Spotrac.com released projected cap numbers for all 32 NFL teams this week and the Bears once healthy amount of cap room has dwindled to $7,304,912 after re-signing Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, and Matt Slauson to significant deals. The NFL has yet to establish the 2014 cap, so this number could change a bit but rumor has it at or near $126M. With 22 unrestricted free agents remaining on their roster, including big names like Melton, Tillman, Hester, Wooten, McCown, and Major Wright (kidding), it appears the Bears will be hard pressed to bring everyone back, much less sign any impact free agents with just $7M and change left to spend.
Luckily there is a lot of dead weight on the Bears current roster and with some pay reductions and/or outright releases, the Bears could free up as much as 25 million in cap space. Here is a breakdown of some candidates to have their cap number adjusted or be given their walking papers (good riddance Podlesh!).
* The first number next to the player’s name is what the Bears are paying him in 2014, the 2nd number is how much cap space would be freed up by releasing the player outright. The discrepancy is due to guaranteed signing bonuses.
Potential Cap Casualties:
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Julius Peppers – ($18.1 / $9.8M) : He’s on the books for $18.1M this year, but $8.3M of that is already dead money (signing bonus). Releasing Peppers outright will still free up almost $10M which could theoretically be spent on two impact free agents, or 3-4 pretty good players. Losing Peppers would necessitate at least one of those players being a DE since the Bears are already weak at the position, so an alternative would be to keep Peppers but at a reduced salary. Lowering Peppers’ cap number could free up around $4-5M for another impact player (possibly at the same position) or at least enough to resign Henry Melton. Either way there is little chance the Bears are paying Peppers 18M after his disappointing 7.5 sack 2013 season.
Michael Bush – ($3.85M / $1.85M): Is there any situation that you would rather have Bush on the field than Matt Forte? Me neither. The Bears are paying Bush almost 4 million a year to be a short yardage / goal-line specialist, but he has struggled in both roles. His 3.1 ypc is bad, but when you take out his 40-yard run against the Browns in garbage time, it drops to 2.5 ypc. The Bears paid Bush almost $20,000 per yard last year ($19,543) and $385,000 per 1st down. I have a feeling they can find a better value in the draft, the free agent scrap heap, or with 2nd year player Michael Ford who showed flashes in the preseason.
To give you a frame of reference on what NFL running backs are paid, Bush has the 13th highest cap number in the NFL at the position. He is set to make more than Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, Knowshon Moreno… I’ll stop there, but there are quite a few players making way less than Bush that are considerably better running backs. It gets worse, Bush is scheduled to make $4.6M next year. It doesn’t make sense to keep him at that price when they can match his production with just about anyone; Like Khalil Bell for a minimum contract or an upgrade like free agents Joique Bell or Toby Gerhart for about half of what Bush is scheduled to make this year.
Earl Bennett – ($2.45M / $2.35M): I’ve always liked Bennett, but his yardage numbers have gone down every year since his strong rookie season (717 yards) 5 years ago. Over the last three years he’s averaged 28 catches and 333 yards per season. Is that worth two and a half million? Did you know Bennett played in 15 games last year? I would have guessed half of that number. The Bears have promising 2nd year player Marquess Wilson waiting for a chance to play and making $2M less in 2014. To give you an idea what the Bears could do with $2.4M, the combined free agent contracts of Bears LBs DJ Williams and James Anderson was roughly 2.5M last year.
Adam Podlesh – ($1.8M /$1.1M): This one is a no-brainer. Podlesh was 32nd in average yards per punt (there are 32 teams) and 30th in net yards per punt last season. He was about average at pinning teams inside the 20 (17th), but that is hardly enough to justify keeping Podlesh around for almost 2 million a year. The Bears already have two other punters on the roster (Tress Way, Drew Butler) with minimum contracts, so the writing is on the wall. He won’t be missed.
Eric Weems – ($1.6M / $1.1M): Decent special teamer and potential kick / punt returner, but not the special teams ace the Bears thought they were getting when they signed Weems in 2012. Last year Weems ranked 3rd on the Bears in coverage efficiency (per PFF) behind Blake Constanzo and Craig Steltz and averaged only 11.4 yards on 5 kick returns. Weems also led the special teams group in penalties. That type of production can be replaced easily by a minimum contract player or late draft pick.
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Chris Conte – ($1.5M / $1.3M): Despite all of his mistakes last year, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Bears kept Conte for the last year of his contract. By most metrics, Conte was actually better than Major Wright last season. He was still a sub-par safety with a knack for giving up huge plays, but he’s young (25) and had shown signs of progress before last season. Dont get the wrong idea, I would be happy to see Conte be released, but he doesn’t make much money, the Bears have already invested a few years in him, and he’s currently the only safety on the roster under contract.
Sometimes continuity is under-rated, but if it were up to me I would release him and try to sign a veteran stop-gap for around the same cap number. This year veteran free agents Stevie Brown, Mike Mitchell, and Quentin Mikell should be available for at or less than what the Bears owe Conte and all three would be significant upgrades.
Summary: If the Bears released all the players above that would free up an additional $17,614,00 in cap room which would bring the total cap space to $24,918,912. That would vault the Bears from 19th in cap space to 7th (just ahead of the Vikings & Packers). With just under $25M in cap room, the Bears could be more strategic about which current players they wanted to bring back and still have room to add a few impact free agents. The Bears defense was a laughingstock last year and it desperately needs some new blood. Releasing some or all of the players above would give the Bears the flexibility needed to fix the defense quickly.
Let me know in the comments if you think the Bears should keep the players above or if there is anyone else who deserves to be on this list. Go Bears!