Recently, NFL Draft Analyst Tony Pauline opened up his mailbag to answer a slew of questions about the NFL offseason that is starting to come into focus. Among the questions answered was one regarding which free agents the Bears are targeting and what (if anything) is being heard about the team’s draft board?
Unfortunately, Pauline doesn’t provide specifics (darn!), but he does open up an angle that could be key in figuring out how the offseason will unfold:
“People tell me they expect the Bears to make a good number of roster cuts before free agency,” Pauline said in response to the question. “and then sign guys in free agency to fill those holes.”
Fortunately, Chicago doesn’t have any crippling contracts that handcuff the team’s long-term vision, which is important in a salary-capped league (In fact, the only deal that comes close is Cody Parkey, which cost the Bears approximately $3.5 million in cap space in 2019. But that’s hardly crippling (and Bears fans probably would’ve started a GoFundMe last spring to help pay off that debt)).
Anyway … OverTheCap.com projects the Bears to be $4,929,361 under a projected salary cap of $214,773,912 next season. That isn’t much wiggle room to start, but it certainly could be worse (the Vikings are a whopping $11,366,514 OVER, for example).
If the Bears were to make cuts to clear salary cap space ahead of free agency, with the idea of filling those holes in free agency, they would probably start here:
- OL Kyle Long ($8.1M)
- WR Taylor Gabriel ($4.5M)
- TE Ben Braunecker ($1.5M)
- TE Adam Shaheen ($1.27M)
Long has announced his retirement, so that’s an easy $8.1 million in savings with an estimated $1.5 million in dead money.
Parting ways with Gabriel two years into a four-year deal knowing how much the team missed his speed would be a tougher pill to swallow had it not been for injuries that shortened his two-year stint with the team. The Bears didn’t get much production from the receivers who took his place, but free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft should provide alternatives that won’t break the bank. Saving $4.5 million doesn’t seem like much, but every bit helps.
Meanwhile, saving money while re-shaping the tight ends room is the type of double-dipping that needs to be done (especially if the front office believes it’s time for a total tear-down and rebuild of the position group). An estimated $2.77 million in savings: good.
Estimated savings: $15.37M
Estimated cap space: $19,370,341
But wait! There’s more:
Cutting a retiring player and three non-starters on the offense to create salary cap space isn’t much of a hurdle, but the same can’t be said about the idea of parting ways with …
- EDGE Leonard Floyd ($13.222M)
- CB Prince Amukamara ($9.0M)
Floyd has yet to live up to the expectations that come with being a top-10 pick, but GM Ryan Pace has said he likes what the 2016 first-rounder brings to the table. Save for the handful of games agains the Packers, Floyd’s pass-rushing prowess hasn’t been on display often enough. But because he does so many other things well (run defense, coverage, edge setting, backside pursuit), it’s not as if he isn’t without value. And it’s not like the Bears have much behind Floyd on the depth chart (James Vaughters is the lone backup under contract). Would the Bears be better off cutting Floyd and re-allocating his salary to find someone who could do the same thing for less? It’s a thought.
It’s a similar line of thinking when it comes to Amukamara, who’s been a steady and reliable starting corner across from Kyle Fuller. But injuries slowed Amukamara last season, and trying to keep up with speedy receivers on the outside with a defensive back battling hamstring issues late in the year doesn’t seem ideal.
Chicago could get creative by offering Floyd an extension that lowers his cap charge, or re-structuring Amukamara’s deal in a similar way to what was done with Long last offseason. But for the sake of this post and creating as much salary cap room as possible, let’s roll with the cuts.
Estimated savings: $22.222M
Estimated cap space: $41,592,341
Re-Investing in the Free Agent Market Place
The cuts above would bring the Bears to a little more than $41.5M in available cap space, which isn’t bad considering they also wouldn’t gut the core of a team just one season removed from winning 12 games. But making cuts and freeing up salary cap is the easy part. Finding players to replace the ones no longer on the team while not crippling future cap situations is the real challenge. But I do have a couple of ideas.
In search of an edge defender to replace Floyd? Kyle Van Noy of the Patriots looks like the type of versatile, do-it-all edge defender the defense needs in 2020. And his projected 3-year contract worth $10.5M AAV (including $15M guaranteed) could fit the bill.
The Bears hit one out of the park when they originally signed Amukamara to a one-year “prove it” deal. Maybe trying to strike again could be appealing. If so, Trae Waynes (1-year, $7.5M) is in a similar place. Perhaps pulling on family ties and a promise to shift Kendall Fuller back to his original cornerback spot could be in play. And at the estimated cost from PFF/OTC of 1-year, $5M, the juice could be worth the squeeze.
The new league year begins on March 18, but the “legal tampering” period starts on March 16. So between now and then, the Bears (and the other 31 teams around the league) will start to clear up cap room and roster space ahead of the 3 p.m. CT deadline on March 18 when free agency opens up. Once the Bears open up cap space, the ideal situation would have the Bears going about filling roster spots with players whose contracts won’t have to be given the heave-ho to a few years into them.