2021 Bears position needs: Free agent, draft options at safety
If Eddie Jackson plays up to his Pro Bowl standards set in 2018 and 2019, it would solve a lot of problems for the Bears.
The 27-year-old free safety is going to be a staple of the Bears defense moving forward, and they need him to play like one. At times last season, Jackson disappeared. He totaled zero interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. There were the occasional bad missed tackles, too.
Jackson is here to stay. The real question at safety is what to do with the other safety position next to Jackson.
The roster in 2021
Although he had a down year, Jackson isn't going anywhere. Jordan Lucas opted out of the 2020 season, but remains under contract for 2021. Marqui Christian spent time on the practice squad in 2020 and signed a futures contract with the team for 2021.
Pending free agents
Starting strong safety Tashaun Gipson is scheduled to become a free agent, along with longtime safeties Deon Bush and DeAndre Houston-Carson, and cornerback/safety Sherrick McManis.
2021 internal options
Jackson could have his contract restructured to create additional 2021 cap space. Lucas' situation is anybody's guess at this point. Christian isn't a likely starting option.
The Bears signed Gipson to a one-year contract as a cheap alternative to former safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. A ninth-year veteran in 2020, Gipson played well and remained injury free. He signed for relatively cheap (about $1 million for one year) partially because the Texans owed him $3.25 million after they cut him last spring. He will likely be asking for a raise after a solid, injury-free season.
If the Bears re-sign Gipson, they likely won't have cap space for both Bush and Houston-Carson. If they part with Gipson, they find themselves needing a starter and Bush and Houston-Carson don't seem like ideal options, though they've been valuable contributors and useful on special teams. McManis is versatile, can play pretty much anywhere in the secondary and is a veteran special teamer. He could be re-signed relatively cheap, but he's also not a likely starting safety.
Free agency availability
Safety is a position where the Bears don't seem likely to spend a lot. They have too many needs elsewhere. There are plenty of intriguing, but expensive, free agent safeties out there. Denver's Justin Simmons and Minnesota's Anthony Harris will both command a fortune. But with cap issues, adding another expensive safety is not a luxury the Bears can afford.
Indianapolis' Malik Hooker or San Francisco's Jaquiski Tartt seem like cheaper options, but both have had injury issues. The Colts declined Hooker's estimated $7 million 2021 option and he missed 14 games due to an Achilles injury. He could be available cheap on a one-year "prove-it" deal. Tartt, a former second-round draft pick, would likely cost a little more but wouldn't be overly expensive. After injury plagued 2018 and 2019 seasons, Atlanta's Keanu Neal played in 15 games for the Falcons. Neal or Tartt would likely cost something in the range of $3-5 million per year.
It the Bears draft a safety, it probably won't come until the middle or late rounds. It's not priority No. 1, 2 or 3. They could use a backup who is serviceable on special teams, but if they re-sign Bush or Houston-Carson that becomes a low draft priority. Lucas, should he opt back in, could potentially fill that role too.
Keep an eye on names like Andre Cisco from Syracuse, Ar'Darius Washington from TCU and Richie Grant from Central Florida, if they're available in the third round. Richard LeCounte from Georgia, Caden Sterns from Texas or Tyree Gillespie from Missouri could be mid- to late-round options.
The best guess
The Bears probably look to sign a relatively cheap veteran to start beside Jackson. That's probably Gipson, who seems to like playing in Chicago. Maybe they pick a young safety in the fifth, sixth or seventh round of the draft, but it's not a high priority.