Will It Be Rent-A-Safety for Bears Again?

Free agency might provide the best Bears opportunity to put an experienced safety on the field for 2021, but the best option simply could be to bring back all of their own free agents at this position.
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The patchwork safety program instituted by the Bears needs to end.

They need to find a good draft pick who can start the way Eddie Jackson did as a rookie.

Accomplishing this is easier said than done, considering the need to use Day 1 and 2 picks in this draft for offensive help. GM Ryan Pace found Eddie Jackson in Round 4 in 2017 and the Bears do not have a fourth-round pick, so the chance to duplicate this type of find in the draft looks entirely unlikely.

The Bears don't just need one safety, they need several. 

Or at least they need to sign several. The only safeties they have currently under contract besides Jackson are players not on their 53-man roster for last regular season: opt-out Jordan Lucas and practice squad player Marqui Christian.

So it's safe to say they'll be in the market for safety help in free agency.

Again.

Since losing Adrian Amos in free agency to the Green Bay Packers, the Bears have been forced to sign veterans Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Tashaun Gipson to one-year deals at low costs. The chances are they can't retain Gipson because of cap costs, unless he's willing to play another year at a bargain rate.

Gipson performed better as the season went on and there's every reason to think he'd be better than adequate at the same role in 2021 if given the chance to play in this defensive system a second straight year.

The Bears could simply dangle a starting spot before Deon Bush again and hope he wins it this time. So far he's been unable to do it, but he has provided excellent depth and last year made his first career interception while being paid more ($1.4 million) than Gipson ($1.05 million).

DeAndre Houston-Carson also made his first career interception and is a free agent, like Gipson and Bush. He made as much as Gipson (1.05 million).

The Bears could easily lose all of those safeties in free agency. Or they could be retained depending on what they would accept as pay.

The next best solution to finding a safety is the same way they found Gipson -- a free agent rebounding from a bad situation.

It's unlikely to be the free agency most people talk about each March. That would be where safeties like Minnesota's Anthony Harris, Denver's Justin Simmons, Cleveland's Karl Joseph, the Jets' Marcus Maye, the Saints' Marcus Williams and the Rams' John Johnson will be. Those are the high-end safeties, players Spotrac.com projects will command deals valued between $7.5 million to $15 million a year. The Bears can't afford that for a safety after giving Jackson $58.4 million over four years.

It's too bad for the Bears because Johnson would be a perfect fit as a strong safety from playing in Brandon Staley's Rams defensive scheme. New Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai is believed to be in the process of switching the Bears back to more of the approach used by Vic Fangio, which is Staley's defense.

Considering what's left available in free agency and their own backup help, the Bears might be better off simply retaining the safeties they had last year.

Here are some other safety options out there, for better or worse. Remember, safety has traditionally been undervalued and the list of free agents is likely to improve greatly as players are cut for cap purposes.

Daniel Sorensen, Kansas City

A part-time player much of the time and 31 years old this coming season, he started last year for 11 games with the AFC champions and hasn't been particularly effective with 13.3% missed tackles, three touchdown passes allowed and a 100.7 passer rating against when targeted. These statistics are according to Sportradar, official stat partner of the NFL. At 6-foot-2, 208, Sorensen can play either in the box or deep and was more effective in previous years as a backup.

Erik Harris, Las Vegas

More the classic strong safety at 6-2, 220, he's almost as big as some linebackers. Harris made five interceptions in 2018-19 but last year experienced a down year with 17.6% missed tackles and a 124.5 passer rating against when targeted. In other years he'd beem more effective, 90.5 and 58.3 passer rating against in 2018-19. Harris played for just $2.5 million last year and will be 31 this season.

Keanu Neal, Atlanta

A starter who was unavailable almost all of 2018 and 2019, first with a knee injury and then an Achilles injury. At 6-1, 216 he'd be a strong safety who could be deployed near the line of scrimmage so the Bears could leave Jackson to play ballhawk deep. But in the past he was able to drop off in coverage deeper at times, as well. The trouble is his injury past and whether it's taken some of his speed. The Falcons had picked up his fifth-year option despite two injuries and he had a 98.6 passer rating against last year.

Jalen Mills, Philadelphia

The Eagles moved their left cornerback to strong safety lsat year. He didn't do a terrible job, either. Mills probably tackled better than a cornerback moving to strong safety could be expected to do, missing on 10.8% of tackles and allowing just 57.6% completions when targeted according to Sportradar. The 82.0 passer rating against he had was his career best. Mills was at $4 million last year. Considering the position switch, it's possible he might be available at something similar or less after he played on a one-year deal in 2020.

Malik Hooker, Indianapolis

He looked like one of the league's better young safeties as a rookie but suffered a torn ACL and MCL. His fifth-year option was declined and then last year he suffered a torn Achilles after two starts. The asking price could be low but the chance of full recovery after last season might be low as well.

Terrence Brooks, New England

A backup almost all his career, he got the chance to start twice last year and had little success. He'll be 29 this season.

Jaquiski Tartt

A productive strong safety when healthy and ideal size at 6-1, 215, he simply hasn't stayed healthy. The 49ers were already overpaying for him based on the injury list he has: IR for seven games last year with a groin injury, six games in 2018 with a shoulder injury and seven games in 2017 with a forearm injury. He also missed a single start in both of his first two years, 2015-16 with injuries. Maybe a switch to a scheme where he's not always the one inside the box taking on the run could keep him healthy?

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