On Wednesday, we looked at the safeties currently under contract for 2014. Today, we take a look at three players who are about to be free agents, including two of the top three players on the 2013 depth chart at the position.
Major Wright, SS
It’s tempting to call Major Wright a major disappointment, but that’s beneath me. (See what I did there? Hilarious, right? No?) He’s played four seasons with the Bears, after being drafted in the third round in 2010. He was at the very least durable in 2013, especially relative to the rest of the defense; he played 90% of the team’s defensive snaps, missing the Week 13 contest against Minnesota with a hamstring injury. But while he was on the field, he struggled to make an impact.
As the strong safety, he was often tasked with run stoppage, and as we know from the Bears numbers, anyone who was a part of the rush defense probably failed to do their job on a regular basis. He had two interceptions, down from four in 2012. Wright just never seemed to put it all together in Chicago, showing flashes of potential from time to time, but never demonstrating a consistent level of performance. Were he a cheap depth option, as Conte might be for 2014, it might make sense to bring him back. But Wright made about $1.5 million last season, and though I doubt he’ll have a large market for his services (he’s not going to get a Danieal Manning-type contract, that’s for sure) it’s quite possible another team might value his tools more than the Bears do at this point.
Considering I expect the Bears to be looking hard at upgrading the position via free agency and/or the draft, I’m not sure I see a place for Wright to return. Of course, if replacement options run dry and the Bears had had a higher opinion of Wright’s 2013 performance than I did, we could see him back. But I just don’t see the point; much like the offensive line rebuild, it seems like it’s worth trying other players at the position just for the sake of trying.
Craig Steltz, S
Steltz has been a Bear for six years, which is sort of crazy to think about. He was a fourth-round pick in 2008, and he’s never found a role as a starter; he played just 12% of defensive snaps in 2013, filling in for both Major Wright and Chris Conte. He is a core special teams player, playing 63% of snaps in that phase of the game, and it’s his value to that area (along with what will assumedly be a fairly cheap price tag) that might be his ticket to a new contract with the Bears. I think we’re past the point of wondering if Steltz can be a starting safety; there was a minor Chicago media groundswell for that cause a few offseasons ago, but I never saw it. He’s just not athletic enough to man the position full-time, and he doesn’t make up for that with amazing instincts or ball skills (he has just one interception in his career. (He received a -5.8 grade from Pro Football Focus for his sole 2013 start against the Vikings; that was heavily influenced by a poor grade vs. the run.)
If the Bears cut Conte, I could envision bringing back Steltz for depth and special teams purposes. But if the keep Conte and add a veteran free agent and another safety in the draft, Steltz might face a numbers crunch that he can’t overcome.
Anthony Walters, S
The Bears signed Walters as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2011 season; he played some defensive snaps in 2012, but didn’t see the field on defense in 2013. He did play 51% of the team’s special teams snaps, which is his obvious role going forward if the Bears decide to retain his services. Assuming he’s available at the minimum, and the Bears liked what he brought on special teams (as always, I won’t pretend to have charted special teams players) I could see him brought back as depth.