NFL Free Agency

Bears to sign All-Pro free safety Kevin Byard to replace Eddie Jackson

The Bears address the safety position before the new league year begins

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The Bears found their replacement for Eddie Jackson before the new league year even began. The team announced on Sunday that they agreed to a two-year deal with Kevin Byard.

Byard has been one of the best safeties in the league since the Titans selected him in the third-round of the 2016 draft. Now, he’ll work in the back of the Bears defense.

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus made it clear after Jackson was released that the team was looking for a player to complement Jaquan Brisker's playing style at safety. Brisker is best known as a big hitting strong safety, and he often creeps into the box to help defend the middle portion of the field. Byard on the other hand is best known for his work in the deep portion of the field.

Byard burst onto the NFL in his sophomore season when he led the league with eight interceptions and added two fumble recoveries. He earned First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors that year. Since then he's been one of the most reliable takeaway machines in the game. In 130 career games Byard has 28 picks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown. Byard was recognized with his second First-Team All-Pro and Pro Bowl nods in 2021.

Byard isn't just a ballhawk, though. According to PFF, Byard has a very good 6.8% missed tackle rate over his career. That's a big upgrade from Jackson's 14.5% missed tackle rate. Byard set a new personal best with 122 tackles last season.

This probably isn't a long-term move for the Bears. Byard will turn 31 this year, so the team could view him as a high-performing bridge to a younger player by the time his two seasons with the Bears are done. However with just five draft picks in GM Ryan Poles' war chest as things stand, the Bears can move safety down their priority list in this year's draft. The team still has several other holes on their roster, like wide receiver, defensive end and offensive line depth that could demand Poles' attention first.

The Eagles traded Terrell Edmunds and fifth and sixth-round draft picks in the upcoming draft to acquire Byard from the Titans at last year's trade deadline. The hope was Byard would help to steady their struggling defense for a postseason run, but it didn't play out for them. The Eagles were bounced by the Bucs in the Wild Card round after Baker Mayfield went off for 337 passing yards and three passing touchdowns.

The Bears cut Jackson last month, after a nagging foot injury cost him 10 games between the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

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