The defensive backs who roam the Chicago Bears’ secondary are a primary concern.
And they have to be when you see the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford twice a year.
With that in mind, GM Ryan Pace sought improvement via the free agent market. But after striking out on the top tier of free agents, Pace settled in and used what he described in a recent piece by Rich Campbell in the Chicago Tribune as a shotgun approach to free agency. By not pouring all of the team’s resources into one or two free agents, Pace addressed numerous areas, adding that he likes what the team has done in free agency because of the makeup, character, and intelligence of the class as a whole.
While Pace is right in saying the Bears didn’t put all of their eggs in one basket, it’s worth noting a majority of the Bears’ offseason spending went into the defensive secondary. According to the figures at Over The Cap, Chicago handed out $21 million in guarantees to cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, as well as safety Quintin Demps. In 2016, by contrast, the only defensive back who had a cap hit of more than $1 million was Tracy Porter at $3,868,750.
Each of these players brings something unique to the table. Pace sees Amukamara as the savvy veteran type looking to make good on a prove-it contract after struggling to stay healthy the last two seasons with the Giants and Jaguars. When talking about Cooper, Pace described him as “a raw player that I think he is still ascending.” Cooper will play in his age-27 season in 2016, but the Bears will mark his third team in as many years.
Of the duo, Pace said, “They’re both really intelligent football players, too, that can anticipate route concepts and think of things pre-snap that can help because obviously as you guys know we’re pretty young on defense. That kind of experience is invaluable.”
So are the Bears better?
Yes and no.
By starting Amukamara over Porter, the Bears replace their lowest graded defender by Pro Football Focus’ standards with a league average player. All things considered, it’s a significant upgrade when you take the 108th ranked corner out of the mix. On the other hand, the Bears might need to work on some things with Cooper. His 45.5 grade was a shade better than Porter’s 40.6, but both graded out as “poor” cornerbacks. As it turns out, Cooper had the 40th best run grade among cornerbacks – which is a positive sign considering how the Bears struggled at times to stop the run. But his coverage grade ranked 102nd, which is less than stellar.
The future would look bright if Cooper improved his coverage skills and bring them out of the bottom tier of defenders, but that’s asking a lot out of a player whose highest grade came back in his rookie season in 2013 – and it was still graded as “below average.”
Starting Demps over Harold Jones-Quartey gives the Bears two starting safeties who graded as “above average” in 2016. It’s a move that shifts Jones-Quartey (who earned an “average” grade in 2016) into a depth role, which probably fits him more considering where he is at this stage of his development.
We won’t know whether this particular spending spree was worth it until the games are played, but it’s worth asking whether or not the Bears – at minimum – made improvements on paper. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as clear as you’d probably want it to be after spending more than $20 million in guarantees.