Impact of signing Hayden, Wilhite

The Bears inked two veteran cornerbacks within the span of two hours this week. Signing Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite may not affect Chicago's depth chart but it could affect its draft strategy.

In the span of about two hours this week, the Chicago Bears signed two veteran cornerbacks: Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite.

Hayden has been on Chicago's radar since 2009. Playing for the Colts at the time, Hayden was set to hit unrestricted free agency. The Bears had him as their top free agent player that offseason and were planning on making a serious push to sign him. He eventually ended up re-signing with Indianapolis and never made it onto the open market.

The Colts play the same Tampa 2 defense as Chicago. Hayden fully understands the system and has shown playmaking ability within it. In Super Bowl XLI, he intercepted Bears quarterback Rex Grossman and returned the pick for a touchdown, clinching the win for Indianapolis.

Hayden suffered a neck injury in 2010, one of many injuries he suffered during his six seasons as a Colt, and the team let him go following that campaign. The Bears brought him in last offseason but did not sign him due to worries about his still-healing neck. He ended up signing with Atlanta but struggled. He ended the season on injured reserve with a toe injury.

CB Jonathan Wilhite
Ron Chenoy/US Presswire

Hayden grew up in Chicago and played college football at Illinois. His homecoming is under the terms of a one-year contract for the veteran minimum – $825,000 for a seven-year player.

Wilhite also signed a one-year deal for the veteran minimum – $700,00 for a four-year player. He played nickelback for the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos. He replaces Corey Graham, who served as the main backup to starting nickelback D.J. Moore. Graham signed with the Baltimore Ravens two weeks ago.

Both Hayden and Wilhite will be given an opportunity to de-seat starters Tim Jennings and D.J. Moore – Charles Tillman isn't going anywhere. Likely, both will end up serving as experienced backups that can come in and perform if need be. They provide needed depth.

Yet both players are on one-year deals. Obviously, they are not long-term answers.

Additionally, Jennings was re-signed this offseason to just a two-year deal and 31-year-old Tillman has just two years left on his contract.

While the signing of Hayden and Wilhite isn't very likely to affect the depth chart this season, it gives the front office confidence that, if they can't find a young corner in this year's draft, the club will be fine for at least the 2012 season.

But that doesn't mean they won't still look at cornerbacks in this year's draft. If the right guy falls to them at the right time, GM Phil Emery will pull the trigger. But the club isn't going to reach at the position. Most likely, Emery will bypass cornerback early in the draft and address bigger positions of need along the offensive and defensive lines.

Emery could then try to find a mid-round developmental player with upside. One corner that fits the bill is Coastal Carolina's Josh Norman (6-0, 197). He was dominant in college and was easily the best cover corner at the East-West Shrine game, opening the eyes of many scouts.

He played against weaker competition in college, which should see him fall into the third round. Yet had he played in a BCS conference last year, he would be a first-round pick. Norman could be a steal in this year's draft.

But if Chicago can't grab Norman, or any other cornerback, at spot in the draft they consider good value, then so be it. It's nothing to worry about for the 2012 season. They can fall back on the five corners on the current roster, all of whom have at least four years quality experience in the NFL.

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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit and become a Chicago Bears insider.

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