Bears offseason outlook: Cornerback

The Bears could be forced to make a difficult decision at cornerback to clear salary cap space.
By 670 The Score

Editor's note: This marks the ninth piece in a series of positional outlooks for the Bears' roster entering this offseason. Click here to read the rest of them.

(670 The Score) The Bears created a strong cornerback pairing last offseason by drafting Jaylon Johnson in the second round to play opposite of Kyle Fuller.

Chicago's hope is that Fuller and Johnson can form a tandem at the outside cornerback spots for several years, but there's looming uncertainty at the position that the Bears must address this offseason.

Who's under contract
Kyle Fuller, 29 -- Though Fuller had just one interception in 2020, he had a strong season, allowing just 55.4% of passes his way to be completed for 6.3 yards per target.

Jaylon Johnson, 21 -- Johnson played well in his rookie season, but it was cut short after 13 games due to a reaggravation of his left shoulder injury.

Buster Skrine, 31 -- The Bears' nickel cornerback for the last two seasons, Skrine had his 2020 campaign cut short due to a concussion. He's a candidate to be cut this offseason.

Kindle Vildor, 23 -- A fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2020, Vildor played in all 16 games and started one.

Duke Shelley, 24 – Shelley filled in after Skrine suffered his concussion, playing in nine games and proving himself as a potential option moving forward at the nickel position.

Teez Tabor, 25 – A second-round pick of the Lions in 2017, Tabor was signed by the Bears late in December. He’ll get the chance to compete for a roster spot in 2021.

Tre Roberson, 28 – A standout in the Canadian Football League, Roberson spent the 2020 season on the reserve/non-football injury list. He's under contract for one more season.

Xavier Crawford, 25 – Crawford was on the Bears’ practice squad last season.

Free agents
Artie Burns, 25 – The 2016 first-round pick Burns suffered a torn ACL in training camp after he was signed last offseason and given the chance to compete for a job.

Michael Joseph, 25 – The Oswego product Joseph has been with the Bears since 2018.

Quote to note
“Very impressed, very impressed. To come into this league and to start right away and play valuable downs for a defense that is dominant, it’s huge. You're proud of the guy. You're proud of the guy that can come in the league and step up to the plate and be able to play those valuable downs. I don't know what was expected, but I think he's achieved a lot in this first year.”
-- Bears defensive lineman Akiem Hicks on Johnson's rookie season

What’s ahead
On paper, the Bears have their top three cornerbacks set to return, but it's a position that's almost certain to see some cap-clearing turnover.

Skrine, 31, has a history of concussions that’s frightening, and he missed the final month with another one. He's likely to be released to clear $5 million in cap space. The Bears could then look toward internal candidates like Shelley to replace him at nickel cornerback or perhaps sign someone in free agency.

The difficult question for the Bears is whether there's more value in keeping Fuller as their top cornerback or parting ways with him to create $14 million in cap savings and use that to strengthen their team in other ways. If Chicago opted to part ways with Fuller to salvage cap room, it would of course be best to do so with a trade. But that could be a complex proposition.

Fuller has been a steady presence, but the Bears need to open up cap room in order to fill needs at other positions – namely quarterback. If the Bears were to move on from Fuller, they'd have to be sure Johnson is ready to handle the top cornerback role and that there’s a viable replacement to fill the No. 2 spot.

It’s worth noting the Bears have added depth at cornerback in the likes of Burns, Roberson and Tabor. Perhaps they're wondering if they can hit on one of those players to hold down a starting spot.

The Bears are certainly better with Fuller than without him, but it’s a delicate balance against a tight cap.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.