The organization made a statement at season’s end with the pre-emptive re-signing of Tim Jennings to a four-year contract worth as much as $22.4 million, significant not only because of the $11 million guaranteed but also because Jennings is 30. He has played at a consistent level and the Bears are hoping that his mix of savvy and ability will work going forward, particularly behind an upgraded pass rush.
The other side was addressed with a one-year deal bringing back Charles Tillman, another 30-plus defender and one coming off two 2013 injuries that limited him to eight games (only the second time in his career he played fewer than 14 and the first time he’d finished a season on IR).
The 30 Club will include nickel back Kelvin Hayden, out with a season-ending hamstring injury in training camp. What his injury did last season was catapult little-used Isaiah Frey into the lineup for 16 games, six as a starter when the Bears opened in nickel. He was serviceable behind a poor front seven but was credited with just two passes defensed and no interceptions, although opponents were in nickel situations less and less as the year went on and the run defense went down.
Bears Draft priority: Medium
The age of the top three corners projects to push the Bears toward stocking the pipeline, and consensus has been that starter-grade cornerbacks can be found beyond the first round. Considering that Hayden, Jennings and Tillman were all second-rounders (Hayden and Jennings by Indianapolis), the Bears should have few reservations about addressing other needs first.
The unknown would be if top-tier prospects Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State or Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard remains on the board when the Bears’ turn comes at No. 14. Safety and defensive tackle are immediate needs, but the Bears have generally put themselves in a best-player-available position. The chance to add a shut-down corner with size (Dennard, 5-11; Gilbert 6-0) is not one to easily pass up.
Keep an eye on….
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood | 6-1, 198, made a Halas Hall visit and was strong at Senior Bowl.
Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech | Another 6-footer, visited with the Bears and brothers Vincent and Corey were NFL’ers.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State | Not in the elite class but at 5-11 with burner speed, could be a call after Rd. 1.
Bears’ carousel resuming at safety
Bears pre-draft situation
Safety play was a scourge of the defense last season. Heavy fault lay with what wasn’t getting done up in front of Chris Conte and Major Wright but what appeared to be a solid starting tandem was in shambles despite the two starting 31 of 32 combined games.
The Bears made an early strike to land ex-Steeler/Giant Ryan Mundy with a two-year deal. Mundy started nine games for New York last season and projects as a starting strong safety if only because of the two-year deal in a time of on one-year contracts. Conte underwent offseason shoulder surgery and he already was on notice that he was competing for his job. Wright left via free agency and what the Bears thought was set is, at least for now, back in the revolving-door situation that marked the Lovie Smith era.
Bears Draft priority:High
Third-round draft choices have not made anyone forget Mark Carrier or Gary Fencik. Conte struggled mightily in 2013 and underwent offseason should surgery; Brandon Hardin was injured and never made the roster; and Wright played his way to Tampa Bay and Lovie Smith.
The Bears have had hits (Tony Parrish, Mike Brown) and misses (Danieal Manning) in second rounds, with Brown and Parrish becoming day one starters. The Bears need that kind of hit now, regardless of round.
A question is whether the Bears in fact consider the safety positions interchangeable as far as tasks, or whether they in fact have a priority for a free or strong safety, as the Conte/Wright combo effectively set up. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix of Alabama is considered more of a free safety vs. Louisville’s Calvin Pryor or Washington State’s Deone Bucannon who may be more suited for strong, which is where Mundy has played primarily.
Keep an eye on….
Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, Alabama | Came in for a Halas Hall visit; how well ‘Tide defenders far in NFL a consideration?
Calvin Pryor, Louisville | Rated even with Clinton-Dix as two top-20 picks, Pryor the bigger hitter, also a Halas visitor.
Deone Bucannon, Washington State | A third safety brought to Halas Hall, superior speed (4.49) and size (6-1, 211)