Kyle Fuller is about to be rewarded handsomely for his play in 2017, and his next contract will most likely come from the Chicago Bears. At this point, it’s just a matter of how much and for how long.
And without waking up old ghosts, I’ll quickly add that the Bears should find themselves in a better situation this time around, than they did when Alshon Jeffery was given the franchise tag in 2016.
I’m sure you’re aware by now that Fuller received the transition tag on Tuesday. And by placing the tag on the revitalized cornerback, the Bears opened up a number of possibilities for his future, and did so while allowing him an opportunity to explore the market and get a feel for his value.
So what are Fuller’s options now that he’s been tagged?
For starters, there is a possibility the two sides come to a long-term agreement before Fuller is allowed to speak with other teams on Monday when the legal tampering period opens up. After that, Fuller could receive (and sign) an offer sheet, which the Bears could match if they so choose. Should no teams send an offer sheet in Fuller’s direction, he and the Bears have until July 23 to work out a long-term deal. If no deal comes about by 3 p.m. on that date, Fuller will make $12.971 million while playing under the transition tag for one year. Not a bad alternative if you put it in perspective.
What was the point of deploying the transition tag anyway?
At minimum, the tag has set some parameters for a potential long-term contract. The use of this particular tag suggests that the starting point of a multi-year deal is around the $12-13 million mark per year from a Bears perspective. In a sense, it allows us to speculate about what the contract’s floor will look like from a team perspective. It’s not hard to imagine the Bears using the transition tag number extrapolated over four or five years as a baseline for negotiations. Of course, Fuller probably has a different idea of what he thinks his value might be. The same could be said for other teams who could be in a hunt, but they should also know that all conversations probably start around that $12 million range. Teams not as familiar with Fuller’s past might not be as willing to shell out that kind of dough for someone with that history.
What might Fuller ask for in free agency?
Rule No. 1 when it comes to contract negotiations: You will never get what you don’t ask for. With that in mind, here are some recent contracts Fuller could point to as he seeks a deal of his own:
- 2017: A.J. Bouye, Jaguars: 5 years, $67.5 million ($26 million guaranteed)
- 2017: Stephon Gilmore, Patriots: 5 years, $65 million ($31 million guaranteed)
- 2016: Janoris Jenkins, Giants: 5 years, $62.5 million ($28.8 million)
Bouye’s deal might be one both sides point to when it comes to these negotiations. The Bears could use it as an example of a contract a player gets when his breakout season comes in his walk year. Fuller could use it as a reference point and note that the Bears actually out-bid the Jaguars, so there should be more wiggle room to reward a player you developed and are familiar with.
Fuller would also be wise to highlight the Bears’ other failed attempts at signing a big ticket free agent corner. GM Ryan Pace made runs at both Gilmore and Jenkins before both players opted to go elsewhere. It’s evident that Pace wanted to shell out some significant paper to lock in a top-tier cornerback in the past. Now, the option to do so has presented itself again – this time in the form of one of his own players.
Let’s make a deal…
You don’t have to use your wildest imagination in order to imagine where both sides can meet in the middle on a deal that keeps Fuller in the fold and pays him good money. Frankly, the Bears need stability in the secondary, which is something Fuller’s long-term return would provide. And Fuller surely would like to be rewarded for bouncing back against all odds.
So what does the happy middle look like? A four- or five-year deal that has an annual average value between $13 and $15 million and guarantees more money than Bouye’s $26 million, but probably less than Gilmore’s $31 million.
Of course, this is all easier said than done. Keep that in mind as we approach the start of free agency.