The Chicago Bears have been busy at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 to ..."/>   The Chicago Bears have been busy at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 to ..."/>

After Contract Extensions, Chicago Bears Suddenly in Salary Cap Crunch

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The Chicago Bears have been busy at the end of 2013 and the start of 2014 to get some of their key free agents back in the fold.  Phil Emery broke his word and inked kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammetta to contract extensions in the closing days of the 2013 season and started 2014 off with a bang by bringing back cornerback Tim Jennings, guard Matt Slauson and of course, quarterback Jay Cutler.  Those signings account for about $34 million of the Bears’ projected $45 million in available salary cap space.  Now, with only about $11 million left in cap space, the Bears have to sign about 25 new players to fill out a roster.  That doesn’t give them a ton of room to make any big splashes in Free Agency, but as Emery proved last season, he and Stein are wizards at stretching the dollar and maximizing their buying power.

Here are some moves that they’ll need to make to field a squad:

Automatic conversion clause

Leave it to the crafty Cliff Stein to find new and interesting ways to manipulate the salary cap.  The latest gimmick appears to be this new “Automatic Conversion Clause” that has been included in the latest round of contracts, including Jay Cutler’s mega-deal.  Brad Biggs does an outstanding job explaining some of the details of this clause:

"According to multiple sources that have reviewed the contract, the Bears included an “automatic conversion” clause that allows the club to create salary-cap space as needed moving forward. Cutler signed a $126.7 million, seven-year contract that includes $54 million guaranteed. His base salary for 2014 is $22.5 million, meaning his salary-cap number is identical. But the team can convert a portion of that base salary to a signing bonus at any time, money that would be prorated over the life of the contract, thus lowering his cap hit for this season."

And for everyone rolling their eyes at the Cutler deal, here’s what is really happening. The first three years are locked in at $54 million.  After that, the Bears have a bunch of option years.

"“Basically, it sets up a use-as-you-go situation, one the team also could exercise in future years. The best part of it is the flexibility it gives the team. It doesn’t mean the Bears will exercise the clause, but if a need arises in the unrestricted free-agent market, cap room can be created.”"