I have covered the defensive line and linebackers in my previous posts. Today, I will end this series with the cornerbacks and safeties available.
The Bears have a recent history of having ball-hawking cornerbacks. The starting pair they have, Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, have done an excellent job of covering some of the best receivers and causing turnovers. Tillman has perfected what people now call “The Tillman Punch” where he causes fumbles at an alarming rate. The problem the Bears have is that both defensive backs had their contracts up at the end of the season. A decision had to be made on whether one, both, or neither would be signed.
Half of that decision was made shortly after the season ended when Jennings signed a four-year, $22.4 million contract. The other half is complicated.
Tillman is a hometown kid, and has played his entire career in Chicago. He has said that he will test free agency, and there will most likely be some team that will overpay for him. The defense has to get younger, and at this point the odd man out seems to be Tillman. My guess is the Bears will go for a corner in the first round of the draft.There are some good veterans available, however.
The Green Bay Packers had a tough time in their secondary this past season, but it was not because of Sam Shields. He had 61 tackles 17 passes defended and 4 interceptions for the season. He is a solid corner and has the playoff experience and that will be helpful for a team that is in the playoff hunt. Green Bay wants him back, but he is said to want to test the market. How great would it be to improve the Bears’ defense by weakening Green Bay’s?
The Carolina Panthers had one of the best defenses this season. Part of the reason was the play of Captain Munnerlyn. He had a strong season, and will attract some suitors this offseason.
Munnerlyn’s play is what typifies the city of Chicago’s persona. He is a tough underdog who plays his butt off. He is undersized at 5’9″, but he does whatever he can to beat you.
The coaching staff did not have a whole lot of confidence in Munnerlyn at first. His strong play won them over. This past season he had his best year, having 73 tackles, 3 sacks, 12 passes defended, and 2 interceptions, both run in for touchdowns.
Alterraun Verner has played in relative obscurity in Tennessee. He is a solid defender, recording 57 tackles, 5 interceptions, and 23 passes defended.
The 2014 Pro Bowler is in a somewhat similar situation as Tillman. The Titans signed the other cornerback, Justin McCourty, to a big extension before this season. His contract will count $8.3 million against the cap. They also drafted two corners in last year’s draft. Verner is a lot younger, though, not having turned 25 until this past December.
What can be said about the safety play this season that all fans have not cursed out yet? I will not rehash all the problems, but it was so bad that fans have called for both the safeties’ heads.
Seeing as how Major Wright is just 26, he most likely will come back. Chris Conte, however, is probably as good as gone. With that, the Bears desperately need to upgrade that position.
The Buffalo Bills had contract talks with Jairus Byrd last season, but the two were too far apart to come to an agreement. As a result, the Bills franchised him.
The Bills are trying again, thinking there will be no carryover from last year’s negotiations. Athletes are a fickle bunch, and things may be very different for the Bills when there are other suitors in Byrd’s ear.
Byrd is perhaps the top prize in the safety position. After contract talks with the team fell apart, he waited until the final day of training camp before accepting the franchise contract.
After signing, Byrd suffered plantar fasciitis and missed five games. Even with that, he led the team in interceptions with four, added a sack and a forced fumble. He was selected to his third Pro Bowl as well.
Byrd has great instincts, and has a good understanding of what offenses are trying to do. Because of that, he has 22 interceptions since he was drafted in 2009, more than any other safety.
Donte Whitner has helped the San Francisco 49ers become one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. His play over the last three years has him in the top ten safeties. He will be coveted by teams looking to strengthen their secondary. That would include the Bears.
The 49ers are in a cap situation and they do not make signing safeties to big contracts a big priority so Whitner could be a cap casualty.
Whitner is a hard hitter who sometimes gets in trouble with big hits. The Bears have a history of hard hitters, especially coming from their safeties. Whitner could fit in and help the Bears create more turnovers.
With all the signings the Miami Dolphins made last year, there may be one they miss that may cost their defense dearly. Chris Clemons is scheduled to hit the open market, and he looks to cash in.
Clemons does not get the same attention as some of the big-name safeties, but he is a solid player.
Clemons had 92 tackles, one interception, and eight passes defended this season. He is a durable player, having missed only 3 games in the last 4 seasons.
According to Pro Football Focus, Clemons ranked ninth in the league in pass coverage. He possesses a legitimate 4.3 speed, and that speed is put to good use. He has tremendous range in coverage, while also preventing big gains by running backs breaking into the secondary or receivers getting loose after missed tackles.
While Clemons is a solid player, he is not a game changer. He is consistent, however. If the Bears have the ball hawkers on other portions of the defense, Clemons can be just the solid player needed.
What are your thoughts? Any others you might want to add? Let me know.