The Chicago Bears are in salary-cap hell. Surely, they’re not alone … but this isn’t a place they want to be.
ESPN lists the Bears, Saints, Vikings, Jaguars, and Eagles as the teams with the worst salary-cap situations entering the 2019 season.
Bottom-Five Cap Space by Team:
- Eagles: -$22,923,806
- Jaguars: -$7,817,558
- Vikings: $7,175,517
- Bears: $7,271,312
- Saints: $7,656,953
While things look dicey for the Bears right now (re: salary cap space), at least they’re not over the cap like the Jaguars and Eagles. For more on the NFL teams in salary-cap hell, head over to ESPN.
Fortunately, you’ll be excited to learn that the Bears don’t have to take this lying down. Spotrac.com has an NFL team roster and salary cap manager tool that allows us to figure out cap implications with potential moves. Follow along as we use this as our guide toward creating some much-needed (theoretically possible) breathing room for the Bears.
The First Cut
Parting ways with Dion Sims was the first step in the process. His release will put the Bears’ available cap space at $11,118,601, according to spotrac.com. Not a bad jumping-off point, eh? But what’s next?
- Quarterback Chase Daniel ($3 million)
- Outside linebacker Sam Acho ($2.125 million)
- Inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski ($2.045 million)
The Bears brought Daniel in to mentor Mitch Trubisky and serve as a pinch-hitter in case of an emergency. Daniel did a bang-up job on both ends, but the training wheels have to come off at some point and the Bears will need to look for a younger backup quarterback. The NFL can be a cold world and releasing Daniel to free up cap room would represent the latest reminder.
Cutting Kwiatkoski would come as a surprise because the 2016 fourth-round pick hasn’t done anything wrong to merit an outright release. But after hitting an escalator clause in his contract that bumped his salary from $720,000 to north of $2 million, it would be understandable if the Bears cut ties with a reserve inside linebacker on the final year of his rookie deal.
Acho would be somewhat of a surprise cut because he has a strong locker-room presence, is viewed as a glue-guy, and is a highly-respected member of the Bears community. It’s more likely that restructuring his contract would be a solution both sides agree on. But for the sake of this exercise, we have waived goodbye to one of the Bears’ reserve edge defenders.
Cap savings: $7.170 million
Total available cap space: $18,288,601
Surprise Trade Candidate
Running back Jordan Howard ($2.045 million)
To be clear, trading Howard isn’t a high on the list of offseason priorities. But in a hypothetical offseason where the Bears acquire free agent Le’Veon Bell (whom they’ve been loosely connected to on the rumor mill) and place him at the top of the depth chart, there wouldn’t be room for a reserve on the final year of his rookie deal. Since the Bears probably wouldn’t release him outright, a trade elsewhere (perhaps to a team that loses out in the Bell sweepstakes) would make sense.
Cap savings: $2.045 million
Total available cap space: $20,333,601
$20 Million Isn’t Enough? Here’s How the Bears Can Create More!
Even though we have nearly doubled the Bears’ available cap space, more can be done. In fact, more room can be made simply by tearing a page out of the New England Patriots’ playbook.
Scott Davis and Cork Gaines of BusinessInsider.com estimate Patriots star quarterback Tom Brady has given up $60 million as part of restructured contracts or leaving money at the negotiating table. By doing this, New England has signed (and in some cases, re-signed) players who were instrumental in recent championship runs. It’s a win-now move that comes with risks, but what’s a small risk for a big, shiny reward such as the Lombardi trophy?
Here’s how it works: A team takes the player’s salary that would count against the cap and convert it to a signing bonus. The move is a win for the player, who gets cash right away, as well as the team, which gets some short-term flexibility by spreading the cap hit across the remaining years of said player’s contract.
Let’s not forget about the unavoidable downside that the money will eventually catch up to the Bears because they’ll have to eventually pay the freight on these deals. Chicago last did this with Julius Peppers back in 2011 and 2013, but that was a different front office operating in a different competitive window. Still, Peppers’ second restructuring was most notable because it led his cap number to be $18.183 million in 2014 and $20.683 million in 2015. Peppers was long gone by the time the original contract he signed with the Bears ended, but the cap ramifications lingered until the early stages of the Ryan Pace era.
For the sake of this exercise, we’ll use the Spotrac cap manager tool to restructure the Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson deals. By doing so, the Bears could save an estimated $12.9435 million in cap space. That’s a serious chunk of change.
Cap savings: $12.9345 million
Available cap space: $33,268,101
OK, But What About Cody Parkey?
I get it. You’ve wanted Cody Parkey off the Bears since his Wild-Card-ending double-doink put Chicago’s Super Bowl dreams to bed. And while that’s understandable, cutting Parkey right now would be financially irresponsible, as it would cause the Bears to lose $1.125 million in cap space and come with $5.1875 million in dead money. Not quite what a front office working with a tight budget has in mind when it comes to this offseason’s transactions.
HOWEVER, if the Bears designate Parkey as a post-June 1 cut, it would trim the dead money number to $4.0625 million and spread it over multiple years. To be clear, the Bears wouldn’t have to wait until after June 1 to make the move. They can do it in March with the designation without having to wait it out. Post-June 1 cuts aren’t designed to create spending opportunities for this upcoming offseason, but that’s a small price to pay for a fresh start at the kicking position.
In the End …
A year ago at this time, the Bears were moving toward clearing more than $50 million in salary cap space by parting ways with big-money, short-term contracts crafted to be snipped at the right time. Those contracts are few and far between now, but the Bears are still positioned to create some wiggle room and pounce on a championship-caliber move if it presents itself. And obviously, not all of these moves would (or should) be done in concert with each other. But each is at least theoretically possible to create a little more space.