As I was thinking about this post and the impending free agency period, I thought of one of those slider puzzles where you have to move pieces around until the picture comes together. The pressure is on the usually reliable contract negotiator Cliff Stein and Phil Emery to solve the salary cap puzzle to help the Chicago Bears become players in free agency.
The Bears are only about $3.8 million under the salary cap but have a lot of needs to fill. Now we’re getting word that Brian Urlacher’s people have presented their contract proposal to the Bears. It’s already been clear that both sides are willing to make this work, but the big question is how much they really want to make it work. It’ll be curious to see what the Bears will offer. Phil Emery assured us that Urlacher “would not be slighted” in negotiations. Slighting is in the eye of the beholder I guess.
Regardless of what happens in the Urlacher situation, and I personally hope both sides decide quickly, the Bears need to free up salary cap space. How can they do it? Here are some options.
Re-structuring contracts is sort of the cowardly way to go about business. It’s often a way of kicking the proverbial can down the road, putting off a potentially difficult decision. When you restructure, eventually you have to pay the piper, or the Peppers in this example. Everyone and their brother who knows anything about the Bears salary cap situation has suggested or at least considered re-structuring Julius Peppers’ massive contract.
Peppers counts over $16 million against the cap. Let’s get one thing straight. The Bears will not go to Peppers and ask him to take a pay cut. That simply doesn’t happen to a player of Peppers’ stature. If you ask a player to get a haircut and they refuse, you have to be prepared to cut them. That’s not happening with Pep. What the Bears could do is take a chunk of his $12.9 million in base salary and convert it to a bonus. He’d cash the same paychecks, but they could spread the cap hit over a couple more years. The hope is that the salary cap goes up by 2015 to lessen the impact of the hit.
Candidates for restructuring are Peppers ($16.2 against the 2013 salary cap), Peanut Tillman ($8 million), Brandon Marshall ($9 million), Lance Briggs ($4.5 million) and even Robbie Gould ($2.4 million)
Cuts are a painful part of the NFL. It’s not easy to say good bye to a player who contributed to your team and built a relationship with fans and management alike. It’s also difficult for a GM and team to admit their mistakes if a player failed to pan out after a big payday. When a new regime comes along, some of the sentimental ties and business decisions become a little easier to resolve.
The problem with a straight up cut is that any portion of unpaid bonus money gets accelerated against the cap in the year they’re cut. It’s called dead money. Teams can avoid roster or workout bonuses as well as the base, but there’s still a certain amount of dead money that counts against your cap.
Let’s take the Peppers deal again? Want a ton of cap space? Just cut Peppers, right? Wrong! Peppers still have over $9 million in dead money. Why pay $9 million for him to go away when for the low, low price of just $7 million more, you get an All-Pro player?
Despite that, there are some guys who just don’t fit the system or whose contracts make them a good candidate to get cut. Some guys whom the Bears might cut to for salary cap relief include: Kellen Davis ($1.35 in dead money), Devin Hester ($833k), Roberto Garza ($2.4 million base – I hate to admit it, but I’d rather get a younger, cheaper option) and even Earl Bennett ($2.25 million base).
What do you think Bears fans? What should the Bears do to create some salary cap space?