Chicago Bears' free agent dreams take a (salary cap) hit

Chicago Bears' free agent dreams take a (salary cap) hit
Bears could free up some cap space by restructuring the massive contract of Julius Peppers.

I’ve tried to warn you, Bears fans, that I didn’t expect Phil Emery to be active in the free agent market, at least for the higher-end FAs. And this report from the Chicago Tribune would seem to confirm that.

In my Capology 101 article, I reported that the Bears would have about $13.3M in cap space for 2013. The current thinking is that it will be closer to $10.5M. Assuming they re-sign or tag Henry Melton, the Bears truly won’t have much space at all to work with. This means no Jake Long or other potential, impactful FA offensive lineman.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, Bears fans. There is the Draft, and there are plenty of candidates at No. 20 who could help improve the team this year. Offensive tackle, where I’ve been focused on in my first two mock drafts, is the most obvious position of need, but there are tight ends and even defensive players who could be significant upgrades for the Bears. And that’s just the first round.

Following the first two rounds of the Draft, the Bears may have solved their LT and TE problems. So things could be much worse. That said, free agents tend to provide a more immediate fix, as rookies don’t always pan out, even first rounders. All any Bears fan need to do is be reminded of some of the team’s past draft blunders and this point becomes painfully obvious. Curtis Enis, anyone? Do the names Michael Haynes, David Terrell or Cade McNown do anything for you?

Meanwhile, no wonder the team has been so noncommittal about resigning Brian Urlacher. Bears capologist Cliff Stein has his work cut out for him this offseason if he’s going to fit Urlacher in with a possible franchise tag of Melton, along with all of the other signings the team needs to do, such as Nick Roach, to name only one.

Two ways to increase cap space is to restructure some contracts and cut some players. While releasing Devin Hester and/or Kellen Davis, for example, won’t save the team all that much, it will provide some relief. As the Tribune article suggests, Emery could try and restructure the contract of Julius Peppers again, which could free up as much as $6M in cap room. He was willing to do it two years ago, would he be willing to do it again?

The Bears will likely try to spread out Peppers’ cap hit through 2015, when the cap is expected to increase by a fairly large margin. But all in all, the Bears have some work to do. I guess there's nothing "free" about free agents.

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Filed under: Free Agency

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