A year before we found ourselves celebrating the Bears giving the transition tag to Kyle Fuller, GM Ryan Pace decided to decline Fuller’s fifth-year option. Remember that?
At the time, the move was expected, sensible, and frankly, didn’t move the needle for most fans. Fuller had played two inconsistent seasons under two vastly different defensive coordinators and then missed the entire 2016 season recovering from a knee injury. As Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times pointed out, exercising the fifth-year option would have paid Fuller $8.526 million in 2018, a move that Finley believed would have been “somewhere between blind faith and recklessness.” Ouch.
But here we are, a year later, and declining that fifth year option looks like a mistake in retrospect (an understandable one all things considered, but a mistake nonetheless). Instead of paying Fuller $8.526 million in 2018, the Bears will have to pay him $12.971 million to play for one more year (over $4 million more than the fifth year option) or pay him whatever he’s able to generate from another team looking for help in the secondary.
But I don’t bring this up to discuss Fuller even more than we did earlier today. I bring it up, however, because, history might just be on the verge of repeating itself.
Remember, it was at this time last year when the Bears were preparing to push Fuller down the depth chart. Pace was set to target cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore as top priorities on the free agent market. Pace’s passes at the top two corners were unsuccessful, but the team still prioritized new corners by signing Prince Amukamara to a one-year “prove it” deal and Marcus Cooper to a multi-year contract that comes with an early, cap-friendly opt out should the team decide it’s time to move on.
Now sub in Kevin White/wide receiver for Kyle Fuller/cornerback, and Jarvis Landry and Allen Robinson as top priorities in the open market. Looks awfully familiar doesn’t it? Indeed, the Bears essentially have the same situation in 2018 they had in 2017 at a different position. Awkward.*
Because White was drafted in the top-10 back in 2015, his fifth-year option would be the average of the top-10 salaries for players at the position in the fourth year of their deals. So for White, that number would be upward of $8.5 million.
The Bears have pretty much conceded they aren’t counting on White to be the guy they drafted in the first round in 2015, but that doesn’t mean a breakout season still can’t be on the horizon – or even a promising season that makes the future look brighter.
For example, Fuller took advantage of an opportunity begot by injuries (Amukamara’s ankle) and ineffectiveness (Cooper’s poor play) ahead of him on the depth chart, and turned in the best performance from any cornerback on the roster.
So even if the Bears load up on receivers this offseason, White could still be presented with an opportunity to shine at some point next summer. Whether he’ll be ready for it is something for another post on another day.
But for Pace, he has until May 3 to decide whether to exercise a fifth-year option or risk becoming the victim of revisionist history for the second straight offseason.
*Michael: One notable difference I’d like to point out is that the Bears are a far more attractive landing spot for free agents this year than they were last year. That could make the risk of whiffing on a couple of attractive free agents slightly less likely, which means declining the fifth year option on White isn’t necessarily as risky as it was for Fuller, which, again, was already considered a fine move *at the time.*
Michael Cerami contributed to this post.