The Chicago Bears last offseason signed free agent Kelvin Hayden to a one-year deal, hoping he could provide depth at cornerback and challenge D.J. Moore for the starting nickelback spot. Hayden was entering his eighth NFL season, playing seven of those in Indianapolis in a Cover 2 defense similar to that run in Chicago under former head coach Lovie Smith.
It was perceived as wise move at the time and even more so as the season progressed, with Moore landing in Smith's doghouse for publicly criticizing Jay Cutler. In stepped Hayden, who took over the nickelback role in Chicago by midseason.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Hayden played 472 snaps last year, mainly out of the slot, while also starting two games out wide in place of the injured Tim Jennings. Moore played 368 total snaps in 2012, all of them from the nickel position.
Hayden showed versatility, playing both inside and out depending on what the team needed, and demonstrated very good understanding of zone concepts. He's also a tough player who is not afraid to stick his nose in the run game.
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Look a little deeper though and you find a player that, while effective at times, was generally unreliable in 2012. According to PFF, Hayden was the only Bears cornerback to finish the season with a negative grade (-2.9). By comparison, Moore finished with a 3.1 grade, Jennings with a 12.4 grade and Charles Tillman with a 22.8 grade, fourth best in the league at the position.
With Hayden in coverage, opposing receivers caught 59.3 of passes thrown their way, second worst on the club at cornerback, while his 93.2 opposing passer rating was also second worst. His 12.5 receiving average against was the worst on the team amongst corners. Against the run, Hayden missed seven tackles, the most of all Bears corners, and as a blitzer, he failed to pressure the passer even once.
Hayden will turn 30 before the start of next season and it's clear his best days are behind him. He provides experience and leadership, which have value, but his performance on the field last year, particularly in man coverage, was sub par.
Chicago's defense ranked eighth in the league last year against the pass, yet most of that credit can be given to Jennings and Tillman, both of whom were named All Pros and starters for the NFC at the Pro Bowl. Jennings alone had nine interceptions, which was the most in the league. Beyond those two, both Hayden and Moore struggled.
With new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, now should be the time to wipe the slate clean and find an upgrade in the slot, meaning Hayden should be allowed to walk in free agency. Considering Hayden, Jennings and Tillman are all on the wrong side of 30, the draft would be the place to find young players that can be counted on long term.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.