This is the second part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the top Chicago Bears free agents. The defense will be the focus in this second part.
The Bears have been busy as of late, signing ten of their own free agents since the end of the 2013 season, including most recently on defense, cornerback Kelvin Hayden and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.
On Friday, we took a look at special teamers Craig Steltz, Blake Costanzo and Sherrick McManis's futures in Chicago. Today, we examine the status of cornerback Zack Bowman heading into the start of free agency on Tuesday.
Who: Cornerback Zack Bowman
2013 contract: one-year deal, $780,000
The 29-year-old Nebraska product has spent all six of his NFL seasons with the Bears. Following the 2011 season, Bowman signed a one-year deal with the Vikings, but was cut prior to the start of the season.
The 6-foot-1, 193 pound corner latched on with the Bears after that and wound up appearing in 11 games, making 11 special teams tackles, recovering two fumbles and scoring one touchdown.
He only played on eight defensive snaps in 2012. But with Charles Tillman banged up for most of the 2013 season, Bowman ended up starting seven games, while adding 48 tackles, three interceptions, eight pass deflections and one touchdown on defense.
Bowman's three interceptions tied him with Tillman and safety Chris Conte for second behind only Tim Jennings, who had four.
"Zack's a veteran player. He's played in some games and done a good job when he's gone in," Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said this to the media on Nov. 14. "We have a tremendous amount of confidence in Zack to get the job done."
In a Week 15 win over Cleveland, Bowman intercepted former Bears quarterback Jason Campbell two times, including one that he took back 43 yards for six. That 43-yard touchdown return was the third longest behind rookie linebacker Khaseem Greene (49) and Jennings (48) for the season.
Bowman picked off two-time Super Bowl winner Eli Manning in a Week Six win on Thursday Night Football over the Giants. He generated nine tackles in a Week 11 win over the Ravens, which turned out to be his season-high.
Statistically it was Bowman's best professional season since 2009, when he started 12 games opposite Tillman, hauling in a career-high six interceptions along with 66 tackles and 10 pass deflections.
He was fined $15,750 for a horse collar tackle against the Ravens. His 2012 contract was for the veteran minimum, $615,000 exactly what the Vikings gave him that off-season.
Considering the Bears let him walk that off-season, it wouldn't be shocking to see them do it once again. However, Bowman proved his value this time around as he not only posted solid numbers in 497 defensive snaps, but he also played on 149 special teams snaps.
Bowman isn't getting any younger, but considering the current depth at cornerback (Jennings, Hayden and Isaiah Frey) it makes sense for the Bears to make him an offer. Also, with Tillman's status with the team up in the air Bowman certainly wouldn't make a bad option as a third cornerback off the bench.
Why will he be back?
Just like pretty much every position on defense, the Bears need depth. They ideally look for guys who can contribute not only defense, but on special teams as well and Bowman fits the bill. He showed nice skills in pass coverage despite a lack of pass rush, shaky linebacker play and a disappointing safety tandem. He is a lengthy corner, who isn't the toughest for his size, but he can make opposing quarterbacks pay with his solid hands. The market won't be huge for a guy like Bowman and the Bears will surely value him higher than the 31 other teams considering his recent contributions.
Why won't he be back?
The Bears are likely to draft a talented young corner via the NFL Draft in April, but that could be to replace Tillman. However, free agency could be where the Bears also look to add another physical cover man. That could leave Bowman out of the picture, despite his impressive play at times in 2013. Derricus Purdy, C.J. Wilson and Demontre Hurst are all second-year guys under contract, who will be vying for a roster spot via special teams. Also, Sherrick McManis could be back. Ideally, the Bears would keep five to six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster and if they decide to go younger this off-season, Bowman could be elsewhere.
Up Next: Cornerback Charles Tillman
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