The Chicago Bears have been all over the place this offseason. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Ryan Pace had a plan to bring in a top-tier quarterback to bolster his team’s offense. Rumors surrounded the names of Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Sam Darnold, Jameis Winston and others. Instead, Pace decided to bring in Andy Dalton in NFL Free Agency on a one-year deal worth $10 million. Yes, the Bears will look different with Dalton as their quarterback, but what’s going to look even more different is their defense.
Brad Biggs, of the Chicago Tribune, broke news that the Bears released Kyle Fuller yesterday, and the team is also exploring trade options for Akiem Hicks. Fuller has played all six seasons of his prolific career in Chicago, and Hicks has spent the last five seasons in the “Windy City” as well. Let’s take a look at how the two impacted the team’s defense in recent years and how they can be replaced moving forward.
Bears Release Cornerback Kyle Fuller
Last season wasn’t Fuller’s best, but he still made tremendous impacts as a veteran presence in Chicago’s secondary. He finished the campaign playing in all 16 games, while recording 65 combined tackles, one interception, eight pass deflections and a forced fumble. In his six years with the team, Fuller was a First-Team All-Pro in 2018, he made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019, and he played in 94 career games in the navy and orange uniform. He did miss the entire 2016 season with a lingering knee injury. Other than that season, he only missed two more regular season games.
Fuller will go down as one of the most productive cornerbacks to suit up for the team. His 19 career interceptions place him tied for 19th in Bears history. He also produced 390 combined tackles, 82 pass deflections and four forced fumbles in his six seasons.
Chicago desperately needs to address the cornerback position before the regular season starts. Jaylon Johnson might go into the year as the team’s top cornerback, while entering his second season in the league. Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley, Tre Roberson, Jalen Tabor and Xavier Crawford are the other five cornerbacks under contract entering the 2021-22 season. It wouldn’t hurt to go out and sign a veteran corner to a bargain contract. Keep an eye out on Bashaud Breeland, Kevin King and Xavier Rhodes. Don’t be surprised if the team also looks to draft a cornerback in the early rounds of this year’s draft as well.
Akiem Hicks is Being Shopped
Like Fuller, Hicks will go down as a dominant Bears defender, as he should arguably be considered a top-10 defensive lineman in the franchise’s history. He’s currently 16th all-time in career sacks (27.5) as a Chicago Bear. Hicks also made his only Pro Bowl as a Bear in 2018. In his five seasons in Chicago, Hicks played in 68 career games, recording 222 combined tackles, 27.5 sacks, 46 tackles for loss, 79 quarterback hits, five fumble recoveries and five forced fumbles.
As of right now, Hicks is still a Chicago Bear, but the team has given him permission to seek a trade. By either trading or cutting the dominant defensive lineman, the team will save about $10.5 million in cap space. The departures of both Hicks and Fuller will open up about $21.5 million for the club. The potential moves make sense, since Hicks is turning 32 in November and Fuller is 29 years of age.
Losing Hicks isn’t as troublesome as losing Fuller is. Eddie Goldman is slated to return, after opting out of last season. Third-year-pro Bilal Nichols is coming off an impressive campaign last season, and Chicago just signed Angelo Blackson (formerly an Arizona Cardinal) to a two-year deal two days ago. The team also re-signed Mario Edwards, Goldman’s college teammate at Florida State, to a three-year extension earlier in the week. Don’t expect the Bears to go out and find another dominant defensive lineman this offseason, as the team desperately needs to address other positions before the start of the regular season.