With the exception of Allen Robinson and Khalil Mack – the two biggest investments thus far in the Ryan Pace-Matt Nagy Bears regime – perhaps no player was more valuable in Sunday’s narrow victory over the New York Giants than Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
Mack, the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, and A-Rob, a top-15 earner among his peers around the league, were instrumental with the decisive strip sack and a gargantuan 6-131-1 receiving line, respectively.
Meantime, Clinton-Dix – the steadier of the Bears’ two starting safeties all season but especially Sunday – made a team-high seven tackles and now leads all Bears nonlinebackers with 58. He also trails only first-team All-Pro Kyle Fuller with two interceptions and four pass breakups.
Granted, the ball production is hardly 2018 Fuller- or Eddie Jackson-esque, but Clinton-Dix’s ball skills have shown up in huge moments. Of course, he catalyzed the Bears’ victory in Washington in Week 3 with a pick-six (read: the Bears’ only defensive touchdown in the first 12 games), and Clinton-Dix delivered in crunch time Sunday, breaking up Daniel Jones’ penultimate third-down throw of the game, after stopping Sterling Shepard short of the sticks on fourth down earlier in the fourth quarter with the Bears clinging to a lead.
Clinton-Dix, whose arrival in Chicago was humbling after the former Packers first-round draft pick was dealt to Washington last fall. It also was accompanied by the false perception of many that his tackling is subpar, entered Week 12 with a missed tackle percentage of 6.5%, according to Pro Football Reference. Although not elite, it’s two points better than he was last season and far superior to teammate Jackson (11.1), as well as Washington’s Landon Collins (12.1) and Baltimore’s Earl Thomas (11.8) – the pair resetting the safety market with contracts promising north of $30 million this spring.
Is that the kind of payday Clinton-Dix is positioning himself to land this offseason after playing this season on a one-year, $3 million prove-it deal with only $500,000 guaranteed? That seems unlikely, but assuming he maintains his solid play, it’d be stunning if he doesn’t garner a marked raise on a multiyear pact. The question then becomes whether it would come from the Bears, who still could look to extend Jackson one year early if it’s a deal that makes sense for both parties, and absolutely should engage Robinson in extension talks, in addition to their impending quarterback, tight end and offensive line decisions.
The caveat is that as well as Clinton-Dix has played on a contract not commensurate with his production, he’s a natural free safety – as is Jackson – whose presence ironically may be hurting Jackson in some ways. The ’Bama reunion that seemed to make so much sense at the time has left the Bears without a thumper near the line who runs the alley like Adrian Amos.
Add in the fact that the Bears’ Akiem Hicks-less defensive front isn’t generating nearly the amount of pressure it did a year ago, and a natural playmaker such as Jackson has struggled to capitalize the way he did in his 2018 first-team All-Pro campaign. Subsequently, we’ve seen him freelance at times, as he did in letting Golden Tate get behind him on the fourth-quarter touchdown Sunday, or play with less discipline, as he did in biting on play action in L.A. on the Bears’ longest pass play allowed this season.
It’s yet another oddity in the Bears’ season few expected: The contract leverage of Clinton-Dix and Jackson may be heading in opposite directions. How the Bears address the safety position this offseason will pale relative to what happens in their other backfield, but unlike so many of their performers who have failed to live up the billing in this lost season, Clinton-Dix’s play has him poised to gain plenty.