of value as a kick returner. Odds are, he'll be able to earn more than $6 million this offseason. Bears fans shouldn't count on him returning.
Plus, S Chris Harris is a better fit at strong safety. He has more experience at the position and is better in run support. Last season, he had a team-leading five interceptions, recovered two fumbles and had 96 tackles – good for fourth on the team. He's also a team leader in the locker room. If Manning departs, Harris can step in right away and fill the front safety position.
S Major Wright
That leaves second-year player Major Wright to take over the free safety spot. Wright was Chicago's first pick in last year's draft. He suffered a severe hamstring pull in Week 2 and missed the next six weeks. He played in roughly a quarter of the team's defensive snaps, racking up 20 tackles and 1 pass defended. Not eye-popping numbers but he's healthy and should come into camp as the starter. A full offseason of practices playing next to Harris should help his development.
With S Josh Bullocks gone, the Bears will have no depth at the safety position behind its starters. They will need to add one or two players in free agency and the draft. The front office doesn't consider it a position of dire need, so they'll most likely grab a cheap player off the free agent heap and pick another safety in the late rounds of the draft. The best scenario would be to bring in a veteran who could challenge Wright for playing time and force him to earn his starting position. That type of competition would only further his growth and would give the coaching staff a good idea of whether or not Wright has the makeup of a starter.
There is also the possibility of Chicago moving Charles Tillman to safety. Yet the Bears don't have any established starters at the cornerback position beyond Tillman. The only way moving him to safety would make sense is if the front office is able to land a top-tier CB in free agency, of which there are many, or if they use the first pick in the draft at the position. So it remains to be seen how it all plays out.
For now though, Wright should be preparing for his opportunity to take over at the free safety position. He has good speed – he ran a 4.48 at the combine – but his best asset is his tackling ability. His career at Florida was highlighted by a number of bone-crunching hits. It's one of the reasons coach Lovie Smith has always sung his praises. If he displays the type of hitting power in the NFL, he can become a valuable member of the secondary.
Suh Not Impressed
"I think they have a good offensive line, but it's a matter that they're definitely trying to get over the hill, and they're getting there," Suh said Monday. "It's great guys, but they need some younger guys that can step in, and they started to move towards that a little bit in the guard position when we played against them the second time this year, and I think they made the right decision in doing that. But I think that's one of their big things they need to improve."
It's hard to argue with him there. But players, especially veterans, like to use this type of talk as motivation. It will be interesting to see if this is posted on the bulletin board at Halas Hall when the Bears face Detroit next year.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.