Salary Capology 101

Salary Capology 101
"Keepers of the cap": Ted Phillips, George McCaskey and Phil Emery. — John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune

With a tip of the salary cap to ESPN’s John Clayton, the Bears have $13.3M of cap space for the 2013 season. This includes $3.2M in roll-over minutes, or unused carry-over from last year. Of course, cap space numbers are often misleading, as they don't include unsigned players.

Salary "capology", as it's often referred to, can be a tricky thing in the NFL. It is determined by taking league revenues and subtracting a 1.5 percent stadium credit. However, under the latest collective bargaining agreement, all teams donate money to the legacy fund for retired players, and the amount they contribute is significant.

Huge TV contracts will likely increase revenue, and that means a larger salary cap going forward. You will likely see contracts back-loaded in anticipation of these contracts taking affect. Another interesting thing about the cap is that when players are cut, sometimes teams still take a hit to their cap even though they aren't paying that player any more.

Take Devin Hester, for example. Due to contract escalators and incentives, even if the Bears release him, a portion of his salary will still count toward the cap for 2013, reducing the effectiveness of cutting him.

That said, with some clever maneuvering, Emery should have enough money to sign a good UFA, while still having enough left over to ink Henry Melton, Nick Roach (if the price is right Bob Barker), and the rehabilitating Lance Louis (assuming he is whole).

Many fans are calling for the Bears to sign a free agent left tackle, such as Jake Long (if he’s not tagged by Miami). And while that idea is intriguing, I personally don’t see Emery going in that direction for two reasons. First, we know that Emery is a stat geek, and Pro Football Focus insists J’Marcus Webb improved in pass protection last year, something that could sway him into believing that Webb can still be salvageable, though he doesn’t pass the sniff test with me.

But the main reason I don’t think Emery is going to spend big money on a free agent tackle is that he knows he can draft one. In my mock draft v1, I took Central Michigan OT Eric Fisher. However, Emery has to know that the team also desperately needs a tight end who can catch the ball, so I could see him drafting Tyler Eifert, who would be a huge improvement over Kellen Davis.

Regardless, I expect the Bears to draft at least one, and maybe two, offensive linemen. Of course, there are other questions facing Emery. Such as, will he re-sign Brian Urlacher and if so, what will his cap number be? Meanwhile, Melton won’t come cheaply, so there may be a need for some creativity to clear up enough room to improve the team while retaining some of their in-house talent.

Recognizing that, I can see the Bears cutting some players, who could become cap casualties because of a combination of salary and poor production. As previously indicated, cutting Hester won’t save much. Since he is not currently of much value to the team, if they can trade him for a bag of balls they should check into that.

Likewise, cutting Davis ($2.4M) won’t make a huge dent in the cap, though it is something most fans would be happy to see. They could ask Julius Peppers to reshuffle his contract, but he has already done that once before. And no, I do not think he’s a candidate to be released. I can certainly see Emery cutting ties with Israel Idonije, as Corey Wooton is expected to assume one of the starting DE jobs next season.

As for other cap considerations, they should re-sign Nick Roach, not only as insurance in case Urlacher leaves, but as a two-down, strong-side linebacker. Blake Costanzo is a role player, but he was good on special teams, so Emery may want to bring him back. Matt Spaeth will likely have to take a pay cut from his $2.025M salary if he wants to return.

At QB, both of the Bears’ backups are free agents, so Emery has to set aside some cold hard cabbage to either re-sign Jason Campbell or Josh McCown, or pursue another vet. Matt Blanchard is not ready to be a No. 2. Considering all this, that $13.3M sure doesn't seem like a lot of cash, now does it? Emery and Trestman have their work cut out for them.

Class dismissed.

Filed under: Coaches and Management

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