When It Comes Down to Who Starts $$$ Matters.............
Dollar signs point to Tim Jennings being Bears starter
By Brad Biggs Tribune reporter 10:31 a.m. CDT, May 18, 2012
Jon Hoke professes the kind of faith in Tim Jenningsthat makes you believe the veteran cornerback will have the inside track on the starting job he’s held for most of the last two seasons.
But the Chicago Bears have competition for Jennings with some newcomers, one that has plenty of familiarity with the scheme.
While Jennings was re-signed the club also brought in Kelvin Hayden, a former teammate of his with the Indianapolis Colts, and Jonathan Wilhite. Then, the Bears used sixth- and seventh-round draft picks on Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy, respectively, to add some needed youth to the position room.
If you follow the money, all signs point to the 28-year-old Jennings being the starter opposite Charles Tillman, who is coming off his first Pro Bowlseason. More on that in a little bit.
“We have a good situation,” Hoke said. “Tim played well for us last year. When you watched the tape, he did some good things. We’d like to have a couple more turnovers and he knows that. Charles (Tillman) has played well. Kelvin Hayden coming in is going to help our team if we can keep him healthy. Jonathan Wilhite is an experienced player, he’s good. We’ve got D.J. (Moore).”
Hayden has a neck issue and has yet to take the field for the Bears. He signed an injury waiver to get the contract. The Bears flirted with signing him last summer before he went to the Atlanta Falcons. Jennings started 15 games and has 28 over the last two seasons. But he was benched for the Week 16 game at Green Bay before getting his job back for the regular-season finale. He finished fourth on the team with 87 tackles, 62 of them solos. He had two interceptions and that is what Hoke alluded to – there were several plays when Jennings dropped what would have been picks. He added eight pass breakups, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
From the looks of things, when the coaches completed their analysis of the season, the determination was made Jennings needed to stay put, especially with cornerbacks Corey Graham and Zack Bowman exiting via free agency.
The contracts indicate the team is expecting Jennings to deliver. He received a $6.6 million, two-year deal that includes $2 million guaranteed and a $1 million signing bonus. He will earn $3 million this season.
Hayden and Wilhite, on the other hand, both were signed to minimum salary benefit deals. Hayden’s base salary is $825,000 but he counts only $605,000 vs. the salary cap. He received a $30,000 signing bonus and will get a $35,000 roster bonus if he’s on the roster in Week 1. Wilhite’s base salary is $700,000 and he will count $565,000 vs. the salary cap. He picks up a $25,000 roster bonus if he’s on the roster Week 1.
So, the numbers signal a belief in Jennings that he can again perform well in a defense that he fits well. The upside to the situation is both Hayden and Wilhite have flexibility. They have played outside and inside at nickel. That presents more options.
“Both of them have experience inside and that’s a plus,” Hoke said. “And then these two young guys are players we like. So, it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out. We’re going to line them up and see what they can do.”
OTA’s begin on Monday and minicamp will be held next month. The true evaluation takes place in training camp and preseason.