As expected, the Chicago Bears parted ways with both general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy at the end of the 2021 regular season. The results didn't always present themselves on the field, and their personnel decisions were head-scratching at times.
So now the team is moving forward in a different direction. Ryan Poles, who was previously the Kansas City Chiefs' executive director of player personnel, was hired as the new general manager on Jan. 25. Shortly after that, Poles hired former Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to be the team's new head coach.
The Bears have 24 pending unrestricted free agents on their roster (per Spotrac.com) and also have some decisions to make about veteran players that are under contract. It'll be the job of the new front office and coaching staff to decide which players will be a part of the rebuilding effort. Four players in this group are about to hit the open market, so some tough decisions will need to be made.
The Bears have been using a 3-4 alignment since 2015 but will be transitioning to a 4-3 under Eberflus and new defensive coordinator Alan Williams. It's a scheme that will be familiar to Bears fans but it's too soon to tell how it will look in 2022 given the current personnel. For now, here is how the Bears stack up at safety.
Last season was a struggle for the two-time Pro Bowler, but Jackson held it together through the tough times. He finished third on the team in tackles (76, led all players at his position), with four tackles for a loss, two pass deflections, and one forced fumble. Unfortunately, that's where the positives end. For the second straight season, Jackson didn't get any interceptions, while his two deflected passes (and zero sacks) were the lowest single-season total of his career.
Jackson missed quite a few tackles last year, and there were some blown coverages that led to touchdowns. He missed three games because of health issues. The 2018 first-team All-Pro didn't look like his usual self at times, and that led to some Bears fans demanding that the team cut ties with the four-year veteran. That's probably not going to happen considering he's under contract for three more seasons with a total cap hit of nearly $34 million. It's possible the team could approach Jackson about a contract restructure to free up more cap space, but on the field, the hope is that the coaching changes will rejuvenate him and he'll return to form in 2022.
Tashaun Gipson Sr.
Gipson also had an up-and-down 2021 campaign. He was sixth on the team (and second among safeties) in tackles (47) and tied for the team lead in interceptions (2) while adding three pass deflections, one TFL, one sack, and one quarterback hit. On the downside, he missed five games because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols and also had his share of missed tackles and blown coverages. He'll turn 32 in August and probably wouldn't cost much to re-sign (Bears paid him $2.55 million in 2021), but he's no guarantee to return.
Bush tied with Gipson for the team lead in interceptions (two), was second in pass deflections, and also recorded 40 tackles. He's been a key reserve since Chicago took the former Miami Hurricane in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but his time with the Bears could be coming to an end. A pending free agent still under 30 (turns 29 in August), Bush can probably get more money and a better chance at starting by signing with another team.
Houston-Carson was a sixth-round selection by the Bears in the 2016 draft. Mostly a special teams contributor during his tenure, Houston-Carson has made some plays on defense when given the opportunity. He's recorded 94 total tackles, seven pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions across 77 games but only has made three starts. Unless the coaching staff values his special teams skills, he'll be with a new team once training camps start up.
The 27-year-old joined the Bears last season after starting his career with the Rams (2016-19) and spending a year with the Jets (2020). He's totaled 95 tackles, one TFL, one QB hit, and four pass deflections in 73 career appearances. Christian could get a chance to earn a roster spot with the new coaching staff, but he's not an offseason priority, so he may look for a new team.
The new front office has a decision to make about Jackson's contract, but he'll probably be the only holdover at safety unless they decide to re-sign Gipson or Bush to a team-friendly deal. The Bears will remake this position group through free agency and the draft.
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who 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 can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.