Pro Football Focus recently published a piece regarding safety Danieal Manning's importance to the Chicago Bears' secondary. According to the site's unique statistical analysis, which grades each and every play during the season, Manning's performance last year was fifth best among all NFL safeties.
Opposing quarterbacks had a 59.7 QB rating when throwing into Manning's coverage, with just 55 percent of passes being completed for an average of 9.7 yards – a Top 10 number for safeties. He only missed three tackles, the second lowest number for all safeties, and did not surrender a touchdown. Only four other safeties accomplished that feat, yet none were targeted more than Manning. On top of all that, Manning is stellar as a kick returner.
S Danieal Manning
Based on that information, it could be argued that Manning is one of the top five most important players on this team. The Bears understand this, which is why the team offered him a three-year, $6 million contract with $2 million guaranteed during the 2010 season. Manning knows his value though and rejected the offer. As an unrestricted free agent, he could earn a lot more.
Yet whether he's a restricted or unrestricted free agent is still yet to be decided. Manning has five NFL seasons under his belt. Under the previous collective bargaining agreement (CBA), players qualified for unrestricted free agent (UFA) status after four seasons. In 2010 though, when the league existed with no CBA, players needed to accrue six years of service to become a UFA.
If the courts lift the lockout, many experts believe the NFL, barring a new CBA agreement, will conduct business under the same guidelines it did in 2010. In that scenario, Manning would be a restricted free agent and thus much more likely to re-sign with the team.
If that were to happen, the Bears would not need to address the safety position in the draft. Manning could start again next to Chris Harris, with second-year player Major Wright rotating at both positions. Wright, who missed a portion of last season due to injury, could then learn from the veterans without the pressure of being a starter.
Yet the Bears are not making any assumptions. The team has shown a lot of interest in UCLA's Rahim Moore (5-11, 202), widely regarded as the top safety prospect in the draft – albeit for a very weak class.
Moore left school early to enter the draft as a junior, which surprised some scouts. During his sophomore campaign, he led the nation with 10 interceptions and was a First Team All American by Scout.com. Yet he only picked off three passes his junior year, leaving many to wonder which season was the aberration.
He showed decent speed at the Scouting Combine (4.58 40-yard dash) yet his 11 bench-press reps were the lowest of any player at his position. He's an athlete though, who isn't afraid to stick his nose in the run game. He has quick feet, solid instincts and can cover a lot of ground in zone sets. His ability to read the quarterback's eyes is above average as well.
Moore has a slight build and will need to bulk up his upper body. In addition, his tackling can be suspect, often reverting to the dreaded "duck and swipe" technique which can lead to ugly missed tackles. He'll probably come off the board in the second round due to the lack of top-end talent at the safety position in the draft. That said, he's probably no better than a third rounder.
It's hard to believe Chicago will forego its other more-pressing needs in the second round and pick up a safety, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. Jerry Angelo has drafted a safety in the last six drafts and eight out of the nine drafts he's conducted as GM of the Bears. Similar to his obsession with defensive linemen, if Angelo becomes enamored by Moore, anything could happen.
That is not an ideal situation though. With big holes to fill along the offensive and defensive lines, as well as only having two linebackers currently under contract, taking a safety in the second would seemingly set the team back.
Which is why keeping Manning is so crucial in the long term. If the court lifts the lockout, it could make it easier for the Bears to retain one of its most valuable players. Yet if a new CBA is reached and he becomes a UFA, Chicago would be wise to approach Manning and his agent the second NFL operations resume and open wide the wallet book.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.