By Chris Emma—
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) – Just three games remain for Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara in a pivotal season for his NFL career. After that, he will walk into the unknown.
What’s left in 2017 is barely enough time to change the fortunes of Amukamara, still without an interception the last two years. He pointed to Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard, who has four picks in his last two games. Will it take that kind of success to define a good season for Amukamara?
“Of course this game is about production,” Amukamara said Wednesday. “So, on paper, it doesn’t look as sexy. But if you turn on the film, I feel like I’ve been playing pretty solid.”
He does make a fair point, and general managers like the Bears’ Ryan Pace will look past the goose egg the way he did last March to evaluate what Amukamara brings to a secondary.
The 28-year-old Amukamara signed a one-year, $7-million deal last March to provide the Bears a veteran presence at cornerback, a position that was lacking talent. The team had missed out on its top targets in A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore but came away pleased with the addition of Amukamara.
Amukamara played out a one-year deal in Jacksonville last season, breaking up six passes in 12 starts. The Jaguars allowed him to walk into free agency and signed Bouye. He had his sights set on a long-term deal on the open market, but that never became available. The Bears offered his best bet, going out to prove himself on another one-year deal.
Stability is a blessing in the NFL, and it’s something Amukamara had to earn. Without an interception to his name, Amukamara is leaving it to the Bears’ front office on where he plays next season.
“You never actually really, really know how they feel about you,” Amukamara said. “They’re not trying to show their cards just like I’m not. That’s the business side of it, of course. But I’m not too worried. I feel like if you put on the film and watch me work, I feel like I’ve been doing a lot great things.”
Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio praised Amukamara’s outside coverage skills last week, then added, “I’d like to see him get his hands on more balls.” Amukamara’s play brings tough coverage at the line of scrimmage, with a steady press in which he takes pride. He has proved to be a tough matchup, staying tight on receivers and playing with discipline working on an island.
But it comes down to production. Bouye leads all NFL cornerbacks with six interceptions, helping create a defensive identity for a Jaguars team bound for the postseason.
The Bears have decisions to make this offseason at cornerback. Kyle Fuller has emerged with strong play – though with just one interception to his 16 pass breakups – working through a contract year after the team declined his fifth-year option. Marcus Cooper has been disappointing after a strong 2016 season.
Perhaps the Bears could go back to the free-agent well and pay the price for a shutdown corner like Malcolm Butler or Bashaud Breeland. They’re in line for a top-10 pick that would let them pursue the likes of Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick, a unanimous All-American.
First, the Bears must make a decision on Amukamara, whose best play isn’t revealed in production. He would love to be back in 2018.
“One-hundered percent,” he said. “This season’s not over yet, and I could just be going off my emotions right now, but this defense, I feel like it’s going to be something special. This team’s going to be something special.
“This is something I definitely want to be a part of.”