It took a while for 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller to live up to his draft status, but he broke out in a big way in 2017. It was a strong enough year that the Chicago Bears gave Fuller the transition tag to try to keep him in 2018. But the Green Bay Packers made an effort to pull the cornerback away.
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, the Packers gave Fuller an offer sheet Friday. The Bears had the decision of whether or not they wanted to match and didn’t waste much time getting the deal done:
The #Bears are matching the #Packers’ offer sheet for CB Kyle Fuller, sources said. Fuller stays.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 16, 2018
It’s a 4-year deal worth $56M. The key number is $18M guaranteed. Fuller already had $13M guaranteed from the translation tag. For $5M more guaranteed, they get him long-term
Now Fuller will go from a one-year contract to being one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL.
What is the transition tag?
Teams are allowed to use one tag — either franchise or transition — per offseason that keeps a player from reaching free agency. With both types of tag, a team has the option to match any offer sheet given to a tagged player.
But for a franchise tag, losing that player means receiving two first-round picks in return. The transition tag doesn’t reap any rewards if a player leaves.
That makes the franchise tag a much more commonly used designation, but the transition tag is cheaper. By giving it to Fuller, the Bears committed about $12.9 million to the cornerback in 2018. If he was franchised, Fuller would’ve been due to make $14.975 million.
The $2 million in savings came with the risk that a team might try to poach Fuller like the Packers did.
What is an offer sheet?
Because Fuller is tagged, the Packers didn’t have the option to sign the cornerback. Instead, they could write up a deal for Fuller to sign called an offer sheet.
The Bears had no choice but to either sign Fuller to the same exact contract that was offered by the Packers, or allow him to leave and sign with Green Bay.
Is Fuller worth all of this?
Fuller struggled badly as a rookie in 2014 and missed all of 2016 with a knee injury. His 2017 season is really the only good year he’s had. He just turned 26 in February and will probably only get better in the next few seasons. But he hasn’t proven it for very long, and it’s likely why the Bears didn’t go the safer route and give him the franchise tag.
Trumaine Johnson received a five-year, $72.5 million contract from the Jets and Malcolm Butler got a five-year, $61.25-million deal from the Titans. Fuller is two years younger than both players and had the highest 2017 grade of the three on Pro Football Focus.
His new deal puts him right in the same group with Johnson and Butler. He and Johnson are two of just five cornerbacks with contracts that average at least $14 million per year.
Green Bay wasn’t the only team interested in pulling away Fuller. The Kansas City Chiefs reportedly gave the cornerback an offer sheet too, but Fuller opted to sign one from the Packers:
The other offer sheet extended to #Bears CB Kyle Fuller outside of the #Packers was the #Chiefs . He accepted the offer that gave him the most leverage. Pace matched but were prepared. (Via @AdamHoge )— DeVante Tidwell (@TidwellTalks) March 19, 2018
The Packers can desperately use cornerback help after struggling at the position for several seasons. The team’s best cornerback in 2017 was Damarious Randall, who was traded to the Cleveland Browns earlier in March.
The Bears didn’t wait long to match the offer
Chicago only had five days to match after the offer was made. It took them just a few hours.
Typically when teams sign players to offer sheets, they attempt to write them in a way that can’t be matched by the other team. The most famous case was the Minnesota Vikings’ inclusion of a now illegal “poison pill” clause in an offer sheet given to then-Seattle Seahawks guard Steve Hutchinson. The deal was set to fully guarantee his salary if he wasn’t the highest paid offensive lineman on his team.
The Seahawks couldn’t sign the deal because Walter Jones would’ve made more than Hutchinson, and a fully guaranteed contract worth $49 million would’ve crippled the team.
A more common example was the Jacksonville Jaguars signing center Alex Mack to a front-loaded offer sheet with an opt-out clause. The Cleveland Browns matched the offer, but it ultimately led to Mack leaving and becoming a free agent two years later.
The Bears are among the league leaders in cap space. Any number the Packers were comfortable paying is one that Chicago didn’t have much issue matching.
The only way the Bears would’ve been fine with Fuller going to a divisional rival is if the Packers offered the cornerback so much that Chicago is convinced Green Bay overpaid so severely that the team damaged itself. At $14 million per year, it really wasn’t a tough call for the Bears.
If anything, the Packers may have just forced the Bears into extending a cornerback they tried to save money on. Chicago has little cornerback depth behind Fuller and will likely need to add at the position in the draft. The Bears didn’t have much choice but to match the offer sheet.
And now Fuller is sticking around for four more years.