Cutting cornerback Buster Skrine was the first move on the Chicago Bears’ path to getting under the projected salary cap and clearing ample space for … stuff.
After all, the Bears’ needs are many. It starts with the quarterback, but trickles down throughout the offense. Chicago needs to retain Allen Robinson, but also needs to add pass-catchers. I like Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet just fine, but I know they can’t do it all by themselves. The Bears also need to bulk up the offensive line. Sure, Alex Bars and Sam Mustipher were fine in a pinch. But I’d bet a new quarterback would appreciate linemen with higher floors and more potential in front of him. And that says nothing of David Montgomery, who ran for 1,000 yards despite early season line troubles.
All this to say, we used OverTheCap.com and Spotrac to sort through the Bears’ best options to create salary cap space. There’s a lot to sort through, so let’s get into it.
What’s Up with the Cap, Anyway?
Playing the 2020 NFL season through a pandemic came with considerable risk. In addition to health concerns, the league was set to play through a season that ultimately led to decreased revenue. And because of that, it’s been long assumed that a dip in the salary cap would coincide with a revenue slide. So rather than an increase from $198.2 million, the projected 2021 salary cap is expected to fall in the $180 million range.
It’s better than the $175 million cap that was originally floated, but nowhere near where it could’ve been. Remember, prior to this year, the salary cap had grown by at least $10 million in seven consecutive seasons. So to go from an estimated $208.2 million cap based on reasonable expectations rooted in history to $180 million is significant.
Now, onto possible Bears cuts.
• LT Charles Leno Jr. ($6.2M; $9M post-June 1)
• RT Bobby Massie ($5.4M; $8M post-June 1)
It’s difficult imagining the Bears cutting both offensive tackles, because good luck selling that to a new quarterback. I don’t imagine Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson would find a totally rebuilt line as something they want in their next team. Nevertheless, I feel like we should discuss the possibilities at hand.
Cutting Leno and/or Massie could allow the Bears to get younger players whose cap hits won’t be as demanding as the players they’re letting go. But to upgrade from those players, the Bears must use cap space or trade assets. Let’s be real with each other. Starting caliber tackles aren’t just wandering the streets with their hands in their pockets looking sad because they can’t get a job.
Leno is younger and has been healthier in recent years. So with that in mind, I’d guess he is safer than Massie from this round of cuts. And yet, I can’t get past how much money the Bears could save by cleaning house at tackle.
Maximum Cap Savings: $11.6 million ($17 million if both are designated post-June 1 cuts)
Pass-Catchers in Limbo
• TE Jimmy Graham ($7M)
• WR Anthony Miller ($1,210,050)
• WR Javon Wims ($920,000)
• WR Riley Ridley ($679,351)
If Graham turns out to be an essential cog in bringing Russell Wilson to Chicago, then it doesn’t take much of an imagination to visualize GM Ryan Pace adding another year to his deal, lowering his cap number, and kicking the can down the road.
As for the receivers in question, bringing back all three is feasible — if only because multiple cuts means the team needs to make even more additions to the receivers room. But after Miller and Wims were both ejected from games against the Saints because they couldn’t help but fall into CJ Gardner-Johnson’s trap, either (or both) could be made an example of by the front office.
Maximum Cap Savings: $9,809,401
• CB Teez Tabor ($850,000)
• CB Xavier Crawford ($850,000)
• S Jordan Lucas ($600,000)
• ILB Joel Iyiegbuniwe ($920,000)
There isn’t much fat to trim on defense. But if the Bears needed to scrape together some cash, they could clear space by cutting Tabor, Crawford, and Lucas — three defensive backs who played a grand total of 5 defensive snaps for the team last season. And in case you were curious, they were all from Xavier Crawford in Week 16 against Jacksonville.
Admittedly, cutting Iyiegbuniwe is a bit of a stretch on my part. And that releasing him would leave the Bears with no reserve inside linebackers makes it highly unlikely. But three years into Iyiegbuniwe’s Bears career, he hasn’t developed beyond being a core special teams member. Maybe he makes that leap in Year 4. However, I still can’t shake the idea that those $920,000 could be used better and more efficiently.
Maximum Cap Savings: $3.2 million
• OLB Khalil Mack ($11,978,250)
• OLB Robert Quinn ($7,818,750)
• S Eddie Jackson ($5,970,000)
• OL Cody Whitehair ($4,132,500)
• NT Eddie Goldman ($2,506,667)
One trend that pops up annually is Pace’s restructuring of recent contract extensions to manipulate the cap. We’ve seen it with Khalil Mack, Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno Jr., and Kyle Long. And considering how much more cap room there is to create with a few more restructures, I expect some more to come at some point this offseason. Simply put, the Bears have too much to lose by not trying to create cap room with restructured deals. They have the needs, means, and desperation to want to dive in and make something happen.
Using Spotrac’s Roster Management tool,Chicago can create as much as $32,406,167 with basic contract restructuring.
Maximum Cap Savings: $32,406,167
In the End …
Every bit adds up as we go through the annual cap dance. And ultimately, the Bears can create as much as $62,415,568 if they went through and made each of the moves suggested above. That could be helpful in fitting in deals for Allen Robinson (tag? extension?), perhaps a big-name quarterback with a large price-tag, and other worthwhile help that can be found on the market.
To be clear, I don’t think the Bears would do all of these moves. Part of the reason being that any number of cuts creates holes that will take money and draft picks to fill. Adding too many needs could be awfully dangerous to a roster that already needs tweaks. But still … desperate times call for extreme measures. So while I hate the idea of a lame-duck GM doing the football equivalent of robbing from Peter to pay Paul, the reality of the situation is that Pace could do just that. And if it works? Well, I’d like to write the post on how it all worked out.