One of the game's more dangerous playmaking defenders just became its highest paid at the safety position.
The Bears reached a contract extension Friday with 26-year-old Pro Bowl S Eddie Jackson worth up to $58.4 million, pacing all safeties with an annual average of $14.6 million ($33 million fully guaranteed) and making him the first player from the 2017 draft to earn a second deal.
Jackson leads the NFL with five defensive return touchdowns since his arrival as a fourth-round pick (No. 112 overall) in 2017 out of Alabama. He burst onto the scene as a rookie, earning the starting job out of camp and becoming the first player in NFL history with two defensive return touchdowns of at least 75 yards in a game in Week 7, one year to the day that his Tide career was abruptly halted by a broken leg.
The rangy and instinctive ball hawk followed that up by picking off a career-high six passes in 2018 en route to being named a first team All Pro. Although he managed only two interceptions and five breakups this past season, Jackson played closer to the line of scrimmage following the departure of Adrian Amos in new coordinator Chuck Pagano's scheme yet remained among the league's stingiest coverage defenders (NFL's lowest completion percentage over expectation and fewest completed air yards over expectation, per Next Gen Stats) while reducing his missed tackle percentage by more than two points (from 17.7 to 15.5 percent).
Jackson — who has 10 interceptions, 26 pass breakups and four forced fumbles, in addition to 184 tackles in his first three seasons combined — didn't complain once about his altered role in a potential contract year, one of the clearest signs of him maturing into a leader on a star-studded defense that now includes the game's top-earning safety and highest-paid defender in NFL history, Khalil Mack.
Thus, after making his best draft pick to date the organization's top offseason priority re-signing, Ryan Pace and Co. may have to do some belt tightening with other starters on that unit set to hit free agency, including Jackson's running mate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, and ILBs Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski.
But securing arguably their second-best defender, in the prime of his career, is a huge win-win for a player who may have been drafted a lot earlier had he not been injured and for a team and general manager who fortunately found a blue-chip talent later in the 2017 draft after picking Mitch Trubisky with the second overall pick and Adam Shaheen at No. 45 overall. Jackson has proven himself as a core building block for the Bears, who likely saved some paper by getting the deal done now rather than waiting until first-time first- and second-team All Pros Jamal Adams and Justin Simmons — also eligible for extensions for the first time — are locked up.
As for the regrettable portion of the 2017 draft, Trubisky and Shaheen, upgrading the talent alongside them in the QB and TE rooms, respectively, may now rate as the Bears' top offseason priorities with Jackson's deal done. Although there are other in-house extension candidates — including one or both of the aforementioned linebackers and possibly Allen Robinson, who has one year remaining on his three-year, $42 million deal — those decisions could be put on the backburner as the Bears mull how to solve their vexing issues on offense, beginning with rebuilding a more competitive QB room.