Chicago Bears: What does Jimmy Graham restructure really mean?

Chicago Bears (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Chicago Bears (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bears are making moves, but what do they really mean? Honestly, not much. Do not get too excited about reports that the Bears recently freed up salary cap space. That’s right, the Bears just restructured Jimmy Graham’s contract, which gave them a decent bump in their salary cap space.

Why would they do this during the week leading up to the NFL regular season? Clearly, the team is under the salary cap and the move was not needed. By converting part of Jimmy Graham’s salary into a signing bonus, they created $4.66 million in cap space. The contract includes four voidable years, but what does that mean and why would Ryan Pace do this?

Let’s look at the second question first. Why would Ryan Pace add four years to Jimmy Graham’s contract? That would put the seasoned (many of you would say, washed up) veteran on the roster through to 2025 and he’d be 39 years old. Ryan Pace must be crazy, right? Well, not exactly.

The Chicago Bears keep kicking the salary cap can down the road

The only reason that teams are using the voidable years is to create cap space now, push the money owed down the road and live to see another day. It is a not-so-sneaky accounting trick that teams have been using recently with the downward trend in salary cap this season due to COVID-19. In this case, that $4.66 million the Chicago Bears are saving shows a $1.165 million cap hit spread out over the next four years, but it actually accelerates into 2022 and is owed next year.

Yep, you read that right. The team is saving $4.66 million right now, but will just owe it as a dead cap hit next year. Why do this then? Well, the value of the dollar next year is more valuable to NFL teams more often than not. The 2020 season was a strange one that caused the 2021 salary cap to fall for the first time in over a decade. Now, the salary cap is projected to be over $200 million once again.

The problem I have with the move being done now is the timing. Obviously, other teams do it too, but it would have made more sense for Ryan Pace to make this move earlier in the year like the Buccaneers did with Tom Brady or the Saints did with Taysom Hill. By doing this earlier in the offseason, it would have given Pace more to play with.

Could the Chicago Bears have signed a better offensive tackle as an insurance policy if they wanted to still move on from Charles Leno? It’s possible that nearly $5 million could have been enough to even hold onto Leno for this season. He was only owed $9 million. The move earlier in the offseason could have also given the team more money to spend on a cornerback in free agency. The faith in Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley is still mind-boggling to me.

I’d feel more confident with the likes of Bashaud Breeland or Steven Nelson on this roster. Instead, we are all rightfully concerned about this cornerback group and offensive line. Why do it now, though is the question most Chicago Bears fans are asking. Well, here’s a couple of guesses as to why, but just know the chances of them signing a free agent at this point is very slim.

  • Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears probably want some breathing room in case an injury occurs this year
  • Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears probably want some breathing room in case they go to make a trade before the trade deadline
  • Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears might be lining up a contract extension for players like James Daniels, Bilal Nichols, or the more unlikely Roquan Smith. Smith has a fifth-year option in place and I’d expect a contract extension to take place next summer instead. However, Daniels and Nichols will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the year. Pace has a history of signing his players to extensions the week prior to or within a couple of weeks after the start of the NFL season.

It is interesting to see how Ryan Pace and the Bears continue to use the salary cap. We could see plenty of dead cap on the books next season should the team choose to move on from players like Robert Quinn ($9.3M), Eddie Goldman ($5.1M), Nick Foles ($7.6M). They will be on the hook now for Jimmy Graham and will also still owe Andy Dalton who also has two voidable years on his contract.

Next. 10 Bears hot takes that guarantee the playoffs. dark

Luckily the Bears have Justin Fields on a rookie deal, but how are they to build around him? They better hope Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins both hit, or this team could be in trouble and we will watch the first couple of Justin Fields’ seasons be wasted with washed-up or below-average talent.

The good news is that the salary cap is very fluid and I would not get too overly concerned about the ramifications at this point — especially as the salary cap continues to increase. However, it is definitely once again concerning. This is a big reason why Kyle Fuller (pandemic the main cause) is not on the roster.