Kyle Fuller’s time in Chicago appears to be over.
The Bears’ cornerback reportedly is on his way out. Fuller will be released by the team, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported, in a move to save salary cap space.
The move allows a former All-Pro cornerback to walk away with nothing in return for the Bears. Fuller was set to cost the Bears $20 million against the salary cap in 2021. With the salary cap going down for the first time in a decade, teams across the NFL are looking for ways to cut costs.
Cutting a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback certainly is an unexpected one.
The Bears drafted Fuller 14th overall in the 2014 draft. He blossomed into one of their best homegrown talents, earning Pro Bowl bids in 2018 and 2019, as well as All-Pro honors in 2018. That season he led the NFL with seven interceptions and 21 passes defended.
Fuller was entering the final year of his contract. No doubt Bears general manager Ryan Pace would’ve preferred to extend Fuller, pushing off his high cap cost into future years. Although it’s impossible to know the specifics, cutting Fuller signals that those conversations between Pace and Fuller’s camp did not go well. Releasing him also signals that the Bears couldn’t find a trade partner.
The move won’t become official until Friday. It’s still possible a trade partner could emerge before then, but it sounds unlikely. The NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that coach Vic Fangio and the Denver Broncos are expected to make “a strong push” for Fuller once his release is official.
Asked directly about Fuller and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks – who is in a similar contract position – on March 2, Pace declined to talk about specific players.
“Everyone’s prepping for a tighter cap,” Pace said then. “We have a plan in place with that. It involves different things. There’s different ways for us to create room with our cap, not just releasing players. That’s a hard part of the business. ... There’ll be some decisions to make. I think you’re going to see more of that around the league than you’ve ever seen.”
The move puts the Bears in dangerous territory at cornerback. They used a second-round draft pick on Jaylon Johnson last year, and Johnson proved a worthy starter for the first 13 games. But Johnson, who has a history with shoulder injuries, missed the final three games of the regular season and the playoffs with a shoulder injury.
Johnson’s injury didn’t require offseason surgery, which was good news.
Behind Johnson, the Bears have Kindle Vildor, Duke Shelley, Xavier Crawford, Tre Roberson and Teez Tabor on the roster. Vildor and Shelley have a combined three NFL starts between them. Crawford has played in eight games, mostly on special teams, in his career but never started. Roberson never hasplayed in an NFL game. Tabor was a late practice squad addition in 2020.
The Bears are going to have to address the cornerback position, whether that’s in the draft or in free agency.
Fuller, meanwhile, becomes one of the top free-agent cornerbacks on the market. A player of his caliber won’t be a free agent for long. Some of his Bears teammates voiced their displeasure on social media. Cordarrelle Patterson, who is a free agent, wrote “stop using the ‘CAP’ space as an excuse” on Twitter.