While the NFL league year for 2020 hasn't officially begun yet, the Chicago Bears have already started to address their burning questions this offseason. In late January, the team signed former CFL cornerback Tre Roberson to a two-year deal worth $1.235 million with $215,000 in guaranteed money. It's the largest CFL-to-NFL deal since Cameron Wake received a four-year, $4.9 million contract from the Miami Dolphins back in 2009.
Roberson's name should be familiar to some football fans. He played quarterback in college, and between Indiana and Illinois State (2011-15), Roberson accounted for 7,879 passing yards, 2,788 rushing yards, and 100 total touchdowns. He completed 56.2 percent of his pass attempts and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
He also was a member of ISU's 2014 and '15 Missouri Valley Conference championship teams. But despite Roberson's success on the field, the NFL wasn't very high on him. No team selected him in the 2016 NFL Draft, so he decided to switch to cornerback after the Minnesota Vikings signed him as an undrafted free agent. He spent the 2016 season on the Vikings' practice squad and was released as part of final preseason cuts in '17. So Roberson took his talents north of the border to earn his stripes.
He spent the 2018 and '19 campaigns with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. He used those two seasons to develop into a solid NFL prospect. In 32 CFL games, Roberson recorded 10 interceptions with 95 total tackles, two forced fumbles. He also scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. He's proven to have a nose for the football and strong cover skills.
Roberson was considered the top CFL free agent this year, and there were a few teams hoping to land his services. Even though the cornerback position isn't exactly a huge need for the Bears, it certainly doesn't hurt to strengthen this part of the defense either.
Here are four ways that Tre Roberson will give the Bears defense a boost.
1. His athleticism
He ran a 4.5 40-yard dash in college, and his speed and quickness suited him quite well in the CFL. Roberson had to cover a lot more ground since the CFL field is 150 yards long as opposed to the NFL's 120-yard field. Each end zone is 20 yards long, while midfield is at the 55-yard line. The CFL also plays 12-on-12 as opposed to 11-on-11. The CFL has embraced the spread offense like college football has, and as such, Roberson spent just about all of his time in pass coverage. Having to cover so much ground up north, and working extensively in pass coverage, should prepare him for what the NFL has to offer. The only difference is that Roberson will also need to prepare to face more running plays.
2. He complements Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine
Roberson projects to be a slot corner, and I can see him as the Bears' nickelback in 2020. Fuller has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two seasons, while Skrine has been a dependable player as well (48 tackles, 5 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles in 2019). If the 27-year-old Roberson produces from the get-go as projected, then that will only make Fuller and Skrine more effective. It will also give the Bears a nice trio against opposing wide receivers.
3. Goodbye, Prince Amukamara?
Amukamara could be the odd man out when all is said and done. His cap hit for 2020 is $10 million and while that's not overly expensive, it doesn't exactly match up with is recent production either. Amukamara hasn't played a full 16-game season since 2013, he's only intercepted four passes over the past five seasons (3 of those came in 2018). The Bears also remain high on youngsters Kevin Toliver and Duke Shelley. If Chicago chooses to cut ties with Amukamara, it will only cost $1 million in dead cap space and the team can still add more depth at the position through free agency or the draft. This will be something to keep an eye on.
4. Roberson's past experience on offense is a benefit
Having been a quarterback earlier in his career, Roberson brings an extra x-factor to the defensive huddle. He can read the quarterback, catch on signals, anticipate routes, and possibly figure out what play the offense is going to run before the ball is snapped. That mental aspect alone will give this Bears defense a nice advantage, and that type of intangible is hard to find.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.
(Top photo courtesy of @ChicagoBears)