Dipping into the unrestricted free agency market can be a tricky maneuver in an attempt to improve a team.
There’s more to There’ than sign, plug and play.
Teams must consider the fit with a player’s skills as well as how he blends in with the group.
It’s part of the reason they have visits with players in the predraft process and also in free agency.
During a Bears visit today with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the skills are obvious but how the Bears must determine how the fit is.
Here are several factors they must sort through before committing through an offer.
1. Do his abilities meet what the Bears require?
The Bears have the play-making safety in Eddie Jackson. They need someone like Adrian Amos was who can make a play in the ball when needed but more importantly be a physical presence and sure tackler.
This isn’t to suggest they need a hammer, a guy to put into the box to snuff out runs. Amos was easily the best tackler in the secondary and helped snuff out yards after the catch. Jackson definitely isn’t physical, as this was the knock on him coming out of Alabama as he fell to the fourth round. Neither cornerback is particularly physical, but Kyle Fuller can be at times. Both are better known for coverage skills.
Buster Skrine is a more physical player but as a slot defender and usually will be making plays on the ball or preventing catches within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
The other safety has to be a true last line of defense, someone who prevents the long play from going all the way or the short- and middle-range passes from breaking long.
Clinton-Dix came into the league as a tackling machine with 105 tackles and 100 tackles his first seasons, then dropped off drastically while his interception level rose.
Some observers saw Clinton-Dix as a changed player, now unwilling to be as physical as required.
In a Thursday interview on Chicago’s WSCR-AM 670, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said, “What Packers saw of him on film after the second year caused them to change everything they thought about him after the first year.”
Clinton-Dix made the Pro Bowl his third year in 2016, and had a career-high five interceptions.
Paying a big contract like the Bears will need to do with Clinton-Dix will not fit their salary structure because they’ll need to pay Jackson on a big contract after 2019. There’s only so much money available and the No. 2 safety isn’t getting it. Unless he’s willing to play on a short two-year deal or the Bears think they could be replacing a well-paid cornerback — in this case Prince Amukamara — with a rookie in his first contract, the second safety must be a lesser deal.
The cash concern goes beyond position group. The Bears have to bring in a third outside pass rusher yet, unless they know something about Kylie Fitts and Isaiah Irving being budding stars that hasn’t been apparent. Unless they’re bringing back Aaron Lynch, who made only three sacks last year, they’ll need to spend something. It would make little sense to bring back Lynch when better potential pass rushers are available. What’s more important, a third pass rusher or the second safety? Considering the third pass rusher allows Khalil Mack to stay fresh and have an even bigger impact, and Mack is the greatest force on their defense, it has to be the third outside rusher.
3. The mix.
Last year the Bears had tremendous chemistry as a group. They were together when times were tough and they’d dropped back to being a .500 team at 3-3, just as they were later in winning nine of their last 10. They didn’t criticize their own coaches or teammates publicly. One thing they especially stressed was avoiding social media controversies. Mitchell Trubisky even got Kyle Long to swear off social media, a bit like convincing a fish to swear off liquids.
Yet Clinton-Dix has been a player willing to speak his mind, especially on social media. He criticized Martellus Bennett, fans and his own defensive coordinator in the past.
Matt Nagy said it best when the season ended, and he was discussing Cody Parkey’s decision to go on NBC’s The Today Show.
The Bears believe in “we” and not ”me.”
If the Bears believe Clinton-Dix can add to the group as a physical player committed to the group, and do it without disrupting future salary plans, he’d be a fit.
That’s a lot of ifs to address.