Packers sign CB Kyle Fuller to offer sheet; Bears quickly match
GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers signed Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller to a lucrative offer sheet that would have helped solve their coverage problem, but the Bears didn't wait more than a couple of hours to match the offer.
The Bears put the transition tag on Fuller before the start of free agency, which meant he could negotiate with the rest of the NFL but the Bears would have right of first refusal. A source confirmed a report from the Chicago Tribune that Fuller had signed an offer sheet with the Packers on Friday, the terms of which weren't immediately known.
Several hours later, NFL Network reported that the Bears had matched the offer, which was reported to be four years, $56 million, including $18 million guaranteed.
The one-year transition tag comes with a one-year salary of $12.971 million, which means the Bears only had to pay $5 million more in guaranteed money to get Fuller signed to a long-term deal.
It raises two questions: Why did Fuller accept a long-term deal with only $5 million more of guaranteed money and why did the Packers negotiate such a friendly deal for the Bears?
There may be details of the contract that affect how much Fuller receives, such as a very large base salary or roster bonus in 2018. But it wouldn't have made sense for the Packers to do such a contract because if the Bears didn't match they would have been stuck with a huge salary-cap number, which they can't afford.
To get Fuller to sign the offer sheet, the Packers were probably surprised they only had to offer $18 million guaranteed since similar cornerbacks such as Trumaine Johnson ($45 million) and Malcolm Butler ($30 million) received far more. Usually a team will make the deal tough for the other team to stomach, but the Packers appear to have handed Fuller to them on a very digestible platter.
The transition-tag salary is based on the top 10 salary-cap numbers from the previous year at a given position. Once the player signs the one-year transition tender it becomes guaranteed, so at worst Fuller would have made $12.9 million this year.
The Packers would have had no problem coming up with the cash for a large signing bonus, but they aren’t busting at the seams with salary-cap space and signing a cornerback with a big salary would have eaten up a lot of what they have available.
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Had they signed Johnson or Butler, it would have required the Packers to make another drastic move similar to the release of wide receiver Jordy Nelson, which cleared $10.25 million in cap space. They decided instead to sign Fuller to such a modest deal that it didn't even take a day for the Bears to match it.
One agent with a cornerback in the market predicted the deal would be three years, $30 million with a $25 million signing bonus. That would mean the first-year salary cap number would be around $10 million.
The Packers were $30 million under the cap after releasing Nelson, but they have since added free agents Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson. The combined salary-cap cost of those two could be around $15 million, which means the Packers would be down to about $15 million under.
The Bears came into free agency with $66 million in salary-cap space.
They have since signed a slew of free agents, including wide receiver Allen Robinson, linebacker Aaron Lynch, tight end Trey Burton, wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and quarterback Chase Daniel.
The Packers have watched as cornerback after cornerback has flown off the shelves in free agency, perhaps taken by surprise at the amount of money being thrown at the position. Among the corners who signed deals in the first two days of free agency were Johnson (Jets), Butler (Titans), Patrick Robinson (Saints), Morris Claiborne (Jets), T.J. Carrie (Browns) and Aaron Colvin (Texans).
One of the cornerbacks in whom the Packers had expressed interest, Indianapolis' Rashaad Melvin, was set to sign Friday with the Oakland Raiders.
Some of the cornerbacks that remain on the market are Buffalo's E.J. Gaines, Cincinnati's Adam "Pacman" Jones and the New York Giants' Ross Cockrell. But the Packers' best option right now is probably to re-sign veteran Davon House and perhaps bring back former starter Tramon Williams.
The Packers have long admired the 26-year-old Fuller, but his career with the Bears has been rocky and it's unclear if they only turned to him after finding themselves priced out everywhere else.
Fuller. who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.49 seconds at the 2014 combine and had a 38½-inch vertical leap, was the 14th pick in the draft that year out of Virginia Tech. After two seasons he had started 30 of the 32 games he appeared in and had six interceptions and 19 pass break-ups. The 6-foot, 190-pound Fuller played both outside and in the slot and appeared to be all that the Bears hoped he would be.
But in 2016, Fuller missed the entire season after a knee procedure performed in August. The Bears became frustrated with the amount of time it was taking for him to return and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio questioned publicly whether Fuller was trying hard enough to come back.
As a result, the Bears declined the fifth-year option on Fuller, making him a free agent after the 2017 season. Fuller came back and had the best year of his career, finishing third in the NFL in pass-breaks (22) and playing far more aggressively against the run than he had.
He started all 16 games and finished with 61 tackles and two interceptions.
Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.