The Chicago Bears Might Have a Cornerback Problem

Sep 20, 2020; Chicago, Illinois, USA; New York Giants running back Dion Lewis (33) rushes the ball against Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears front office had a fantastic offseason. From high praise at the draft to some solid free agency signings, there seemed to be little holes in Ryan Pace’s plan to ensure the survival of his tenure as general manager. However, as we rapidly approach the regular season and begin to look at the rearview mirror, hindsight begins to kick in. The Bears brought in talent to fill several gaps on the roster yet didn’t fill the most glaring hole: the vacuum left by Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller’s departure. For all the great work the Bears did in the 2021 offseason, one has to wonder, what is the front office thinking in their handling of the cornerback position?

Fuller’s departure from the Bears had to happen. Unfortunately, Pace had little to offer Fuller to keep him in Chicago as an extension would cause a $20M cap hit and the organization was struggling, shrinking cap space. As a result, Fuller was officially cut from the organization on March 20th, 2021.

When you let one of the best talents on your roster go, common sense would reason that you look to replace that talent. To replace Kyle Fuller, the Bears brought in Desmond Trufant. You read that correctly. In a free-agent cornerback market that carried affordable talents such as Desmond King III, Malcolm Butler, Breshaud Breeland, and Xavier Rhodes, the Bears brought in Desmond Trufant on a 1yr $1.075M deal. I won’t take our cap space as an excuse to bring in a different talent as none of the names listed signed a contract above $4 million.

Scheme Fits

Fuller is a textbook zone cornerback. Finding an abundance of success under Vig Fangio’s secondary zone schemes, things were a bit different when Chuck Pagano came into town. No, the Defense didn’t see that much of a change, but the personnel did. The Bear’s current cornerback room is very much “man” oriented. For example, former Steelers and second most veteran cornerback Artie Burns primarily dominated man coverage during his time at the University of Miami. Still, he struggled in heavy zone schemes in Pittsburgh.

Rookie standout Jaylon Johnson and Bear’s 6th round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft Thomas Graham Jr. also excel at man coverage.

Desmond Trufant has played both man and zone effectively, although he struggled in a man-heavy scheme last year in Detroit. At the same time, Kindle Vildor struggled at man coverage but found his step in zone.

There’s an interesting mix of coverage strengths in this group of cornerbacks. Some speculate that new defensive coordinator Sean Desai will blow up the previous regime’s zone schemes for man coverage. However, considering the Bears’ talent at the safety position, It may not be a terrible idea to rely on Trevis Gipson and Eddie Jackson more. Regarding Desai’s defensive scheming, Jackson saw shades of Fangio. It is any fans or analysts guess how Desai schemes his secondary – that is until we see it in action.

The Bears are resting a lot of confidence in Jaylon Johnson and the young core of cornerbacks assembled on the roster. Bringing in Trufant was most likely nothing more than a move to add a much-needed veteran voice to assist the development of potential prospects. Regardless, we must hope that these prospects can develop quickly, as the Bear’s schedule in 2022 has them facing off against a selection of the league’s best passing attacks.

Wrapping it up

Fuller is gone. Our lockdown outside zone corner is back with Vig Fangio and that amazing group of cornerback talent in Denver. The current arms race in the NFL is centered on speed at the wide receiver position and lock down ability at the cornerback position. The Chicago Bears have the second cheapest cornerback room in the NFL. Hopefully, this low financial risk with a high potential reward pays off shortly. However, if it doesn’t, and the Bears secondary struggles to perform, it will not be surprising if the cornerback position is the Bear’s top priority entering the 2022 off-season.

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