Both Bears starting cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara, are unrestricted free agents; and top nickel corner Bryce Callahan is restricted, so the position is a major concern.
Fuller had a career year after missing the entire 2016 season following preseason arthroscopic knee surgery. He was repeatedly picked on by opponents but time and again responded to the challenge. His 22 pass breakups were nearly one-third of the team's total of 69. After Fuller, no other Bear had more pass breakups than Amukamara's 7.
Fuller started all 16 games in 2017 and tied with Callahan and rookie safety Eddie Jackson for the team lead in interceptions with two. He was fourth with 68 tackles and played with more physicality than he had in the past. The 2014 first-round pick was one of just two players in 2017 with at least 20 pass breakups and 65 tackles. Fuller, who just turned 26, already has 46 NFL starts, and he made himself a boatload of money with his 2017 performance.
Before the Bears decide to reward Fuller with a multi-year deal, they must be convinced his play going forward will be as impressive after he gets paid as it was when he was playing for a new contract. It’s a risk the Bears should take, although Fuller remains a candidate for the franchise tag, which is projected at roughly $15 million this year for cornerbacks.
With Amukamara, what you see is what you get – a starting-caliber cover corner who can tackle and will support vs. the run but who has never made many plays on the ball. He has a total of just one interception in the past three seasons and only seven in his seven seasons. After a slow start because of injury, the 6-foot, 202-pound Amukamara started the final 12 games. Availability is a concern as well, since Amukamara has played all 16 games just once in his career.
Callahan started five games last season when the Bears opened in nickel. Undrafted out of Rice in 2015, the 5-foot-9, 191-pounder has started 19 games in the slot or outside. Cre'Von LeBlanc, undrafted out of Florida Atlantic in 2016, has also started games inside and outside, including nine as a rookie after he was waived by the New England Patriots and signed by the Bears. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound LeBlanc is sticky in coverage but is better suited to play in the slot.
Last offseason the Bears believed they were upgrading at cornerback when they signed veteran Marcus Cooper to a three-year, $16-million deal in free agency. It turned out to be a waste of money to such an extent that his roster spot for next season is uncertain at best. Cooper started the first four games in 2017, sat out with a back injury in Week Five, rarely saw the field after that and played poorly when he did.
In the free-agency pool, it certainly seems Malcolm Butler will be moving on from New England after being benched in Super Bowl XLII. The Bears hit it big with Akiem Hicks the last time they took a former Patriot, but Butler will cost a lot more than Hicks did. He started 47 regular-season games the past three seasons with eight interceptions.
The Rams’ Trumaine Johnson slumped a bit last year, partially due to a leg injury, but at age 28, he has 18 career interceptions and, at 6-1 and 205 pounds, he can match up with bigger wide receivers.
The Eagles’ Patrick Robinson picked an opportune time to have one of his better seasons, which included four interceptions, and he’ll be one of several Super Bowl champs who get paid in the offseason.
Less expensive options include the Bills’ injury-prone E.J. Gaines and the Colts’ Rashaan Melvin.
The college crop could produce four first-round corners and at least four more in the second round. And that doesn’t include Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick, who could be a top-five pick as the draft’s best safety and probably the best cornerback as well.
Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward has been projected to the Bears in some mock drafts, and if either Fuller or Amukamara leaves, GM Ryan Pace will be looking for replacements. But No. 8 might be a reach for a one-year starter, even though Ward is likely to make a splash at the Combine with elite testing numbers.
Iowa’s Josh Jackson comes with similar concerns since he also started for just one season. He's taller than Ward and can match up with bigger receivers, but he lacks bulk and physicality in run support.
Central Florida’s Mike Hughes cracks the first round in some mocks, but he’s another one-year wonder. He comes with some character concerns but also has special-teams ability with three kick-return touchdowns in 2017.
Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver could be the best athlete in the draft. He spent two years on the Buffs’ track team as a decathlete and he’s big, fast and will support vs. the run. He’s got upside but might be a bit of a project.