NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears
Mike Dinovo / USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears did not need to release any prominent players to get under the 2021 salary cap ahead of free agency. But on Thursday, they decided to do it anyway, with NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reporting that the team has released former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller. Just two years removed from his second Pro Bowl nod and three years removed from leading the NFL in interceptions, the 29-year-old veteran's release saves Chicago $11 million this offseason.

A first-round draft pick of the Bears in 2014, Fuller had a quieter 2020 and was speculated as a potential trade chip because of his $20 million cap hit this season, the final year of a four-year, $56 million extension. Still, his release marks a drastic move for a Chicago secondary that'll now be in search of a new cover man opposite second-year starter Jaylon Johnson. Fuller instantly becomes one of the best available cornerbacks on the open market, even after an inconsistent performance in his seventh season.

Fuller didn't look nearly as promising as Johnson, the Bears' 2020 second-round pick, last season. But he's been a reliable starter for much of his career, starting 16 games and recording at least two interceptions in all but one season. His best marks came between 2017-2019, when he logged a combined 55 passes defensed and 12 picks, seven of which came in 2018.

A number of teams figure to pursue Fuller now that he's a free agent, with CBS Sports' Jonathan Jones reporting Thursday that the Carolina Panthers are expected to aggressively court the longtime Bear.