Cornerback is an odd position for the Bears when it comes to free agency. It’s not as clear-cut as safety and defensive end in terms of seeking veteran help, and the Bears could just bring back Charles Tillman and Zack Bowman and be good to go at the position, along with Tim Jennings and Isaiah Frey.
Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but also the No. 1 reason they wouldn’t be a player on the cornerback market. Other things to consider: cornerbacks are expensive, the Bears already have a $5.25 million cap hit dedicated to the position for Jennings next season and cornerback is a generally deep position to draft.
However, it’s far from certain that the Bears bring back Tillman, arguably the best cornerback in franchise history. In a new-look 2014 defense, we may see more press coverage, too, which will affect the Bears’ decision-making.
For this exercise, we'll assume that Tillman is not coming back and that the Bears won’t break the bank for a starting cornerback, and therefore would avoid bidding wars for Alterraun Verner, Brent Grimes and Aqib Talib.
Here are five somewhat under-the-radar cornerbacks that may fit in the Bears’ price range, and have the size to be a starter to replace Tillman.
Vontae Davis: The Illinois grad seemed to turn his career around after getting traded from Miami to Indianapolis. In 2013, he was ranked third among cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus with quarterbacks completing only 50.6 percent of passes in his direction. He has 13 career interceptions and started every game in 2013. Davis said he wants to remain in Indy, and the Colts want him back, too.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: You can watch the Broncos’ corner play on Sunday in the Super Bowl. He began the week saying he would retire if they won, but then said he’s looking for a long-term deal — the Broncos are the third team of DRC’s career. He finished 2013 fifth among corners by PFF and turns 28 in April. The 6-foot-2 corner has at least 14 passes defensed in five of his six seasons.
Walter Thurmond: Another Super Bowl player, Thurmond was suspended for four games this season, but proved valuable filling in on the outside for Brandon Browner while also showing his abilities in the slot. He had six passes defensed. Thurmond, 5-foot-11, played a total of eight games from 2011-12 and will be 27 in August. Quarterbacks had a 67.5 passer rating throwing at Thurmond, who should use free agency to find a starting job.
Terrell Thomas: In Week 6, Alshon Jeffery had only one catch, and Terrell Thomas was on him for three of the targets in his direction (per PFF). Coming off back-to-back seasons lost to torn ACLs, Thomas played in every game with seven starts and had seven passes defensed. The 29-year-old, 6-foot-0 corner may be limited to covering the slot, which would affect his value to the Bears.
Nolan Carroll: The most unknown corner on the list, Carroll has started 22 games in the past two seasons for Miami and at 6-1, 205 pounds, Carroll had 11 passes defensed and three interceptions last season, both career-high totals. Tied with Thomas and ranked 52nd among corners on PFF, Carroll would be far from a splash signing. But at 27, is another option Phil Emery can consider.