The Chicago Bears had an above average draft class in the 2013 NFL Draft. They were able to bring in reinforcements for the offensive line, the team’s biggest weakness, with first rounder Kyle Long out of Oregon and fifth rounder Jordan Mills from Louisiana Tech. Linebackers Jonathan Bostic out of Florida and Khaseem Greene from Rutgers, who could be the steal of the draft, will have the chance to get some early playing time with the departures of Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach.
However, the Bears did not address one need that could hurt them at the end of the 2013-14 season. All four of their top cornerbacks; Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Kelvin Hayden and Zack Bowman will be free agents at the end of the year. Failing to select a cornerback in the draft could hurt Chicago.
The emergence of Tim Jennings in the 2012-13 season was somewhat unexpected. At just 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds on a good day, Jennings is one of the smallest defenders in the league. But his small body has not limited him. After an average season in 2011, Jennings led the league in interceptions in 2012.
Tillman, with his amazing punching skills, is seemingly able to force a fumble every game. At 6-foot-2 and nearly two bills, he is able to cover some of the biggest receivers in the league.
The duo of the speedy Jennings and powerful Tillman is one of the best in the league. But with both of their contracts up at the end of the year, it seems inevitable that one of them will find a new home. Keeping both will require some serious work and probably each of them taking less money than they could earn elsewhere.
Hayden and Bowman are good veteran players who serve well as backups behind Jennings and Tillman, but that is it. Neither are likely to step into a starting role and compete at a high level. In fact, with both of their contracts up too, they may not even be brought back. This is why it was critical for the Bears to draft a cornerback in the 2013 NFL Draft, even if it was a late-round pick.
The team could look at a couple different scenarios next offseason to address the issue. Popular free agents such as Nnamdi Asomugha, Tracy Porter, and Aqib Talib could be potential targets. However, none of the above seems to be at the caliber of play that Jennings and Tillman displayed last year.
Collegiate players such as Loucheiz Purifoy, from Florida, and Bradley Roby out of Ohio St. are two key names to keep an eye out for. Each have a chance to be first round picks next year, assuming they stay clear of any major injuries. A year is a long time from now though, and who knows what could happen with these two young players.
The cornerback position is one of the stronger spots for Chicago heading into this season, but it may not last very long. The younger Jennings, 29, may be the smarter choice to keep if they cannot resign both him and Tillman, who is 32 years old. But Tillman has been a Bear forever; it would be tough for fans and the team to part ways with him. General Manager Phil Emery will have some tough decisions next off season regarding the secondary. Addressing the problem this year may have helped soothe some of those decisions.