I’m not ready to forfeit hope just yet. There’s a lot of work still to be done, but in terms of a Free Agency splash for the Bears, I’ll admit it doesn’t look promising.
If you follow the offseason closely, you’ll likely have read this great piece from the Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs yesterday, in which he lays out one way the Bears can increase their current cap space by restructuring the contract of defensive end Julius Peppers.
Chicago could potentially do the same with players like Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, but doing so would only shove the issue further down the road. Meaning, at some point, they’ll be stuck with that money and be in even worse shape than they are right now.
So is restructuring really worth it? Well, that’s the question alright.
Because teams are banking on an increased cap year in 2015, it might very well be worth it, and it’s something teams do all the time. But the Bears have historically, and recently, been very smart with their finances (don’t read “very cheap”—it’s simply not true), and they will still have to be careful how they position themselves for the future.
According to the Tribune’s Biggs, Chicago is operating with roughly $11M in cap space right now, although the 2013 cap has not officially been set. The reason $11M is of note is because if they intend to re-sign some their own free agents, most notably Henry Melton and/or Brian Urlacher, they won’t be left with much room.
Additionally, the team will need to save room for their draft picks and, potentially, other offseason additions.
Kind of …
There are currently 59 players under contract for 2013, which is where we derive that $11M figure from. The offseason roster weight, however, is 90-man. Meaning, Chicago will likely add 31 more players between now and July-ish. But because the offseason cap only counts against the top-51 salaries, the Bears don’t necessarily have to worry too much until final roster cuts when every player’s salary counts.
But since most of their draft picks will likely still be on the 2013 roster, save for maybe late-round selections, they still need to plan ahead.
What it all could mean is that the Bears may not have the dough to bring in a bona fide starter at the left tackle position, or any position for that matter, via Free Agency. And if that is indeed the case, it could force Phil Emery’s hand in the Draft.
Make no mistake, Emery will make the pick, but head coach Marc Trestman and his staff (Aaron Kromer in particular) want that offensive line secured yesterday. Ideally, a general manager would like to fill holes at specific positions in Free Agency, feeling comfortable selecting the top player on his board on Draft-day, regardless of position.
So, if pick No. 20 rolls around and the highest-ranked player on Emery’s board is a linebacker, and he also believes that said linebacker will be an instant contributor over, say, the tackle he sees sitting there also, you take the linebacker.
Now, in that scenario the choice is easier because the Bears also need help at linebacker. But what if the player on the board was a rock star safety? Do you still take him? You’d certainly like to think so. But this isn’t a perfect-world scenario.
It’s especially hard to do when the issue at tackle has gone uncorrected for as long as it has. Having said that, good tackles are damn hard to come by, and I believe Phil Emery and contract/cap guru Cliff Stein may have a few cards left to play before this thing is completely through.
Just like there are salaries yet to be had, there are salaries yet to be reconstructed and dumped.
No, the Bears aren’t in a position to just start canning players, having said they’re “building, not rebuilding,” but understand that the noncommittal stance from this coaching staff on any player’s future, and the fact that they’ve said they’re still actively evaluating the existing roster, is cause to believe some turnover is on the horizon.
And that’s typical with a new head coach. But there are few contracts on the team that will net the type of space needed to sign one of the top tackles in free agency, whether it be Jake Long, Jermon Bushrod or Will Beatty. Kellen Davis and Devin Hester alone aren’t going to cut it, pardon the pun. But smart restructures, coupled with smart acquisition contracts and roster cuts could get them close.
Bottom line, however, is don’t be surprised if Phil Emery does this season exactly what he said he’d do and try to build the future of his team through the Draft. While I’m not letting go of hope just yet, the Free Agency spending spree could be over for awhile. And that, could force Emery to put a strong emphasis on drafting offensive linemen.
I for one believe that’s exactly where the emphasis should, and will, be.
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