Current cap situation: Chicago Bears, part one
- Updated: January 27, 2014
After a flurry of moves shortly after the season ended, there is some confusion about just where the Chicago Bears currently sit in regards to the 2014 salary cap. I thought it might be a good idea to break it down and help end the uncertainty.
Let’s get right down to it.
According to Spotrac.com (an excellent resource for those looking to follow money matters for their teams), the Chicago Bears currently have 47 players under contract for 2014, with about $4.8 million in cap space left. In the offseason, the top 51 contracts count towards the cap, so that means the Bears would need to fill 4 slots with that $4.8 million.
Right now the Bears have seven draft picks, and signing them will cost just a shade under $5 million based on the contracts signed by players drafted in their same slots in 2013. That should take about an additional $3 to 3.5 million off their remaining cap space (after you remember only the top 51 salaries count), leaving them with somewhere around $1.5 million in cap space (hat tip to Dan Durkin for this information. If you are a Bears fan, I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter, especially for updates to the salary cap as the Bears make moves than change things).
Depending on when you read this, some of these numbers may end up being a little off. The NFL awards bonuses based on people hitting certain incentives from the previous year that can impact the cap, and teams also will look to change some contracts. Regardless of the exact numbers, the important point to get here is this: the Chicago Bears don’t have much money to spend right now.
Since Chicago still needs to add several defensive starters, I think it is safe to assume the Chicago Bears are going to have to make some moves to free up cap space. Let’s look at some likely moves they could consider through four different routes to find some cash they can spend.
The first and most obvious way to free up some money is by cutting players, particularly expensive ones who are paid more than what they are worth. Before we get to names of players who the Chicago Bears could cut, there are two important points to consider.
First, most players will have some sort of dead money when you cut them. So dumping a player with a $3 million cap hit but $1 million in guaranteed money will only save you $2 million dollars.
Second, any player who is cut must have roughly $500,000 slotted for a minimum-level replacement (the actual minimum contract is $420,000, but some will be higher than that, so we’ll say $500,000 for a safe number). So, in that $3 million scenario, cutting that player and replacing him with a minimum-level contract ends up saving you $1.5 million that you now have available to spend above that $500,000 minimum on somebody else.
With that said, there are five likely players the Chicago Bears could look to cut in cost-saving moves. The first-and most likely to be cut-is defensive end Julius Peppers, who is set to have a cap hit of $18.2 million in 2014. Cutting Peppers still leaves $8.4 million in dead money, a savings of $9.8 million ($9.3 million when you factor in $500,000 for a contract to take up his roster spot).
One option the Chicago Bears could take with Peppers is to designate him as a June 1 cut. This splits his dead money across the next two cap years, meaning it would free up $14 million in 2014 cap space ($13.5 million when you factor in another contract filling that slot) but still make Peppers have a 2015 cap hit of $4.2 million.
Teams get two June 1 designations to use every year, and the player can still be cut before free agency begins in March. A second option for this tag from the Chicago Bears would be backup running back Michael Bush. The team could save $2.3 million (after factoring in a replacement contract) by deeming him a June 1 cut, but the price would be an extra $1 million in dead money on the 2015 cap. If they simply cut him without using the June 1 designation, they would save $1.3 million on the 2014 cap.
Three other possible cut candidates include punter Adam Podlesh (would save $525,000) and wide receivers Eric Weems (would save $600,000) and Earl Bennett (would save $1.95 million). Add it all up, and the Chicago Bears could end up freeing $18.9 million to spend over a minimum salary of roughly $500,000 ($21.4 million – $500,000 each for those five roster spots).
A second option to free up cap space is to convince players to take a pay cut from the contracts they have already signed. This can be difficult to do, as players are often unwilling to accept it, but they do happen sometimes when a player is happy where he is and might recognize he’s getting paid more than he’s worth on the open market (Green Bay pulled off just such a maneuver with linebacker AJ Hawk last year).
There is one obvious candidate for a pay cut on the Chicago Bears, and that is wide receiver Earl Bennett. Bennett is due to make $2.45 million in 2014, which is too much money for a receiver who had 32 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns last year despite playing in fifteen games. Another point working in Chicago’s favor is that Bennett has no guaranteed money left on his deal, so it’s not like he can simply take that and look to make up the difference elsewhere.
In 2013, Bennett took a $1 million pay cut, with the option to earn it back through incentives; he ended up earning $500,000 back. I would imagine the Chicago Bears would be able to convince him to take a similar deal this year without too much trouble. This would free up $1 million in cap room, which in my opinion is preferable to losing Bennett but freeing up $1.95 million.
So far I have covered two of the four ways the Chicago Bears could look to free up cap room for 2014. Stay tuned for the second half of this series, when I will look at the other two and then re-visit Chicago’s cap situation in light of these potential moves.
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