Making Sense of the Chicago Bears Cap Space


A lot has been made about the Chicago Bears’ cap space coming up for the free agent frenzy next month. Ryan Pace has cut the fat on a lot of bloated contracts and it has streamlined the Bears salaries where there aren’t a lot of high-priced salaries remaining on the roster.

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What that has done is given the Bears more cap space than 29 teams in the NFL (the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders have more). The Bears will have roughly $60 million in cap space to spend this offseason. Does that mean we will see a free agent frenzy? Not exactly. Here’s what to expect coming up next month.

The Bears had 35 players under contract for 2016 during the 2015 season. That number has risen to about 50 after Ryan Pace signed several of their young talent to low-cost non-guaranteed contracts under the NFL’s exclusive rights contracts. The Bears also have nine draft choices this season that will need to be signed once they are selected. Pace is rebuilding the roster, so it is almost a certainty that all his draft choices from last year and this year will be on the roster this season. Signing the 2016 crop of rookies will eat up almost $10 million in cap space right there.

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  • If you are doing the math, yes that puts the Bears north of 53 players, but keep in mind the Bears will put some players on the practice squad and others simply won’t make the team.

    We have learned that the Bears have decided to let Matt Forte leave via free agency, but being we heard nothing about Alshon Jeffery today, it seems more and more likely that the Bears are trying to lock him up, and hopefully before free agency begins. Assuming that the Bears are able to hammer out a deal with Jeffery (north of $10 million per season), the Bears will already be down roughly $20 to $25 million off their cap. That leaves them $40 million in cap space.

    There are still some other veterans coming off very solid campaigns  (such as Jarvis Jenkins and Tracy Porter) where it would be very surprising if they didn’t re-sign them. While their price tags won’t be astronomical, they won’t come for $750,000 either.

    Zach Miller is another interesting case. Miller is coming off a career year after finding great rhythm with Jay Cutler when Martellus Bennett went down with an injury. Most expected Miller to re-sign, but he reportedly is looking for a fairly big payday and based on Pace’s spending philosophy and Miller’s injury history, if another team gives Miller a sizable contract offer, the Bears will have zero interest in competing with that.

    The Bears don’t have many veterans on the roster that are sensible cuts to free up more space. Players like Martellus Bennett and Antel Rolle could be released but with a healthy chunk of cap space it may not make much sense from a competitive stand point.

    So if the Bears sign a few of their productive free agents, don’t release any veterans and fill out the bulk of their training camp roster with low-priced veterans and undrafted free agents what exactly does that leave the Bears to spend?

    We know Pace wants to spend sensibly and wants to potentially avoid any contracts that end up being albatrosses on the roster. That most likely means Pace won’t go after the huge free agents but will look where he can find value and youth.

    Once the Bears lock up some of their veterans and fill out the roster, I would think they are probably looking at roughly  $25 million to spend on impact free agents. Based on what Pace gave McPhee last year, I wouldn’t expect him to go much above a contract with a total value of $40 or $50 million and roughly $8 million per season. Simple math means the Bears should be looking to ink three or four players in free agency.

    I have seen plenty of fans interested in Muhammad Wilkerson from the New York Jets. It would be highly unlikely that Pace even looks in his direction. Wilkerson is going to demand a large payday, he’s coming off a broken leg, and  based on those two items, despite him being a potential force at defensive end, I don’t see Pace going that direction.

    I think Danny Trevathan is an excellent fit and there is a good chance the Broncos will have to let him walk as they deal with signing higher priorities Von Miller, Brock Osweiler, and potentially Malik Jackson (who also might be too expensive to re-sign).

    Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) celebrates after a fumble recovery against the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter in Super Bowl 50 at Levi
    Feb 7, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (59) celebrates after a fumble recovery against the Carolina Panthers in the second quarter in Super Bowl 50 at Levi /

    That’s exactly how Pace landed McPhee, raiding a team with a tight cap where they have no choice but to let quality players walk.  Of course an added bonus is that the Denver players are very familiar with John Fox and many would love the opportunity to play for him again.

    Bolstering the linebacking corps is an obvious need but the Bears could also use help in the secondary, another strong edge rusher and help at DE. Offensively they may look to add another wide receiver, bolster the offensive line or potentially a low cost running back to add to their stable with Forte gone. Sadly, that’s most of the roster but that’s what happens when you are rebuilding.

    We know the Bears want to have a dominant defense. That’s why they brought in both Fox and Vic Fangio and made McPhee their first free agent acquisition. I would expect Pace to mostly focus on the defensive side of the ball again signing an inside linebacker and a defensive end and then look at adding perhaps some help in the secondary or on offense with the remaining dollars.

    It will be a very interesting free agent season for Chicago. Pace and Fox are in excellent shape to add some more key pieces that will aid the Bears in taking significant strides to compete for a playoff spot in 2016.