Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em: Corey Graham

Bear Report's free agency series focuses on whether the franchise should re-sign, or let walk, each of its 16 free agents. Up next, we consider special-teams standout Corey Graham.

Four months into this lockout and it's anyone's guess when the work stoppage will end. Optimism was rampant last week that a deal could be done as early as tomorrow. Recent reports indicate it could take much longer.

If the two sides cannot come to an agreement before July 15 (this Friday) then a full preseason will not be possible. At that point, training camps will be shortened and, for many teams, relocated. There could be fewer preseason games and possibly a shortened season. The clock is ticking.

The Chicago Bears currently have $80 million locked up in player contracts. The salary cap next season is expected to land somewhere between $120 million and $130 million. That leaves the club with $40-$50 million to spend on its draft picks and free agents. Of the 80 players, and possibly 90 due to the lockout, teams will be bringing to training camp, the Bears only have 53 under contract. The free agency period for the front office will be chaotic to say the least.

The first order of business will be re-signing players that were on the team last season. Bear Report has looked at the possibility of re-signing Olin Kreutz, Anthony Adams and Danieal Manning – all of whom would be welcomed back with open arms. We now turn our attention to cornerback Corey Graham.

CB Corey Graham
Scott Boehm/Getty

Graham was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. The former-New Hampshire product saw limited action his rookie season. Due to injuries to the starters, he was thrust into action his sophomore campaign, starting nine games. Yet as a cornerback, he did not show a ton of promise. Since then, he's started just one game and has been used mainly as the fourth or fifth cornerback in dime coverages. In four seasons, he's racked up 164 tackles and just one interception.

With Graham, the problems don't lie in athletic ability. He's one of the quicker defensive backs on the team. Yet he's consistently demonstrated an inability to read opposing offenses and can often be found out of position in zone coverage. He's a strong tackler but in coverage, he can be a liability.

Yet what Graham lacks as a defensive back he makes up for in special teams. Since being lost in the cornerback shuffle, he has turned himself into one of the top coverage men in the league. Last season, he led the Bears with 25 special teams tackles. His value to Dave Toub's unit is off the charts.

Chicago's front office would like to bring Graham back into the fold. For a team that puts a premium on special teams play, Graham plays a very valuable role. As such, the team tendered him a restricted free agent offer before the lockout. Yet once a new CBA is signed, he will almost assuredly become an unrestricted free agent.

Graham feels he can still be a contributor on defense. Unfortunately for him, there is a line of corners standing in his way for playing time in Chicago. The team's coaches haven't offered him the opportunity to become a regular in the secondary, and there's no indication they will do so in the future. For the Bears, his value lies on special teams, and nowhere else.

Because of that, it looks like Graham will be testing the open market. If there is another team willing to give him a shot at becoming a starting cornerback, he'll definitely take it. As such, it's highly unlikely he will return to Chicago next season. Yet if no other team offers him the chance to become a starter on defense, the Bears might be able to coax him back in the fold. With a player of Graham's talents though, the odds of that happening are slim to none.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com. To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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