Does Manning Make Sense?

The Bears are in search of a nickel back and have been scouting the college level for a potential fit. While there may be a more immediate solution on the free agent market, is signing Ricky Manning Jr. the right way to go?

The most important factor in the Bears decision to pursue Manning is money. The free agent cornerback market has been slow, as the top four cornerbacks on the open market have yet to find the payday they envisioned.

Beyond the type of contract Manning will command, the Bears will also have to surrender a third round draft pick as compensation if Carolina declines to match a potential offer sheet. It would be the second straight year the Bears would have just two choices on the first day of the draft.

Last year, the Panthers demoted Manning to nickel back in favor of free agent acquisition Ken Lucas. The move was made because of Manning's lack of strength in run support and tendency to get beat by bigger receivers being an every down player.

Still there is upside to Manning, who doesn't turn 26 until November. Despite having 26 games of starting experience, he would obviously be willing to play the nickel back role if he signed with Chicago.

Although his size has been described as a weakness, he's never missed a game during his three-year NFL career. He's also the type of cornerback the Bears lacked last season. At five-foot-8, 185-pounds he's better equipped to matchup with quicker receivers, such as Carolina's Steve Smith.

Adding Manning now would allow the Bears to address other needs in the first and second round of the draft. Tight end and linebacker would jump to the top of the priority list with wide receiver also being an option.

Any cornerback the Bears take in the draft is likely to suffer through growing pains as a rookie. On a team expected to win in 2006, patience for inexperience is luxury the Bears can't afford.

Manning has played in two NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. He's also come up big in the postseason, including picking off Donovan McNabb three times to help the Panthers earn a trip to Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Pairing Manning with starters Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman would give the secondary three cornerbacks 25 or younger with varying strengths in their games. It would also ensure the Bears wouldn't take a major dive from their fifth ranked pass defense from a year ago.

Even though Manning is not a big name, he would be a perfect fit for what the defense lacks, a cornerback who can stay with an undersized receiver. If the Bears had a Manning type last season, general manager Jerry Angelo could be contemplating how to get back to the Super Bowl instead of lamenting another quick playoff exit.

Angelo appears to have targeted what he perceives as the missing link to the defense. Now can he get the deal done with Manning at the right price?


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