After a season of league-altering defensive dominance, the Bears will go into this offseason and every offseason until 2022 with nearly their entire youthful core intact and most prominently, under contract. Prying a championship window open under the gift of rookie deals and well-timed splash signings, Ryan Pace has masterfully constructed the Bears into a title contender flaunting rare longevity. But sneaking up on the front office this offseason is a bit of a pickle involving a couple of defensive studs for the team, in which a decision must be made.

Of course, this references the simultaneously expiring contracts of boomer safety Adrian Amos and the breakout star nickel Bryce Callahan. Their individual value to the team and to the defense warrants obvious long-term resigning but the Bears won’t be swimming in cash during this offseason. Heck, they won’t have the funds to even be slightly aggressive in free agency, with only around 15 million to throw around, a number which excludes the inevitable contract of Callahan or Amos.

Though signing both wouldn’t be an impossibility, both Callahan and Amos would have to take far less than what they would be worth on the open market, a tall order for a couple of young stars expecting to make bank in free agency. For Callahan, he could be looking at around 25 million in a deal after the Ravens inked Tavon Young for three years and 25.8 million. Amos, on the other hand, could land about and potentially more than 22 million after the Panthers brought back Eric Reid for a three year deal of the same amount.

The Bears will most likely allow them to thoroughly test the market before coming to a conclusion but must acknowledge they shouldn’t fall in the trap of overpaying either one of them. The Jets, with borderline 100 million to throw around, appear very keen on Callahan and the Bears simply won’t be able to keep up with this kind of figures. Dropping roughly half of the cap space on one of them would be a tad dicey but anything north of 30 million has to be a no-go. With more essential pieces in Danny Trevathan and Cody Whitehair set to hit free agency next offseason, the Bears would be better to lose both Amos and Callahan than lock themselves into a cap space straitjacket.

Honestly, there may be a universe where the Bears allow both of them to walk. Tying up high prices to a third corner and a second safety will prove costly when the top two corners and the top safety come knocking at the door for a deservedly hefty pay raise, along with the rest of the superstar young pups brought together by rookie contracts. Though, after both proved valuable for the defense, the Bears can’t skimp out too much, as there will be teams who will pay them as they are worth. Maybe even more so.

But assuming they are presented with relatively equal contracts, who do the Bears retain?

On one side of the ring, Amos is two years younger and finished the season third on the team in tackles. While his season highlight may have been an ugly pass interference call against the Eagles in the playoffs, his top ten in the league PFF rating highlights his fantastic season. A perfect compliment to Eddie Jackson, Amos aids the shutdown run defense and opens up the length of the field for a prowling Jackson to make the plays he does. As the tone-setter of the Bears defensive back corps, his lost presence may be felt more emotionally and personality-wise than losing Callahan.

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On the other side, the nickel position in football has suddenly exploded into a vital cog in a defense. As offenses begin to spread the field exponentially more than ever before and slot receivers offer a world of new dynamics, the third cornerback spot is no longer just an option in long yardage situations. Donning the role of contain, padding coverage, and even in run support, a nickel must be versatile and in multiple places at once. So enter the significance of Callahan and his breakout campaign on the Bears defense.

He tied teammate and All-Pro corner Kyle Fuller in PFF rating, which only tells half of his impact on the Bears. He put up career highs in nearly every major statistical category in only ten games started and blossomed into one of the Bears largest playmakers on a defense brimming with them.

Though it is necessary to note that Callahan, despite his stellar year, does come with a teeny yet concerning asterisk. Suffering a season-ending foot injury puts a damper on what he could potentially do next season. The question remains whether or not he will or even could return to form and the Bears should be a tad wary handling this wrinkle. He may not be an aging old timer but at 27 years of age, a broken foot requiring surgery could have lingering effects. This, however, may work in the Bears favor, as it could lessen his price tag.

At the end of the day, the player the Bears need to hold onto should be the one that would be the most difficult to replace. The Bears will need to resort to the draft or scrounge through lower-tier free agents in order to fill the hole either one of them leave but with the level of responsibility placed on the shoulders of Callahan, he needs to take precedent over Amos.

Really, Amos leaves an exact and a pretty straightforward hole. All the Bears would need to fill the gap is a safety with girthy size for run support. In the draft, this would be an easy pickup, even in the later rounds. The fourth round housed Amos himself and resident safety superstar Eddie Jackson fell all the way to the fifth (over concerns about his broken leg but we won’t mention that), so safety doesn’t necessarily need to be a high pick, especially under such clear and basic demands. If Jackson continues on his trajectory, the Bears won’t even need strong play from a sidekick safety, just a simple run support role player.

Callahan’s ghost, on the other hand, would leave the Bears without the essential nickel position. While losing either one would leave an invariable blemish on the defense, replacing him would be an incredibly lofty task, even as the college game steadily begins to realize the value of the nickel and the draft sees more and more viable options. With much more responsibility on the field, comparatively to Amos’ barebones requirements, finding a suitable heir to Callahan wouldn’t be as easy as Amos.

Though signing both would be the dream, both will be poised to make their well-earned and out-of-the-Bears-league money this free agency period by teams who will happily overpay. The Bears, stuck with one of the lowest cap spaces in the league, won’t be able to keep pace with the franchises with money to burn. So long as Callahan nets market value, the Bears need to hold onto him over Amos. Though the 2017 All-Pro safety may have been a key cog, he is cursed by being too easily replaceable by no fault of his own, which cannot warrant overpaying.

Sporting a core built to last, the Bears cannot cough up starry-eyed charity for tokens of the extraordinary 2018 roster. But Callahan has proved himself imperative for a defense designed to conquer high-octane modern offenses and needs to be resigned, even in a somewhat player-friendly deal. If the Bears want to keep themselves in the Super Bowl conversation, then resigning Callahan will have to be a massive chunk of the puzzle.

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