Despite the team's seventh-ranked pass defense last year, the Chicago Bears secondary struggled as a unit during the 2016 season.
Chicago’s defense forced just 11 total turnovers on the year, which ranked dead last in the NFL, while they finished tied for 29th in the league with 8 interceptions.
Only the Jacksonville Jaguars had fewer interceptions than the Bears in 2016.
The inability to force turnovers weighed down Chicago's defense last season. While the club's front seven was good, the secondary lacked the knack for making the big play.
Finding positive highlights from the Bears secondary in 2016 was sparse. It’s a unit that must be upgraded if the Bears want to take a step forward on defense in 2017.
“That’s a position that’s going to be a major need going forward," said GM Ryan Pace. "We just had too many injuries and bumps that kind of derailed that a little bit.”
Heading into the off-season Pace has plenty of money to make wholesale changes at both corner and safety, which includes the release of current players on the roster.
As such, veteran CB Tracy Porter is a strong candidate to be a cap casualty for the Bears this off-season.
Porter will be 31 when the 2017 season kicks off and is coming off one of the worst seasons of his career.
The cornerback was flagged five times in 2016 resulting in a loss of 81 yards. Two of those came in a Week 14 loss to the Detroit Lions, when Porter committed a defensive pass interference penalty and an illegal contact penalty.
It was a difficult game to watch, as Porter struggled throughout.
He wasn’t much better two weeks later in a Christmas Eve matchup with the Washington Redskins. The Bears lost 41-21 and Porter called his performance “crap” following the game.
Porter signed a three-year deal to remain in Chicago last off-season and is due $3.5 million in base salary for 2017. Cutting Porter would save the Bears $3.45 million in 2017, and they would only have to pay $600,000 in dead money. They could use that money to help bring in a high-priced free agent.
Pace is expected to be aggressive in the both free agency and the draft in order to improve the secondary. The Bears are in the midst of a youth movement, and could easily move on from Porter, allowing them to bring in younger, more-talented players.
If Chicago does add one or more players to the secondary, which is likely, it could spell the end for Porter. At 31, he wouldn’t hold much value to a team trying to build for the future.
Porter was lined up against opposing No. 1 receivers throughout 2016 and was the most experienced defensive back on the team. No other corner lined up with the opposing team's top wideout more than Porter.
In 15 games, he was targeted a team-high 73 times, per Football Outsiders, allowing a 47-percent completion rate and 8.1 yards per catch, second worst on the team.
Yet there's a case to keep Porter as well, as he could serve as a valuable mentor to the incoming influx of young talent.
With former first-round CB Kyle Fuller missing the entire 2016 season, Chicago's secondary is in major flux, especially if Fuller is waived or traded this off-season. If Porter is also released, it could create in one of the least-experienced cornerback units in the NFL.
Youngsters Cre'Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan showed well in stretches, which could make Porter more expendable, yet neither has developed into a long-term option, yet.
Porter is far from a top corner in the NFL but he could provide value as a No. 2 on a defense looking to rebuild quickly.
As a courtesy to a multi-year veteran like Porter, the Bears will likely make a decision on his future early in the off-season. If he's released in March, that means major changes will be coming to the secondary, particularly at cornerback. Although don't be surprised if the Bears opt to keep Porter, in spite of his overvalued contract, to help ease the transition to a youth-filled secondary.