Current cap situation: Chicago Bears, part two

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Updated: January 28, 2014
Chicago Bears contract negotiator-and salary cap guru-Cliff Stein has his work cut out for him this offseason.

Chicago Bears contract negotiator-and salary cap guru-Cliff Stein has his work cut out for him this offseason.

This is the second half of a two-part series examining in detail the current salary cap situation for the Chicago Bears.  In part one I said that Chicago is currently right up against the cap and explored two ways they could look to create cap room (cutting players and convincing players to take pay cuts).  In this article I will look at two other ways the Chicago Bears could clear 2014 cap space and then revisit Chicago’s cap situation in light of these potential moves.

A contract extension for wide receiver Brandon Marshall could clear some 2014 cap space for the Chicago Bears.

A contract extension for wide receiver Brandon Marshall could clear some 2014 cap space for the Chicago Bears.

Contract extension

Another avenue for freeing up immediate cap space is by singing a player with one year left on his deal to a long-term extension.  These are often structured with heavy upfront bonuses that enable the player to get paid immediately but have a relatively low cap hit in year one.  The only obvious candidate for that on the Chicago Bears is wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

He is due to make $9.3 million in the last year of his contract in 2014, and could probably be signed to a long-term extension with an overall pay raise that has a lower cap hit right now.  The year one cap hit can fluctuate wildly depending on how the Chicago Bears want to structure it; they could probably get it down to $4 or $5 million-a savings of $4-5 million-but a more realistic year one number would probably be somewhere around between that and his current $9 million hit.  If they want to, the Bears could save themselves somewhere between $1 and $4 million dollars on the 2014 cap by extending Marshall.

Contract restructure

A fourth and final option to free up cap space in 2014 would be for the Chicago Bears to restructure contracts. This is typically done by converting a portion of a players’ salary for a year into a signing bonus, which spreads it out over the duration of the contract.  Like most of the moves above, it saves money in the here and now, but you end up paying that money back in the future.

Quarterback Jay Cutler's contract can easily be restructured to free up a large amount of salary cap space for the Chicago Bears.

Quarterback Jay Cutler’s contract can easily be restructured to free up a large amount of salary cap space for the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Bears are in a somewhat unique position in that they recently signed three large contracts-for quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, and guard Matt Slauson-with no signing bonuses.  Rather, these contracts are structured such that any amount of , spreading them out over multiple years.

The easiest way to free up cap space through this method would be by changing Jay Cutler’s contract.  If you convert $10 million of his $22.5 million due in 2014 to a signing bonus, that spreads it out evenly over five years.  That means the Chicago Bears would save $8 million on their 2014 cap, at the cost of having Cutler cost them an extra $2 million each year from 2015-2018.

If they wanted to, Chicago could convert all $22.5 million of Cutler’s salary, freeing $18 million for this year, but that would add $4.5 million to each of the next four years and is probably not a very good idea.  The Bears could also convert about $4.5 million of Jennings’ 2014 cap hit and save up to $3.6 million or so that way, but again that’s money that would increase on future salary caps.

Flexibility is key

So that’s where things stand for the Chicago Bears.  They are extremely tight against the cap right now (if you remember, in part one I said they essentially have around $1.5 million in cap space), but have an abundance of options to create as much cap room as they might need.  That flexibility allows general manager Phil Emery to spend exactly how much he feels is necessary for 2014, while the challenge is that he must always balance out present needs with future concerns.

If the Bears wanted to, they could easily get their cap room up near $30 million; cutting Julius Peppers, Michael Bush, Adam Podlesh and Eric Weems would save up to $17 million, $1 million saved from an Earl Bennett pay cut, $8 million (or more) saved from a Jay Cutler restructure, and another couple million from a Brandon Marshall extension.  The full list of possible moves I have discussed and the money they would save compared to a minimum replacement contract is presented in this table below.  For a full explanation of some of the terms you may need to look back at the first part of this series.

Player
Action
Cap Room Created
Julius Peppers cut $9.3 million
Julius Peppers June 1 cut $13.5 million
Michael Bush cut $1.3 million
Michael Bush June 1 cut $2.3 million
Adam Podlesh cut $525,000
Eric Weems cut $600,000
Earl Bennett cut $2.95 million
Earl Bennett pay cut $1 million
Tim Jennings restructure up to $3.6 million
Jay Cutler restructure up to $18 million
Brandon Marshall extension $1-4 million

The Chicago Bears can also be creative in how they manage free agent signings if they want to dole out a few big contracts.  Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod and tight end Martellus Bennett both signed with Chicago in free agency last year; their year one cap hits were a combined $5 million even though the average combined salaries on their deals are for more than $12 million.

Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery must carefully weigh current needs with future ramifications for every move he makes.

Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery must carefully weigh current needs with future ramifications for every move he makes.

Smaller deals, such as the signing of linebacker DJ Williams last year, use up hardly any of the cap space, as they replace a contract as one of the highest 51 the Chicago Bears have handed out.  So signing Williams to the same one year, $1.3 million contract he had in 2013 would only cost an additional $800,000 against the cap, since he is replacing a contract already on the books for about $500,000.

If the Chicago Bears wanted to, they could find the money to sign pretty much whoever they want this year in free agency.  But the important thing to remember is that there is no free lunch.  Cutting players means you need to find somebody to replace their production, and you need to think beyond 2014 when making monetary decisions.  Many of the ways to clear immediate cap space will end up costing them money in 2015 and beyond, and front-loading contracts too could come back to bite them in future years.

Wrapping it up

I apologize for these articles being so long, but I hope they at least gave you a better feel for just how complicated NFL finances are.  Unlike in the NBA and MLB, contracts are not fully guaranteed, which is wonderful for the teams in that it mitigates their risks and gives them many more options to make things work.  Unfortunately for the fans, it also makes figuring out how much money their team has-or doesn’t have-exponentially more difficult.

I hope my long ramblings here made sense.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments below or .

About the author(s)

Johnathan Wood is a passionate fan of the Chicago Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, and Northwestern Wildcats. He enjoys being the beat writer for the Bears at Water Cooler Sports and being obnoxiously unapologetic about how his favorite teams are more awesome than yours. Feel free to email him at if you have any comments or suggestions. Connect with .

2317 comments
G & G
G & G moderator

A lot of respect for this guy!!


TheHairy1
TheHairy1

WHy couldn't that storm yesterday turn north instead of going off shore - I wanted to see 2' of snow dumped on the Meadowlands - and how do you call a place Meadowlands when everything is concrete around it?

I wish I had a D like Carolina's
I wish I had a D like Carolina's moderator

I guess I'll put out a post I have ready then, and we can do BBAO this afternoon.

Don't worry, it's not a Bears post.

Donny33
Donny33

my work is done for the week. entertain me fools.

Staffords_Glove
Staffords_Glove

Every year it seems Doritos has an awesome SB ad. I hope it continues

G & G
G & G moderator

I cried...


niemerg1
niemerg1

Tumblr thinks about the deep things 

Derp Derpington
Derp Derpington

 how do you call a field Lambeau field when their are no cars there and Lambo's are made in italy?

Donny33
Donny33

 kind of a droopy ass.

G & G
G & G moderator

Why , what's going on?

Donny33
Donny33

 he's busy flogging the dolphin.

Donny33
Donny33

hint: boobs are good, mmkay.

Derp Derpington
Derp Derpington

 that commercial does not make me want to buy budweiser beer.

Commercial = fail

Angry Moon Jesus
Angry Moon Jesus moderator

 Budweiser always does a good job for Super Bowl.

$50 Mr. FalcoNole 50$
$50 Mr. FalcoNole 50$

 

Thats a good one! No complaints at all, but not perfect for my taste. Please dont misunderstand me, I could live between those cheeks!

TheHairy1
TheHairy1

Lambeau field was built long before Lamborgini's were around - they stole the name

Donny33
Donny33

 ford field is spot on because fords suck.

G & G
G & G moderator

 What about want to buy a puppy?

G & G
G & G moderator

 Indeed!

G & G
G & G moderator

 I bet he's drunk!!

Donny33
Donny33

 you're no michael flatley.

Derp Derpington
Derp Derpington

 i would like to have a dog, but I don't have the time for one right now. Nor the space.