Friday, January 31, 2014
Bears position outlook: Safety
By Jeff Dickerson
Free agents: Major Wright, Craig Steltz, Derrick Martin and Anthony Walters (restricted).
The good: Wright ranked second on the defense with 117 tackles and intercepted two passes. In his lone start of the year, Steltz made 12 stops versus the Minnesota Vikings, including several impressive open field tackles against Pro Bowl tailback Adrian Peterson. Chris Conte did have a career-high 95 tackles and three interceptions.
The bad: Again, how much time do you have? The disastrous play of the front-seven exposed the Bears' safeties beyond belief. Much of the season was littered with missed open field tackles and busted coverage from the safety position, although to be fair, the two safeties didn't get much help from up front. Conte had an especially tough year. He played the wrong coverage late in the 4th quarter in the Bears' Week 17 winner-take-all NFC North clash versus the Green Bay Packers that resulted in Randall Cobb's game-winning touchdown reception. The safeties also squandered several chances to force turnovers over the course of the season. Moral of the story: burn the tape.
The money: Conte has one year left on his original rookie contract. He is scheduled to count roughly $1.5 million against the salary cap next season after he reportedly hit a performance escalator that will raise his base salary to the low restricted free agent tender amount of $1.389 million. Conte still has the prorated amount of $133,400 left from his signing bonus of $533,600 that will also count against the cap in 2014. Besides Conte, the Bears have little money allocated to the safety position. They did sign Sean Cattouse to a futures contract immediately following the regular season.
Draft priority: Urgent. At the very least, the Bears will have to find one new starter at safety. A more likely scenario calls for the team to replace both Conte and Wright, although the club could decide to bring Conte to training camp and let him compete for a roster spot/job. Steltz is a seasoned veteran with starting experience who excels on special teams. He can probably be re-signed for the league minimum. But the Bears need to get younger and better at safety.