If you thought the Chicago Bears busting out the transition tag with Kyle Fuller last spring was a surprise, it would pale in comparison to them using any kind of tag — including the franchise — beginning Tuesday, when the window for such activity officially opens.
Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos might be attractive free agents-to-be, but they're not logical tag candidates. Callahan is a talented and undersized nickel corner coming off a broken foot and four consecutive injury-shortened campaigns to begin his career. Amos is a lot more durable but a lot less dynamic than Callahan.
One or both of them might return, but it won't be under the one-year franchise tender, which was worth $14.975 million for corners and $11.287 million for safeties last offseason, and those could climb around a million at each spot this year.
The Bears' decision to use the $12.971 million transition tag on Fuller, basically allowing the Green Bay Packers — who signed him to an offer sheet — to determine his long-term worth amounted to a masterstroke by Bears GM Ryan Pace after Fuller earned first-team All-Pro honors as the NFL's co-interception leader.
We mentioned Friday that the Bears should at least consider letting both Callahan and Amos walk in free agency, punting on it this year and reaping the benefits of compensatory picks in 2020 for the first time in a decade. That, admittedly, would be a bold strategy, but allowing the rest of the league to determine the price of Callahan and Amos, like they officially did last year with Fuller via the transition tag, would be wise.
Houston's Aaron Colvin and Miami's Bobby McCain basically reset the nickel CB market last year, when Colvin left Jacksonville for the Texans on a four-year, $34 million deal containing $18 million guaranteed and McCain re-upped with the Dolphins for $27 million over four years ($13 million GTD).
It's worth noting neither of those players is as good as Callahan, but both signed last year without the injury concerns that Callahan comes with now. It's also worth noting both teams likely experienced buyer's remorse, with Colvin basically a healthy scratch in the playoffs after proving unequivocally he can't hold up outside and McCain dealing for the first time with injuries and potentially complicating Miami's path to retain All-Pro teammate Xavien Howard.
The Bears already have a top-five CB corps in terms of earning (and production, fortunately), and they must also factor in looming extensions for fellow DB Eddie Jackson and offensive stalwarts including Cody Whitehair and Tarik Cohen.
Eric Reid's extension in Carolina last week (three years and $22 million, nearly half promised), while perhaps more nuanced than other deals, might signal what was a depressed safety market last offseason being poised for a jolt. And with plenty of other household names available, from Earl Thomas to Tyrann Mathieu to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, it remains to be seen whether it drives up Amos' price.
However, a few recent homegrown extensions worth considering relative to Amos' likely price tag are Quandre Diggs in Detroit (three years for $18.6 million, with $10.5 million GTD) and Ricardo Allen in Atlanta (three years for $19.5 million, with $10.9 GTD). Diggs brings more cover ability but not the same physicality as Amos, while Allen is a heat-seeking missile with better ball skills but not quite Amos' size and steadiness.
Fuller is hardly the only example of Pace's impressive foresight in retaining his own players. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman, like Fuller, each have found another level since re-signing, and it stands to reason Callahan and Amos (ages 27 and 25, respectively) are still ascending.
But Pace has also been known to bid against himself in free agency every now and again — think Mike Glennon and Cody Parkey — and with precious little cap flexibility (roughly $6 million as of this writing), it further magnifies the need to set a price in their heads on both guys, yes, but also let the market do what it does.