Once the NFL officially set the salary cap for the 2013 season at $123M per team, the Chicago Bears had a little over $12M in cap space to work with, unless they restructured some big salaries. With the tagging of defensive tackle Henry Melton, Phil Emery and capologist Cliff Stein will have a harder time creating cap space to sign free agents than they would solving Rubik's Cube.
Melton could end up eating $8.45M of that cap space if the Bears don’t work out a long-term deal with the DT. Even if they do, his 2013 number will likely be at least $4M. That would leave anywhere from $4M to $8M to re-sign players like Brian Urlacher, Nick Roach, Lance Louis and others. And even though Urlacher will have to take a sizable decrease from his $9.7M cap number from last year if he’s going to return, that hardly leaves any room for outside free agents.
Keep in mind, too, that this cap number has to pay for the rookie class they end up signing. Additionally, the team has hinted that they have interest in bringing back Idonije, Nate Collins and Kelvin Hayden, so that $4M - $8M amount will be spread thinner than Kate Moss.
Meanwhile, the Bears need help at a lot of positions. In addition to starters and backups at tight end and the offensive line, they need a backup at QB and depth at several spots, depending on which of their own free agents return.
Last year, the Bears devoted $3.5M for Jason Campbell to back up Cutler, so don’t expect them to allot anywhere near that much for his backup this season. Spencer was a backup guard who used up more than $4M last season, so the Bears will look for cheaper alternatives. And if Idonije does come back, it will have to be at less than his $2.5M cap number from 2012.
Look, it’s a fairly complicated situation for Emery and Trestman, assuming that want to remain competitive while they start to build for the future, but it's why Stein gets paid. It sure would be nice and neat to sign a free agent tackle or a TE to provide an immediate solution to two of the team’s most glaring weaknesses, but that will be challenging to say the least unless the Bears solve this Rubik's Cube.
So what should they do?
- Restructure several veteran deals until 2015, when the NFL is expected to significantly increase the salary cap. For example, they can try to extend Pepper’s deal to save about $6M in cap space right now.
- Lowball Urlacher. If that sounds disrespectful, then so be it. Urlacher has been a great player, but he is at the end of his career. Offer him about $3M, and, if he balks, let him go like they did to Olin Kreutz.
- Release Kellen Davis and Devin Hester, though the return will be somewhat limited in each case due to such things as signing bonuses, etc.
- Restructure the contract of Charles Tillman, whose contract is up after next year. Sure, he's getting long in the tooth, but he seems to be getting better as he ages. Sign him to an extension that lowers his 2013 cap number.
And if those moves don't do the job, perhaps Emery could also consider bringing in CubeStormer II, the robot which solved a Rubik's Cube in a record 5.27 seconds! Hey, at least he's healthy.
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