Along with ratification of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, comes a sizable bump to the NFL’s salary cap.
Though, it’s not as gracious as Bears fans might have wanted.
The NFL Management Council just informed team officials the salary cap will be $198.2 million per club in 2020, per sources.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 15, 2020
Although the bump to $198.2 million represents the seventh consecutive year in which the cap has shot up by at least $10 million, it does fall short of some prior estimates ($200M or more), and that leaves the Chicago Bears in a bit of a predicament.
Once Kyle Long’s contract is officially moved off the books, OverTheCap.com has the Bears with $19,347,111 in available salary cap space. Over at Spotrac, the Bears are estimated to have $21,001,679 worth of cap room available at their disposal. So we are looking at a ballpark figure of around $20 million, which isn’t awful, but also isn’t ideal – not for a team that needs to fill starting spots at right guard, wide receiver, cornerback, and safety.
So … now what? How do they make enough space *and* accomplish all of their needs? Here are the considerations.
THE LEONARD FLOYD DECISION
Chicago is at a crossroads with edge defender Leonard Floyd. Sure, Floyd is a dependable, starting caliber edge defender who plays well against the run, sets the edge, and contributes in coverage when asked to do so. Floyd’s versatility makes him a capable NFL player and a valued member of the Bears’ defense. But at a cost of $13.222 million, it is fair to ask if the team should be getting more than a jack-of-many-trades but-master-of-none type of defender. This isn’t meant to be short-changing Floyd, because those types of players have real, tangible value. But when a cap number that large looms, difficult decisions have to be made.
Rescinding the fifth-year option on Floyd’s contract before the new league year begins at 3 p.m. CT on Wednesday would clear up $13.222 million in cap space for the Bears, while also putting the team in a position to recoup a compensatory draft pick in 2021 depending on (1) how much Floyd signs for elsewhere and (2) how many free agents Chicago signs and how much they sign for this offseason.
Yes, I understand cutting Floyd opens up another starting spot. But if the Bears can be more efficient with their spending at that position, they should do it. Especially since Khalil Mack is making a ton of money on the other side.
For the sake of this post, parting ways with Floyd would bring the Bears to an estimated $32,059,111 in available cap space, per OTC.
TIGHT END CUTS
Earlier in the offseason, I took some educated guesses at where the Bears could save some money with cuts. Two of those scenarios played out with the respective releases of wide receiver Taylor Gabriel and cornerback Prince Amukamara. And as was mentioned earlier, Kyle Long’s retirement also cleared some room. But one small area could still be a place to create space.
The Bears’ needs at tight end are no secret. But Trey Burton isn’t going anywhere. Not with a dead money hit of $7.5 million that would come with just $1.05 million in cap savings. But Chicago could still save by clearing out tight ends Adam Shaheen ($1.27 million) and Ben Braunecker ($1.5M), which would bring the Bears to $33,778,841 million total (including Floyd).
If the Bears are going to dive into the market and spend on a tight end, moving Shaheen and Braunecker off the depth chart is something that figures to happen eventually. So long as Chicago isn’t leaning on Burton to return to full health, a re-shaped tight ends room with him, Demetrius Harris, J.P. Holtz, a free agent to be signed sometime soon, and a draft pick to be announced later would provide an upgrade compared to what the team was throwing out on the field at the end of the 2019 season.
Ahead of last year’s free agency run, the Bears turned Khalil Mack’s base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus. It was a move that created $11 million in salary cap space. The team also re-structured Kyle Long’s deal, which opened up a modest $2.9 million in cap space.
Every bit helps (and matters) for a team like the Bears. With that in mind, the Bears could borrow from the Mack bank. We saw Charles Leno Jr. and Kyle Fuller re-structure their respective deals to help the cause last year, and this offseason could be no different.
Spotrac has a roster manager tool that provides an opportunity for armchair GMs (myself included) to play with the cap and create space. One option within the tool is an easy-to-use base salary restructure widget, which restructures a player’s current base salary to their veteran minimum, moves the remaining money into a pro-rated signing bonus that spans the rest of the player’s contract. Pretty neat. For the sake of this post, we’ll apply it to the deals of Mack, Fuller, Hicks, and Goldman — four players who figure to be around for a while. Doing so would create $19,071,500 in cap savings.
Tack that on to what had already been saved earlier in the post, and suddenly we’re looking at a Bears team with $52,850,341 in available cap space.
Feeling better about the Bears’ situation? Good. Because it’s not going to last forever. Also, it’s almost certainly not going to play out to the max, like this.
Bears GM Ryan Pace won’t spend it all this offseason, even if he gets to a point where he has $50+ million in available space. And frankly, it’s unrealistic to think he’ll do so. There will be some saved for extensions (Allen Robinson?) and rolled over into future salary cap spending opportunities (Roquan Smith, James Daniels, and are among those whose rookie deals expire in two years). At some point, the bill comes for all these restructured contracts, too. Whether Pace is here to see it depends on what he does with the space he has created. But that’s a different conversation for a different post.