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Bears Need More from Eddie Jackson

Bears Positional Review: An analysis of the Bears safety position for 2021 and why struggles there could lead to changes at safety in 2022.

 In 2018 the website Pro Football Focus assigned Bears safety Eddie Jackson an overall grade on their scale of 93.2, and after only two NFL seasons he was regarded as the best safety in the league.

It's been a rapid and steady decline since then, with Jackson's low point possibly coming in October as he engaged in a social media battle against former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs simply for criticizing his poor tackling.

Jackson has always been the first to tell media outside influences don't matter and players have to keep everything focused within what happens at Halas Hall, yet there he was feuding with a former star player about a matter of opinion. He signed a $58.4 million contract in 2020, so some criticism should come with the territory.

Maybe the most telling circumstance for Jackson could be found in those PFF grades again this year. Backup safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson had to play extensively due to injuries and illness suffered by starters Jackson and Tashaun Gipson. Both backups were graded by PFF above the grade of 58.0 Jackson had.

After signing his big deal and struggling, Jackson had vowed to rebound. He had talked in preseason about how he liked new coordinator Sean Desai's scheme because it was patterned after Vic Fangio's. Yet he went without an interception for the second straight year and had more issues with his tackling, although his tackling percentage actually did improve dramatically overall with only 9.5% of tackles missed.

The defining photo of the 2021 season should be one of Jackson and Gipson failing to touch down Van Jefferson of the Rams after he caught a long pass in the opener. He got up and ran in for a touchdown. It was all downhill after that for the Bears defense.

Jackson recorded an abysmal 143.6 passer rating against when quarterbacks targeted him, according to official NFL stat partner Sportradar. Jackson allowed six touchdown passes, more than he gave up in the previous three seasons combined.

Expect the position to be addressed in free agency or the draft by new general manager Ryan Poles, whether it's Jackson's spot or the other starting position.

Chicago matched a franchise single-season low of eight interceptions in 2021 but five of those did come from safeties. They've had 18 interceptions over the last two years and 10 came from safeties.

It's just that it's not their top safety making any of those interceptions.

If the Bears need more salary cap cash for free agency forays, it wouldn't be a stretch to think they could consider cutting Jackson. It's also possible they could trade him to pick up a later-round draft pick.

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Ideally, however, they would retain him and let him play out of this skid under a new coach.

They would be eating far too much cap space if they simply cut him or traded him. Overthecap.com reports they would save $6.1 million by cutting him after June 1. While this is true, they also would be absorbing $9 million in dead cap space for his prorated bonus money and that's too high.

Trading Jackson after June 1 would let them absorb only a $4 million cap hit and save $11.1 million overall.

Jackson's struggles aside, safety would be an emphasis for Poles to address. The pass defense was ranked third, but they benefited greatly from a pass rush ranked first in sacks per pass attempt, and their team passer rating against overall was last in the NFL (103.3).

Gipson is an unrestricted free agent who will be 32 years old next season and with a new regime coming in it remains to be seen how much retaining him would even be an option to pursue. 

Gipson still plays solid football, although it's obvious his best time in the league came when he headed up the Jacksonville secondary that reached the AFC championship game in the 2017 season.

At least the Bears have found they have a deep safety group, even if the play they've had at the top of the depth chart has been unsteady.

Both Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson had to start more in 2021 than in other seasons. Both flourished, although Bush also committed a few gaffes. The Bears even got use from fifth safety Teez Tabor and safety/slot cornerback Marqui Christian. 

Like Gipson, Bush, Houston-Carson and Tabor are unrestricted free agents. So even with a deep group, change is to be expected going forward. 

If the Bears want to spend some cap money, it's more essential to do it at cornerback than safety. That's one area where the previous general manager failed.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven