When the Bears matched the Packers’ four-year, $56 million contract offer to Kyle Fuller in free agency in the offseason, it looked like the Packers had at least scored a minor victory by forcing the Bears to overpay for a cornerback who never had made the Pro Bowl and had just two interceptions in 2017.
Eight games into the season, Fuller re-signing with the Bears looks like the best thing both sides could have done. Instead of facing a likely adjustment period with the Packers — “It sets you back a little bit changing teams. It really does,” Bears secondary coach Ed Donatell said. — Fuller has parlayed his familiarity with and experience in Vic Fangio’s defense to have his best season yet. And Fangio didn’t have to train a free agent or draft pick for the starting job opposite another holdover, Prince Amukamara.
Fuller, a first-round draft pick (14th overall) by Phil Emery in 2014, has four interceptions this season — tied for the most in the NFL. He’s one of five cornerbacks in the league with more than two interceptions. The four picks match his career high set as a rookie in 2014. He had two interceptions in 2015 and 2017.
“Kyle is playing like one of the best corners, if not the best corner, in the league right now,” Amukamara said. “He’s been consistent, playing on a high level. Credit to the scouts and management for believing in him and seeing what they saw in him.”
Even with an average salary of $14 million (and $18 million guaranteed), Fuller has been well worth the outlay. With a relatively modest cap hit of $6.5 million, according to spotrac.com, Fuller is a bargain this season. Even when it balloons to $13.5 million next season, it’s a hit the Bears can take with Fuller’s current production.
Donatell, a former defensive coordinator in his 28th year in the NFL, appreciates what he has in Fuller. And is grateful the Bears matched the Packers’ offer.
“I was thinking the other day, ‘What if we didn’t have him? What if he got away?’ Donatell said. “‘How much would we be missing him right now?’ It’s a credit to the organization stepping up and making this thing happen. I feel really good about that.”
Fuller, 26, doesn’t get too emotional about anything — success, failure, contracts, making the Pro Bowl, the dropped interception that would have clinched the opener against the Packers, or the possibility he could have been a Packer.
“I don’t think about that too much,” he said. “It feels good [to be back with the Bears]. The season’s going well. Just taking it one week at a time, trying to get better each week.”
As for living up to the contract, Fuller is just happy he’s contributing to a winning team. “I think it’s more gratifying that the work you put in — the work we’ve put in — for it to show. Because sometimes it doesn’t show,” Fuller said. “To that’s more gratifying.”
Besides his four interceptions, Fuller leads the Bears with nine pass break-ups. Besides his interception against the Bills, he made two plays that led to interceptions by teammates — a hit on Zay Jones that led to an interception that Leonard Floyd returned for a touchdown. And a pass break-up that lead to an interception by Adrian Amos.
But any analysis of Fuller’s success almost always comes back to his familiarity with Fangio’s defense.
“He hasn’t changed a bit,” Amukamara said. “He’s definitely been a leader on the this team. Guys respect him. He’s just picking up from here he was last year.”
“Just experience in our system,” Fangio said when asked about Fuller’s success. “Getting some confidence along the way all kind of snowballs.”
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