Mark Zerof/USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bears 2016 Free Agent Options: Cornerback

A comprehensive break down of the top cornerbacks the Chicago Bears should be targeting once free agency begins in early March.

At cornerback, the Chicago Bears are tied to former first-round draft pick Kyle Fuller for at least two more seasons. While Fuller has struggled at times during his first two years in the league, he showed dramatic improvement during the second half last year. 

Fuller's turnaround last season gives the Bears hope that he'll eventually develop into a lockdown No. 1 cornerback. 

Yet beyond Fuller, the corner position is filled with nothing but question marks. 

Alan Ball was paid $3 million last year, while his on-field performance was worth $300,000. He has no guaranteed money in his contract moving forward and will be waived in the near future. 

Sherrick McManis began 2015 as the club's starting nickelback but he proved in short order he's little more than a special teams player. Bryce Callahan played well at nickelback his rookie season and deserves an invite to training camp next season but he's far from proven. 

The biggest question mark is Tracy Porter. The eight-year veteran played at a Pro Bowl level during the first half of the season but faded down the stretch. He'll turn 30 before the start of next season, so even if he's re-signed to a short-term deal, the Bears will still likely add further competition into the mix via free agency. 

With that in mind, let's take a look at the top free-agent cornerbacks who will hit the open market on March 9. 

Josh Norman, Carolina (6-0, 195) Age: 28

Norman is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. His 18 pass defended in 2015 were seventh most in the league, while his 54.0 QB rating against was the lowest among qualifying corners. He's not a great tackler but he more than makes up for it in his ability to shut down opposing wide receivers. Norman is athletic, confident and productive, and will command a monster contract this off-season. Update: The Panthers placed the franchise tag on Norman.

Janoris Jenkins, Los Angeles (5-10, 198) Age: 27

A former second-round pick, Jenkins started for the Rams his first four years in the league, racking up 10 total interceptions - five of which he returned for touchdowns - and 48 pass breakups. In 2015, he had 15 passes defended and 3 interceptions. He's also not afraid to stick his nose in run support, which is a plus. Jenkins has struggled at times during his career, while receivers caught 67.7 percent of passes against him last year, one of the worst totals at his position. 

Leon Hall, Cincinnati (5-11, 195) Age: 31

The only thing going against Hall is his age but other than that, he's been a dominant cover corner throughout his nine-year career. That said, 2015 was one of his worst campaigns, allowing a 78.3 completion percentage against - which is pretty bad - while opposing QB has a 95.3 rating when throwing his way. Hall still has plenty left in the tank but he might not be worth the big money he's going to command. 

Casey Hayward, Green Bay (5-11, 192) Age: 26

As a rookie in 2012, Hayward posted 7 interceptions and 21 pass breakups, yet he's failed to live up to those numbers the past three years. In fact, he was demoted from boundary corner to slot corner midway through last season. Yet that type of positional versatility is valuable. He didn't have a single interception last year, while opposing QBs 100.7 rating against him, but Hayward is still a strong option to upgrade Chicago's secondary. 

Adam Jones, Cincinnati (5-10, 180) Age: 32

Jones is a bit of a head case, as his on-field implosion essentially knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs last year, yet he had a very good regular season and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl. In 2015, Jones had 12 pass breakups and 3 interceptions, while opposing quarterbacks had just a 60.7 rating against him. In addition, he's an above average punt returner. Jones isn't a long-term option but as on a one- or two-year deal, he'd be great value in Chicago. 

Trumaine Johnson, Los Angeles (6-2, 208) Age: 26

Johnson is a young cornerback who gets better every season. In 2015, his 17 pass breakups were 9th most in the league, while his 7 interceptions were tied for third most. He tall and long, and he's a playmaker when the ball is in the air. His 55.0 QB rating against was second only to Norman among cornerbacks last year. If the Bears are going to go big at corner, Johnson is their guy. Updated: The Rams placed the franchise tag on Johnson. 

Prince Amukamara, N.Y. Giants (6-0, 207) Age: 27

A first-round pick in 2011, Amukamara is widely considered a bust in New York. He's missed 25 contests during his five-year career, including 13 the past two years combined. In addition, he's had more than 1 interception in a single season just once. While that's disappointing for a first-round pick, he's still young and very talented. His injury history will reuce his price tag and, if he stays healthy, would be a free-agent steal for the Bears. 

Sean Smith, Kansas City (6-3, 218) Age: 29

Smith was suspended for three games last year but was pivotal in the Chiefs' win streak. He's a 6-3 corner who is physical at the line of scrimmage and provides good run support. He's had at least 12 pass breakups in each of the past four seasons and allowed a 53.2 completion percentage against in 2015. Smith should be at or near the top of GM Ryan Pace's wish list. 

Brandon Boykin, Pittsburgh (5-10, 182) Age: 26

Boykin is one of the top nickel corners in the NFL. He's quick and physical in the slot, as well as fearless in run support. He has 30 pass breakups, 8 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles the past three years combined, which is exceptional for a nickel. The Broncos just won the Super Bowl because their top three corners smothered the Panthers receivers throughout the Super Bowl, so getting a slot corner like Boykin would be a huge boost for Chicago's secondary. 

William Gay, Pittsburgh (5-10, 187) Age: 31

In 1,088 snaps for the Steelers last year, Gay didn't allow a single touchdown, which is exceptional. He also had 7 pass breakups and two interceptions. He struggled with consistency but he's savvy nine-year veteran who would also be a boost to Chicago's locker room. 

Patrick Robinson, San Diego (5-11, 191) Age: 28

A former first-round pick, Robinson struggled mightily at times during his four years in New Orleans. Yet he played very well for the Chargers last season, giving up just one touchdown on the season, while opposing QBs had a 74.0 rating against him. His up-and-down career will limit his price tag, which is good news for the Bears. 

Other Options: 

Jeremy Lane, Seattle (6-0, 190) Age: 26
Sterling Moore, Tampa Bay (5-10, 202) Age: 27
Nolan Carroll, Philadelphia (6-1, 205) Age: 29
Morris Claiborne, Dallas (5-11, 192) Age: 27
Kyle Wilson, New Orleans (5-10, 190) Age: 28
Shareece Wright, Baltimore (5-11, 182) Age: 29
Terence Newman, Minnesota (5-10, 197) Age: 37
Coty Sensabaugh, Tennessee (5-11, 187) Age: 27
Jerraud Powers, Arizona (5-10, 187) Age: 29

The Verdict

Trumaine Johnson: The Bears for nearly a decade relied on a big cover corner named Charles Tillman, whose size allowed him to match up with the elite wideouts in the NFL. Johnson is just as tall (6-2) and has already proven to be one of the most physical cover cornerbacks in the league. He'll cost a pretty penny but he'd be worth the hefty price tag, as a combination of Johnson and Fuller would give the Bears one heck of a one-two punch at corner. 

Update: The Rams placed the franchise tag on Johnson. That makes his former teammate, Janoris Jenkins, a very attractive option. 

A solid Plan B is Sean Smith, who also has that ideal 6-3 size and physicality. He's also strong against the run, which is gravy. And if the Bears are looking for an upgrade at nickelback, they shouldn't overlook Brandon Boykin, Casey Hayward or Jeremy Lane. 


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