The Chicago Bears ignored the cornerback position during free agency last off-season, instead deciding only to re-sign Tracy Porter. It was a costly mistake.
Kyle Fuller had a knee scope in August, then inexplicably missed the entire 2016 campaign. Porter himself dealt with a number of nagging injuries, which severely affected his play on the field.
Fourth-round rookie Deiondre Hall showed promise in the preseason but missed eight games due to a high ankle sprain. Bryce Callahan and Cre'Von LeBlanc both flashed at times and still have room to develop, but neither has lock-down potential.
“We re-signed Tracy Porter. I had high expectations that Fuller would be healthy this year. Tracy battled some things this season; obviously Fuller wasn’t available," GM Ryan Pace said following the season. "Callahan was another player that we had high expectations for, and he was in and out of the lineup."
In essence, the Bears have a bunch of third-tier corners and a first-round bust who no longer has the faith of his coaching staff.
“That’s a position that’s going to be a major need going forward," Pace said.
Expect the Bears to invest at least one draft pick in a 2017 class considered very deep at corner, while also adding an impact veteran in free agency.
With that in mind, let's break down this year's class of free-agent cornerbacks.
Trumaine Johnson, Rams (Age: 27)
The Rams used the franchise tag on Johnson last season, making it unlikely they'll tag him for a second year in a row. If they can't reach a long-term deal with Johnson, he'll emerge as arguably the top option on the open market. The 6-2, 208-pound former third-round pick has been one of the most consistent cover corners in the NFL his first five years in the league. He's been durable, with only one season in which he missed more than two games, and productive, compiling 16 career interceptions. In 2015, Johnson finished second in the NFL with seven interceptions. He's horrible in run defense but he has 28 pass breakups the last two years combined. His size and physical style of play, as well as his top-tier ball skills, would make him the perfect lock-down option for the Bears, who can afford to drop some coin on a legitimate No. 1 corner.
A.J. Bouye, Texans (26)
A former undrafted free agent, Bouye had a breakout season in 2016. He finished with 16 pass breakups, 9th most in the league, and was graded by Pro Football Focus (PFF) as the third best cover corner in the NFL. At 6-0, 191, Bouye has good size and showed last season he can matchup with the game's best pass catchers. There is concern he may be a one-year wonder but if last season was a sign of things to come, then Bouye may be worth a heavy investment.
Stephon Gilmore, Bills (26)
Gilmore, the former 10th overall pick in the 2012 draft, has been one of the league's better cover corners the last five seasons. He's coming off a 2016 campaign in which he had career highs in tackles (48) and interceptions (5), which earned him his first trip to the Pro Bowl. The 6-1, 190-pound veteran won't turn 27 until September, so he's just now entering his prime. He's due a massive contract and, as it happens, the Bears have a lot of money to spend.
Prince Amukamara, Jaguars (28)
The former 19th overall pick in 2011, Amukamara signed a one-year deal with the Jaguars last off-season. He wasn't outstanding in 2016 -- had just 6 pass breakups and no interceptions in 14 games played -- but he did stay relatively healthy, something he rarely did during five seasons with the Giants. More of a No. 2 corner, Amukamara may be looking for No. 1 money. Considering his injury history and lack of elite production, he wouldn't make a wise investment.
Logan Ryan, Patriots (26)
In two seasons as a full-time starter in New England, Ryan has compiled 25 pass breakups and six interceptions. For a secondary void of play-makers, Ryan's ball skills would immediately upgrade Chicago's cornerback position. He's not great in run support and doesn't have ideal size (5-11, 195) but the film shows an aggressive, confident defender who just turned 26. If the Patriots let Ryan walk, he'll make a solid investment for the Bears.
Morris Claiborne, Cowboys (27)
The former sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Claiborne has failed to live up to expectations during his five-year career. He has just four career interceptions and hasn't played more than 11 games in a season since his rookie year. When on the field last year, Claiborne was very good but he played just seven games and just 22 the last three years combined. He's still only 27 and could be turning the corner but his inability to stay healthy makes Claiborne a serious risk.
Ross Cockrell, Steelers (26)
A former fourth-round pick of the Bills, Cockrell was cut a few days before the 2015 campaign and has served as a quality starting corner for the Steelers the last two seasons. He has 25 pass breakups the last two years combined. At 6-0, 191, Cockrell has good size in coverage and in run support, where he's equally adept. Cockrell isn't a big name but he might provide the best bang for the buck in this year's open market.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Bengals (27)
The former 17th overall pick in 2012, Kirkpatrick has yet to live up to his first-round billing. Yet he came closest last season, finishing with 10 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. Kirkpatrick struggles with consistency but if his improvement last year was a sign of things to come, the 6-2 former Alabama product may be worth a short-term, incentive-based deal.
Sam Shields, Packers (29)
Sheilds is a legitimate starting NFL cornerback when healthy but he missed all but one game last year due to a major concussion. He's still yet to be cleared and one more concussion will likely end his career. Still, on a one-year, incentive-based deal, Shields would be worth the small investment, as he'd be a steal if he stays healthy.
Captain Munnerlyn, Vikings (29)
Leon Hall, Giants (32)
Darius Butler, Colts (31)
Nolan Carroll, Eagles (30)
Brice McCain, Titans (30)
Terance Newman, Vikings (38)
Justin Gilbert, Steelers (25)
D.J. Hayden, Raiders (27)
Darryl Morris, Colts (26)
The Pick: Logan Ryan
Trumaine Johnson is an ideal option but he'll cost an arm and a leg to sign. Ryan brings a similar skill set but he'll be slightly more economical and he's a year younger.
Ryan has been very good for the Patriots, demonstrating the ability to consistently match up with top-tier NFL wideouts. He's aggressive when the ball is in the air and has learned under one of the league's best coaching staffs the past four years.
The Bears need play-makers in the secondary and Ryan is coming off a 2016 campaign in which he had 92 tackles, 1.0 sack, two interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 1 forced fumble. He can be a cornerstone player in Chicago's defense for many years to come.
A great secondary option is Ross Cockrell, the best NFL cornerback you've probably never heard of. He'll come cheap and could be on the verge of a breakout season.null