Bears 2023 offseason preview: Where does Chicago stand at cornerback?

The 2023 offseason is officially in full swing, and the Chicago Bears are gearing up for what should be one of the busiest springs in recent memory.

Armed with $98.6 million in cap space, general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus will have plenty of opportunities to improve the team roster in free agency, while also needing to make key decisions on which players they should let walk.

Here at Bears Wire, we’re going position by position to break down where Chicago stands entering the 2023 offseason. Next up on defense is cornerback, which is an underrated need after Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon.

Who's on the roster?

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  • Jaylon Johnson

  • Kyler Gordon

  • Kindle Vildor

  • Jaylon Jones

  • Greg Stroman

  • Harrison Hand

  • Michael Ojemudia

Johnson has established himself as the Bears’ CB1, and it was evident in how opposing offenses avoided him early in the season — instead targeting less proven guys like Gordon and Vildor. Johnson showed he can hang with the NFL’s best wide receivers, which was on display in his back-and-forth battle with Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown last season. The one downfall for Johnson remains his inability to make plays on the ball, as he has just one interception in three seasons. Still, he’s proven he can be an impact player, when healthy. Johnson was limited to just 11 games due to injury in 2022.

Gordon dealt with some growing pains to the start of his rookie season. He was notably picked on by opposing quarterbacks, where he allowed big chunk plays. There was concern about the Bears’ top draft selection, but Matt Eberflus preached patience. Gordon turned things around as the season progressed, where he showcased his versatility when it comes to playing both outside and in the slot. He finished the season with 71 combined tackles, including two for loss, three interceptions, six pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 15 games.

After a rough 2021 season, where many thought his time in Chicago was done, Vildor bounced back nicely in 2022. He notched 34 tackles, including two for loss, one interception and five passes defended. Vildor was a much better fit in Matt Eberflus’ defense, and he showed progress on the outside opposite Johnson. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to just 11 games. Jones,  an undrafted rookie, saw himself thrust into action due to injuries across the board at cornerback. He appeared in 16 games, including significant action in eight of them. While Jones struggled early on, he got better as the season progressed. He’s a nice developmental player for the Bears moving forward.

Chicago also returns Hand, Stroman and Ojemudia, who didn’t have a significant impact in 2022.

Who's slated to hit free agency?

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  • Josh Blackwell

  • Breon Borders

Blackwell and Borders are the only cornerbacks set to hit the free agent market. Blackwell, who was claimed off waivers before the 2022 season, saw significant snaps as an undrafted rookie. He served as a key special teams contributor, including forming a fumble on a punt return against the Giants in Week 4. Eventually, due to injuries, Blackwell was forced into a key role on defense. He showed promise as a slot corner, but his defense snaps were limited in 2022. Blackwell had flashes during his rookie season, but he still has plenty to prove if he’s going to earn a roster spot as Chicago looks to shore up the cornerback group this offseason.

Borders was signed to the Bears practice squad in late November. He was promoted to the active roster in late December after injuries took a toll on the cornerback group. Borders appeared in just one game — the season finale against the Vikings, where he saw nine snaps on special teams.

Who might join the Bears?

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If the Bears are looking to spend big at cornerback this offseason, there are some intriguing veteran options set to hit the free agent market. The two standout names are Jamel Dean and James Bradberry, who would help shore up the boundary opposite Johnson and allow Gordon to move inside. Dean, 26, established himself as the Bucs’ top cover corner and could be in for a big pay day. He racked up 53 combined tackles, with only one missed tackle, five pass breakups and held opposing quarterbacks to an 81.3 passer rating. Bradberry, 30, has good awareness and ball skills The All-Pro registered 17 pass breakups and three interceptions in 2022.

The Bears have the money to spend, if they want to, and can outbid other teams as they have the most cap space by a wide margin. It’s also a position they can address in free agency rather than the NFL draft, which would allow Poles to use draft picks for other pressing needs.

Positional need: Moderate

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While the defensive line remains the team’s biggest need this offseason, cornerback is an underrated need I’d classify as borderline moderate/high. Not only is depth a concern, but the Bears need to find a third cornerback to help anchor the secondary alongside Jaylon Johnson and Kyler Gordon. Gordon played both inside and the boundary during his rookie season, so Chicago needs to decide whether they want Gordon to play exclusively in the slot or on the outside, which should help his development in Year 2.

2023 offseason position previews

We’re going position by position to preview the Bears this 2023 offseason:

Story originally appeared on Bears Wire