Ryan Poles made his first strike in free agency on Sunday by signing veteran safety Kevin Byard to a two-year deal worth $15 million.

The former 2x All-Pro Pro Bowler (2017, 2021) will fill the hole left by cutting Eddie Jackson earlier this off-season.

Some bombshells have been dropped during this NFL offseason within the safety market. A position that has clearly begun to be devalued by front offices has led to guys like Justin Simmons, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, and, of course, Eddie Jackson – being RELEASED as teams manage their cap. Byard himself was released by the Eagles on March 1st, creating an additional $13 million in cap space.

With a wide range of options for the Bears and Ryan Poles – why Kevin Byard?

Byard is 30, with 130 total games throughout an 8-year career. He hasn’t missed a single game due to injury (knock on every piece of wood you can possibly find). Last season, Byard played 6 games for the Titans before he was traded and played in 10 games for the Eagles. He finished with a career-high 122 tackles. Byard is about as consistent and dependable as it gets at the position, and it makes sense to pair a guy like him with a young core in Jaquan Brisker, Kyler Gordon, and Jaylon Johnson in the secondary.
Perhaps the most significant difference between Kevin Byard and Eddie Jackson (aside from the net savings of about $6 million against the cap) is the reliability as a tackler. Byard has a total of 8299 career defensive snaps played, with just a 6.6% missed tackle rate (PFF). In contrast, Eddie Jackson has a career 14.4% missed tackle rate.

Ever since Eddie Jackson landed his contract extension back on January 3rd of 2020, which made him the highest-paid safety in football (which was 100% deserved) – there has been an obvious, significant drop in effort as a tackler over the past few years. The Bears paid for the ball-hawking guy that Eddie was, but as the interception production began to diminish…there’s a lot left to be desired. This past season, Eddie missed 5 games after suffering another foot injury in Week 2 – finishing the year with 1 interception, 37 tackles, and an opponent passer rating of 120.6 when targeted while being the most expensive player on the roster towards the cap. Not great.

Kevin Byard is physical, reliable, and provides significant upside value at the current price. Ryan Poles can comfortably check free safety off the list of Bears needs this off-season.

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