2016 NFL Free Agency: Predicting Tracy Porter's chances to return to the Bears

2016 NFL Free Agency: Predicting Tracy Porter's chances to return to the Bears
Bears cornerback Tracy Porter after an interception against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on December 27, 2015. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)

This is the first part of an in-depth series that will examine the status of the Chicago Bears’ top free agents.

The Bears have 23 free agents, including 18 unrestricted free agents this off-season and with free agency officially opening up Wednesday, it’s time to dig deep.

After breaking down wide receiver/kick returner Deonte Thompson and linebacker Sam Acho on Saturday, I’ll take a look at cornerback Tracy Porter’s chances of returning to Chicago.

Who: Cornerback, 29-year-old from Indiana University

2015 contract: Played on a one-year, $870,000 deal

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to not only make the 53-man roster but also to become a full-time starter a season ago was veteran cornerback Tracy Porter. Porter, who latched on with the Bears on June 8 following his release from Washington just 11 days earlier battled through injuries to earn a roster spot.

He struggled with a nagging hamstring issue throughout the preseason and sat out the first two games of the regular season slate because of it, playing five snaps in Week 3 in Seattle. But then it Week 4, he made his first start of the season against Oakland and proceeded to hold talented rookie wideout Amari Cooper to three receptions for 23 yards on eight targets.

Despite playing through an ankle injury over the last month of last season and a hip injury previously in Week 10, Porter excelled as the Bears’ top cover corner. He wasn’t the biggest playmaker in terms of numbers, but he made consistent defensive stops, an improvement over previous starter Alan Ball.

Porter finished the season with 35 tackles, an interception and a career-best 12 pass breakups which tied his all-time high from 2009 and 2013. Turning 29 in August, Porter has an injury past as he’s made it through just one full season (2013) with Oakland, but he added a career-high 67 tackles along with two interceptions that season.

In 14 games in 2015, he made 13 starts which included the final 13 games of the season. Playing in just three games the year prior in Washington, Porter’s hamstring issues began there keeping him out of six games before he was sent to injured reserve in Week 13 with a shoulder injury.

The Bears must be wary with Porter considering all of that, but they were a year ago and it paid off. When he’s healthy he’s a clear fit for this aggressive defense and the Bears would be smart to bring him back on a short-term extension. He has 11 interceptions and 63 pass deflections in 82 career games playing with New Orleans (2008-11), Denver (2012), Oakland (2013), Washington (2014), Chicago (2015).

He proved he can be a game changer in Week 12, recording a season-high four pass breakups and his lone interception for the year against Green Bay in an upset win on Thanksgiving night. Porter racked up 14 tackles over the last four games of the season.

For what it’s worth, Porter ranked 39th overall out of 114 total cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus in 2015. He had an overall rating of 77.9 finishing second in Bears’ cornerbacks behind only Kyle Fuller (78.4).

The 5’11”, 190-pounder played the third-most snaps of any player on the Bears’ defense a season ago with 843 snaps (81.8 percent). Only rookie safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Kyle Fuller took the field more for the Bears in 2015.

Why he’ll be back

Currently, the Bears only have four cornerbacks on the roster in Kyle Fuller, Bryce Callahan, Jacoby Glenn, De’Vante Bausby. Fuller is going to be one of the starting corners and Callahan is in play for the slot corner gig, but Glenn and Bausby are two unproven players who are special teamers at best. The Bears need Porter back. He provided stability for this defense the second he hit the field in Week 4 against the Raiders. The Bears will be adding depth at the position, but bringing Porter back makes sense for both sides. He should earn a deal worth $2-3 million annually. A two to three-year deal would be best.

Why he won’t be back

His injury history is scary to look past and the Bears want to make their defensive unit both young and reliable. Top free agent corners are Janoris Jenkins and Sean Smith could be on general manager Ryan Pace’s radar if the Bears decide to shell out some cash. A move like that would leave Porter as nothing more than a reserve/rotational piece. What makes the most sense is if the Bears sign a player like Jenkins or Smith, if they want to spend the money or draft a promising talent and pair him with Porter. Porter can start and the rookie can develop behind him.

Final Prediction

Porter will be back next season.

Up next: Cornerback Sherrick McManis

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Filed under: Inside Look

Tags: Bears, Chicago, Tracy Porter

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