When the Chicago Bears placed the transition tag on cornerback Kyle Fuller earlier this winter, they ensured that he’d return for – at a minimum – a one-year deal worth $12.971 million. But the hope all along was that Fuller would ink a long-term extension that would make him one of the core members of the defense.
Now that the top two unrestricted free agent cornerbacks are off the board, perhaps we have a better idea of what a multi-year deal for Fuller so he won’t have to play on the transition tag in 2018.
Trumaine Johnson’s deal with the New York Jets is worth as much as $72.5 million over five years and includes $34 million in guarantees, according to ESPN New York’s Rich Cimini. Johnson’s contract is remarkably similar to the deal the team handed out to Darrelle Revis in 2015. If you’ll recall, Revis’ contract was a five-year pact that included $39 million in guarantees and was worth up to $70 million. Revis Island was abandoned after two seasons and is now looking for a new area to call home.
Similarly, NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport reports Malcolm Butler’s contract with the Tennessee Titans is worth more than $61 million and features $30 million guaranteed. That’s a big money contract for a player whose Super Bowl absence is still a mystery, but we shouldn’t let one game cloud what has been a pretty good career for Butler so far.
So where does this leave Fuller?
Now that Johnson and Butler have set the market, we have a better sense of what Fuller’s next deal should look like. Johnson’s total value ranks as the second-highest among corners, according to OverTheCap.com, while Butler’s checks in at ninth. Same for the per-year average. Johnson’s $14.5 million annual average is second only to Josh Norman, while Butler’s $12.5 million slots in right below the transition tag number of $12.971.
Given what we know about these contracts, Fuller’s past performance, and his projected future, we can start putting forth a better guess on what a new deal might look like for the Bears’ top corner.
And to that end … Fuller won’t get near Johnson’s guarantee or annual average salary, because Johnson is a more accomplished player. Butler also has a better track record than Fuller, even if he didn’t necessarily perform to his capabilities in a contract year the way Fuller did. HOWEVER, one thing Fuller does have going for him – that neither Johnson or Butler has – is youth. Fuller is a full two years younger than both players, which makes the idea of locking him into a multi-year deal that much more attractive.
In other words, if the five-year contract is something Fuller wants, it’s an easier pill to swallow when giving it to a 26-year-old compared to a 28-year-old. Then again, some of these recent three-year deals line up with the end of the NFL CBA, which expires after the 2020 season. It’s possible Fuller values lining himself up for a new deal after the new CBA kicks in. That would be quite the heady play.
As for contract details, perhaps the two sides split the difference, find room in the middle that makes it work for both the team and player. Maybe a five-year deal worth $66 million that includes anywhere between $26-$30 million guaranteed is something that makes the two parties happy.
In any case, having both of the top unrestricted options off the market could lead to a resolution sooner, rather than later.