After early hold-backs, Bears strike for two cornerbacks in makeover of secondary

After early hold-backs, Bears strike for two cornerbacks in makeover of secondary

The Bears pulled out of huge-ticket bidding for A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore on day one of free agency in their quest for a starter-grade cornerback, or two. But they didn’t back out too far, coming back to wrap up contracts with a pair of 27-year-old cornerbacks on Saturday: a one-year contract with former New York Giants No. 1 pick Prince Amukamara and following that with a three-year deal for Marcus Cooper, who started 13 games last season for Arizona and led the Cardinals in interceptions last season.

The Bears have now signed six unrestricted free agents from other teams within the last 48 hours: corners Amukamara and Cooper, safety Quintin Demps, quarterback Mike Glennon, tight end Dion Sims and receiver Markus Wheaton. Amukamara and Cooper are both 27 and give the Bears, who have Tracy Porter turning 31 this August, potential longer-term solutions at a position that has been wanting outside of Porter.

With the signing of Demps on Friday, the Bears have done a near full makeover of a secondary that produced historic-low takeaways the past two seasons. The Bears still hold the No. 3 pick of the draft, with elite talent available at both cornerback and safety and the Bears positioning themselves closer to the ideal of being able to secure max-impact, best-available players rather than draft to fill position needs.

The cornerback market exploded early, with Bouye and Gilmore netting five-year packages in excess of $65 million. But the Bears struck back with $7 million guaranteed for 2017 on Amukamara’s deal, and invested on a three-year pact with Cooper, who has had looks at safety as recently as last season.

[RELATED: Bears officially sign Prince Amukamara, re-sign Christian Jones, Johnthan Banks]

Where the Bears did not want to get into the financial blizzard around the early signings, they lured Amukamara with a deal that may have been short term but was at the right level for one season, giving the former No. 1 pick a chance to take his career to the level he’d hoped coming into the NFL as the 19th overall pick of his draft.

“Not a lot of people were agreeing with me,” Amukamara said, laughing, “which is what free agency is all about. It was down to the wire and I was considering a long-term deal with another team but the Bears just made it worth my while.”

Amukamara played with Demps as a member of the Giants’ secondary in 2014, Demps leading the Giants with 4 interceptions. “He knows how to get the ball,” Amukamara said. 

Cooper, 27 and a Pro Bowl alternate last year, was a seventh-round pick by the San Francisco 49ers in 2013 but was cut before the regular season. He went to Kansas City (2013-15) before being traded to Arizona prior to last season. He has played in 56 games, starting 24 after not sticking with the defense under then-coordinator Vic Fangio in San Francisco his first time around.

“I’m a very big fan of Vic. I was with him in San Francisco and also with [Bears secondary coach] Ed Donatell,” Cooper said. “These guys are two geniuses of the game, been around a long time, seen a lot of things and have great defensive schemes. I’m looking for this time to be very productive. We’ve already had familiarity with each other, know how one another thinks, and I’m looking to come in with him and get things done.”

Cornerback and safety have been tough fills in free agency for the Bears at too many times. When free agency in its current form began a quarter-century ago, the Bears marked the moment by signing former San Diego Charger Anthony Blaylock. Blaylock’s career ended after that season due to injuries. Since then, cornerbacks have not typically been hits for the Bears in free agency.

Blaylock. Tom Carter (’97-98). Thomas Smith (’00). Dismal results. Draft hits on Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher afforded the Bears the luxury of staying out of the market at the pricey position but eventually Vasher faded. The Bears scored with Tim Jennings (’10-14) and Tracy Porter (’15-16).

But Porter turns 31 in August, Kyle Fuller has not developed to the level of his first-round selection, Alan Ball was a failed fix, and lower-tier additions (Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn, Demontre Hurst, Deiondre’ Hall) have not established themselves as starter-grade answers.

Safety has seen myriad failed, one-year tries with Adam Archuleta, Chris Hudson, Ryan Mundy (injured) and most recently Antrel Rolle.

NFL Draft Day 2 options for Bears

NFL Draft Day 2 options for Bears

The only thing more stunning than Ryan Pace’s trade up to get Mitchell Trubisky in Thursday’s first round would be if he selected DeShone Kizer with what’s now his lone pick on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

The Notre Dame quarterback is still on the board after Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson were the lone signal-callers chosen Thursday (in the opening 12 picks). But it left Pace’s team still looking to address needs at several defensive positions.

Among the potential help on the defensive line are Michigan State’s Malik McDowell, DeMarcus Walker of Florida State and Jordan Willis of Kansas State, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year who played with Cody Whitehair and on the opposing South team at the Senior Bowl in January as John Fox’s staff handled the North.

There’s still good quality at safety as the second round will begin with four selections ahead of Pace: Washington heavy hitter Budda Baker, Senior Bowl and Scouting Combine sensation Obi Melifonwu of Connecticut, as well as Utah’s Marcus Williams.

[RELATED - Bears trade to draft Trubisky a statement of Ryan Pace's nature]

If Pace is inclined to further add to his cornerback room, many projected or graded Washington’s Kevin King and Florida’s Quincy Wilson to be gone by now. Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie has caught the eyes of several observers who watch a lot more Buffaloes football than I do.

At wide receiver, two players who performed well in Mobile for Fox’s squad were East Carolina’s Zay Jones and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp, who can add to the return game after averaging 107 catches over four years in that FBS program. Two impressive Big Ten wideouts who bring different things to the table — Penn State’s Chris Godwin and Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel are available, as is USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.

The top three graded tight ends disappeared Thursday night. Now it’s to be determined whether South Alabama’s Gerald Everett, Bucky Hodges of Virginia Tech or Michigan’s Jake Butt are worthy of 36th overall.

Oh, and of the two offensive tackles chosen in the first round, one of them wasn’t Alabama’s Cam Robinson, nor Temple riser Dion Dawkins.

Bears Talk Podcast: Reacting to acquisition of QB Mitch Trubisky

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USA TODAY

Bears Talk Podcast: Reacting to acquisition of QB Mitch Trubisky

In the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bears traded up to No. 2 overall and drafted QB Mitchell Trubisky out of North Carolina. Chris Boden, Alex Brown, and Hub Arkush sat down and talked about the moves made by Ryan Pace and what this means for the franchise's future. 

Also, hear from Trubisky himself speaking at the podium in Philadelphia as well as his former Tarheel Head Coach, Larry Fedora on what the signal caller can bring to the Bears. Finally, listen to the full podium availability of Pace after day one of the draft.

Listen to the Bears Talk Podcast below.