The Bears signed ex-Steelers cornerback Artie Burns to a one-year deal Saturday, his agent Drew Rosenhaus announced. Burns becomes the latest in a line of former first-round reclamation projects under general manager Ryan Pace, whose Bears hope to capture lightning in a bottle to fill the right cornerback vacancy created by Prince Amukamara's release last month.
Burns, who'll be only 25 entering his fifth season, joins the competition with incumbent Kevin Toliver, CFL import Tre Roberson and a likely draft pick to replace Amukamara, who was a cap casualty.
Burns was selected by the Steelers 25th overall in the 2016 draft, but like the Bears' own first-rounder that year, recently released Leonard Floyd, he never fulfilled lofty expectations with his original team.
After a relatively promising rookie season that included three interceptions and nine starts, Burns started all 16 games in 2017 before being demoted first to a reserve role on defense and eventually to special teams almost exclusively a year ago. The Steelers tried him on the boundary and in the slot but never could coax the development needed from Burns to make him a steady contributor.
Burns ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine and has prototypical press-man size at 6-foot, 197 pounds, with 33-plus-inch arms. Yet his talent has yet to translate to consistent production since declaring as an underclassman out of Miami, where he was an All-America hurdler, in addition to decorated cornerback. Burns declared after a promising junior season in which he tragically lost his mother to a heart attack.
Could a fresh start in Chicago with one of the league's best defenses be good for Burns? He a low-risk investment for the Bears, who Friday re-signed his former "The U" teammate Deon Bush, reuniting the ex-Hurricanes who'll each have a chance to replace former first-round starters in the Bears secondary.
Indeed, Pace is fond of low-risk gambles on high pedigree players. Bush is vying to replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the former Packers first-rounder and Pro Bowler who gave the Bears solid mileage last season on a one-year deal before following his old coach Mike McCarthy to Dallas. Amukamara, drafted in the first round by the New York Giants, had perhaps his best NFL season after originally joining the Bears on a one-year deal. But the soon-to-be 31-year-old fell off a bit in his ninth season, the second of a three-year, $27 million extension, and the Bears opted to save $9 million in cap space and seek a younger and cheaper alternative opposite Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller.
However, unlike Amukamara, Burns arrives without much of a track record of consistency and has a ways to go before he'd likely surpass penciled-in starter Kevin Toliver, never mind a solid 10-year vet in Amukamara. Still, he adds intrigue to an admittedly unproven lot of challengers, including Toliver, a former five-star recruit with good but limited NFL tape, and Roberson, the Illinois State product who led the CFL in interceptions and won the Grey Cup over the past two years, respectively, after he was unable to carve out a niche in what was a loaded Minnesota Vikings cornerback corps.