This isn’t your father’s NFL, and that is great news for the Bears’ soon-to-be free agent cornerback Bryce Callahan.
Offenses have changed, going from “establishing the run” and controlling the ball to operating high-flying scoring machines. And with those offensive evolutions came new philosophies on how to stop them, and many of them include players like him.
In the old game, the term “slot corner” often meant a player too small or too slow or too weak to deal with receivers on the outside and players given said monicker were relegated to the bench. Now, with the dominance of 11 personnel and speedy weapons all over the field, it is essential for teams to have a good one. Luckily, when healthy, Callahan is among the league’s best.
However, is he on the field enough to warrant a hefty contract extension? It’s a difficult decision that Ryan Pace will have to make.
There isn’t much more I can write about Bryce Callahan the player that I haven’t already written. For a full breakdown of what makes him so great, check out my article from November.
In summary, Callahan played like a stud in the first few weeks of the season and didn’t look back. He attacked screens like a controlled madman, using his diminutive stature to evade blocks and making up for it by exhibiting textbook tackling technique. He’s fearless in coverage, playing with physicality against larger receivers. This play against the 6’4″ Kenny Golladay illustrates how tenacious he can be:
Kenny Golladay, the Lions’ WR, is 6’4”, and developing into one of the better high-pointers in the league. Bryce Callahan is 5’10”. He’s with him step for step on the route and bats away a well-placed jump ball while giving up 6 inches on his man. #DaBears
— Jack Soble (@jacksobleTLS) November 13, 2018
Additionally, Callahan’s football IQ has grown considerably over the four years he’s been a Chicago Bear. He can read subtle cues in a receiver’s motions that indicate where he’s about to cut, and that allows him to essentially run his route for him. It has been a joy to watch him grow into the stud that he’s become.
All that being said, Callahan has a major problem: his inability to stay healthy. Since earning a guaranteed spot on the 53-man roster (he went from the practice squad to the active roster and back a few times as a rookie), the most games he’s played in a season is 13. That was in 2018, and it ended with a broken foot that led to surgery.
Availability is a skill, and some would argue that it is the most important in football. It may be the only skill that Callahan hasn’t mastered, and it could cost him big time.
Look no further than the champs for why the value of slot corners can’t be overstated. Julian Edelman destroyed the Rams, and the Chiefs before them, exclusively from the inside. Jarvis Landry is another stud in Edelman’s mold, but let’s not forget about the “big slot” archetype that’s been on the rise recently. Players like Golladay, Adam Thielen, Keenan Allen, Chicago’s own Allen Robinson, and even the great Larry Fitzgerald in his later years have thrived from the slot, and it takes a corner who is unafraid to butt heads with the big guys to stop them.
But again, Ryan Pace has to keep that injury factor in the back of his mind. The Bears aren’t in dire straits regarding cap space yet, but they will be, and soon. As much as I love Callahan’s game, I just can’t justify giving a 13-game player the greatest salary at his position given their present situation.
Luckily for the Bears, great slot corners still tend to be paid less than their outside counterparts. Denver’s Chris Harris, Jr. carries the largest 2019 cap hit at a little under $8.8 million, followed closely by Houston’s Aaron Colvin at about 100k less that that. Patrick Robinson bookends the top six $5.4 million, and that is the minimum I expect Callahan to receive.
If I was told that in a little over a month, Callahan would be back at Robinson’s deal, I’d be ecstatic. Harris’s money is what I think healthy Callahan deserves, but it would be a mistake to pay him that much. Pace should put a ceiling on the negotiations at around $6 or 7 million, and if Callahan’s camp wants more, let him test the market.
The Bears would then hope that his injury history will scare everyone else as well. If that happens and no one is willing to overpay, Pace should do everything in their power to bring Callahan back on a reasonable contract.
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