The Chicago Bears are considering their options at cornerback with Thomas Graham Jr. taking longer than expected to return from a hamstring injury. Apparently, one of those options is former 2016 first-round draft pick and six-year veteran Vernon Hargreaves III.
According to the NFL’s official transaction wire for August 4, the Bears hosted a group of three defensive backs — including Hargreaves — along with two defensive linemen for roster tryouts on Thursday, possibly signaling that general manager Ryan Poles is looking to add another veteran to the room to account for Graham’s absence.
Hargreaves, 27, has started 59 career games over his first six seasons in the NFL and would add some valuable depth to the Bears’ cornerback room behind young starters Jaylon Johnson and second-round rookie Kyler Gordon. He could also potentially compete with veteran Tavon Young for the starting slot cornerback role, substituting for Graham so that Chicago can be more patient with his lingering hamstring issue.
The other two defensive backs in attendance were cornerback Davontae Harris (a 2018 fifth-round pick for Cincinnati) and safety Isaiah Johnson (a 2019 fourth-round pick for Oakland/Las Vegas), who have each played at least 19 regular-season games and made multiple starts in the secondary. Both also have experience playing the slot role.
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Hargreaves Looking for Comeback Opportunity
Hargreaves spent three full seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after they selected him at No. 11 overall in the 2016 NFL draft, starting every game as a rookie but missing 22 games with injuries over his next two years. Despite the injuries, the Bucs still elected to pick up his fifth-year option heading into the 2019 season, but Hargreaves only made it partway into the season before head coach Bruce Arians grew frustrated with him and benched him in the third quarter of Week 10’s win over Arizona for what he deemed to be a lack of “hustle” on defense.
Here is the play Arians called into question:
Unfortunately for Hargreaves, he never got the chance to redeem himself and was released from the Buccanneers roster two days after Arians’ postgame comments.
The Houston Texans were quick to scoop up Hargreaves once he hit the waivers and rolled with him as one of their top cornerbacks for the next two years, but that decision came back to haunt them once they were forced to rely upon him in 2020 when their starters were out. According to Pro Football Focus, Hargreaves started every game in 2020 but finished with an abysmal coverage grade of just 37.3, allowing 68 receptions on 93 targets (73.1 completion rate) for a total of 837 yards and six touchdowns.
Somehow, the Texans decided to re-sign Hargreaves to a new contract during the 2021 offseason and handcuffed themselves to the decision by trading starter Bradley Roby to the New Orleans Saints. In the end, though, he played just eight games — with five starts — before Houston cut its losses and waived him.
Hargreaves did land with the Cincinnati Bengals and stick around with them all the way through their run to Super Bowl LVI, but he only played 72 total defensive snaps with them, mostly as a rotational player. The most significant thing about his short time with the Bengals was him drawing a 15-yard penalty in the Super Bowl for running onto the field in street clothes to celebrate Jessie Bates’ endzone interception at the two-minute warning. He was inactive during the game and was fined $5,555 for the violation.
Could Graham Lose Roster Spot With Bears?
The Bears have been eager to see how Graham would challenge Young for the slot role after the 2021 sixth-rounder showed flashes of starter-quality play at the end of his rookie season when thrown into the fire. It is a new regime with little-to-no attachment to the old regime’s drafted players, but a young cornerback on a three-year controlled contract is the type of player that usually gets a chance to earn his keep.
The problem, though, is that Graham has not been available to earn his place on the 53-man roster. His hamstring has kept him out for the majority of camp practices so far with head coach Matt Eberflus expressing earlier this week that it is an issue that is taking “a little bit longer” to heal than the team originally anticipated.
“Thomas Graham is a guy that’s going to take a little bit longer now,” Eberflus said on August 1. “We got the news this morning that it’s going to be a little bit longer for him. He’s dealing with a hamstring, so we thought it was less, but they’re saying it’s not progressing the way it (should), so it’s going to be a little bit longer. I won’t give you a timetable on it, but he’ll be back when he’s back.”
Graham is still a talented receiver who seems worthy of a roster spot, even if he has to settle for playing primarily special teams in his second season and filling in as a backup for Young in the slot, but he could find himself on the roster bubble if he ends up missing a significant amount of training camp and preseason games.