The Bears-Packers rivalry, usually at its best during the fall, got spicy in mid-March on Friday.
The drama lasted about three hours.
That is the amount of time it took the Bears to match an offer sheet Kyle Fuller signed with the Packers, keeping the former first-round draft pick in place with what is now a long-term deal.
Fuller was at the center of a showdown between NFC North foes vying for his services. The Bears, who had until Wednesday to make a decision, made their intentions known quickly, matching what is a four-year contract ptenitally worth $56 million that will pay him $20 million in the first year.
"Kyle is so happy he doesn't have to play on a one-year tag," agent Greg Barnett said.
Talk about injecting some drama into free agency after the first wave with big-dollar signings slowed down 48 hours into the new league year. The Bears have been particularly active, signing seven players from the outside and re-signing five of their own free agents, and Fuller is the sixth to be re-signed.
The Bears placed the transition tag on Fuller, guaranteeing him $12.971 million this season but opening the possibility this very scenario could unfold in which they would be forced to agree to contract terms another team dictated or lose him without compensation.
General manager Ryan Pace could have avoided any risk if he had used the franchise tag at a price tag of $14.975 million with Fuller. No team would have signed Fuller to an offer sheet at that figure along with the stipulation that they fork over two first-round picks as compensation.
However, using the franchise tag would have made it more difficult for the Bears to achieve their ultimate goal of signing Fuller to a multiyear contract. Fuller, 26, and Barnett would have used the tag of nearly $15 million as a range for the annual average salary. It's believed the transition tag number of nearly $13 million was going to be a guide for annual average salary on a multiyear deal with the Bears. Now the Bears wind up paying more than that, but at least they got the deal done. Two years ago they found out multiyear deals can be tough to hammer out with the franchise tag in play with Alshon Jeffrey.
Fuller receives an $18 million signing bonus and has a $1 million base salary this season with a $500,000 workout bonus and $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses. The massive signing bonus is the only guarantee in the deal but it's unlikely the Bears would walk away from Fuller after one season at that price and at the end of the second year he will earn another $9 million.
The Packers didn't engage in this exercise as an annoyance to the Bears. They were host to Fuller on a visit Friday when he took a physical and signed the offer sheet. They wanted to add Fuller to a secondary in need and clearly believed the offer sheet gave them at least a chance to land him. It's unknown how the money is distributed but the Bears entered free agency with about $65 million in available cap space, a figure that accounted for Fuller's transition tag, meaning they had flexibility although not as much after their roster rebuilding foray.
The Packers entered free agency seeking help at cornerback, and it was a deep class. But it has thinned with Trumaine Johnson going to the Jets, Malcolm Butler to the Titans and Aaron Colvin to the Texans. Patrick Robinson also signed with the Saints, the Jets added Morris Claiborne and Rashaan Melvin went to the Raiders.
Johnson landed the biggest deal so far, a five-year, $72.5 million contract that will pay him $34 million fully guaranteed in the first two years. Fuller didn't surpass that, but he did do better than the annual average Butler received from Tennessee. The Titans signed Butler to a five-year, $61.25 million contract that guaranteed him $24 million.
The Bears re-signed Prince Amukamara to a three-year contract and made a qualifying offer to restricted free agent Bryce Callahan, but Fuller is the biggest piece in their secondary, and losing him would have created a problem. The biggest remaining name on the market is Bashaud Breeland, who failed a physical with the Panthers on Friday after agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract. ESPN reported Breeland cut his left foot and will require a skin graft. The Packers could consider him.
The Dolphins lost tight end Charles Clay to the Bills via a transition tag offer sheet in 2015, and they rescinded the transition tag on defensive end Olivier Vernon before he signed with the Giants. The Dolphins were tight against the salary cap, and that's what differentiates the Bears, who last used the transition tag on defensive lineman Bryan Robinson in 2001.
Fuller was able to determine his market value with the transition tag, and the Bears have agreed to pay it.