If free agency unfolds right for the Bears, they secure their first offseason priority — a pass rusher — in the person of Michael Bennett from the Seattle Seahawks. But what if the market doesn’t allow the Bears to accomplish that, even with the added wiggle room in the increased salary cap?
GM Phil Emery was able to land his primary target last offseason — left tackle Jermon Bushrod. That was accomplished along with netting tight end Martellus Bennett, followed by guard Matt Slauson a couple weeks later.
But Emery and the Bears cannot rely on draft hits to fill every need on defense. Just as the Bears quickly addressed two needs on offense at the outset of free agency, it would be a misjudgment to assume that a Plan B is in place.
Defensive line is an exponentially higher priority than safety, but so was left tackle over tight end and Emery struck fast on both of those a year ago.
With Charles Tillman and the Bears talking nicely about each other, a one-year fix at cornerback there is within reach. That leaves safety as the darkhorse position for a quick strike, particularly if the Bennett market gets out of hand.
The market for elite safeties is below that of defensive end, tackle and cornerback. But not by a lot. The Buffalo Bills just signed Aaron Williams to a four-year extension worth as much as $26 million ($6.5 million per), which is in the range with Green Bay’s Morgan Burnett (five years, $26 million). Burnett was taken four slots before Major Wright in the third round of the 2010 draft.
On the higher side, Seattle signed safety Kam Chancellor to an extension averaging $7 million per season.
The Williams extension effectively closed the door in Buffalo for Jairus Byrd. But Byrd is reportedly looking for a deal paying in the range of $10 million per season. The Cleveland Browns did not franchise-tag Pro Bowl safety T.J. Ward.
The needs on the defensive line clearly demand attention ahead of the last line of the Chicago schemes as played last season for coordinator Mel Tucker. But with Major Wright done in Chicago, the need at safety may come up for attention simply out of necessity, and default.