It was a historically bad season for the Chicago Bears defense in 2013, yet the cornerbacks collectively played at a relatively high level. Tim Jennings made the Pro Bowl, Charles Tillman was again very solid when healthy and newcomer Isaiah Frey held his own in the slot.
Additionally, Zack Bowman, signed last offseason to a one-year deal, fared very well in place of Tillman. Bowman was Chicago's fifth-round draft pick in 2008. He led the team in interceptions (6) his sophomore year but faded out the following three years until he was little more than a special teams player. The club cut him following the 2011 campaign. He spent the following offseason with the Vikings before being cut on September 1. A month later, on Sept. 16, 2012, the Bears re-signed Bowman. He was again signed during the first week of free agency last year.
Bowman will hit the open market on March 11. We weigh the pros and cons of re-signing the 29-year-old.
Bowman started seven games last season in place of Tillman and played in all but one contest. His 603 snaps were second only to Jennings amongst the team's corners in 2013.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), opposing quarterbacks had a 70.3 pass rating when throwing at Bowman, which was just two points behind Jennings (68.2). Bowman was second on the team with three interceptions, one of which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown. Per PFF, he gave up just one touchdown, compared to Tillman's seven, and was second only to Jennings in pass breakups (6).
Bowman was a very solid cornerback for the Bears last year, one who used his length well in man coverage, while also showing good awareness in zone sets. He's a decent player who will come at the veteran minimum.
After leading the Bears in picks in 2009, Bowman went three straight seasons without an interception. For all but one of his six years in the league, he's been little more than sketchy backup. Chicago fans surely remember the Week 15 contest in 2011 in which Aaron Rodgers carved up Bowman, who was making his only start of the campaign, to the tune of three touchdowns.
He has good length and speed but Bowman doesn't have great instincts and he struggles mightily at times in man coverage. He's also not a great tackler and doesn't provide a lot in run support.
Hold ‘em or Fold ‘em?
The Bears will be on the lookout this offseason for bargains at every position. Emery does not have the cap space to go all Daniel Snyder in free agency and will need to be very economical when it comes to veteran free agency.
As a seven-year veteran, Bowman will cost just $855,000 in 2014, which is a very good price for a player of his value. Bowman has been a part of Chicago's defense for six years and knows the ins and outs of the system. As a third cornerback and primary backup, Bowman is a quality option, one who showed last year the ability to come in cold and produce.
In addition, Bowman is also a very good special teams player, giving him added value. There is very little risk associated with re-signing Bowman, who is also a great locker-room presence.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.