Making Sense of the Bears Cap Situation

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

With their loss to the Vikings last week, the Chicago Bears end their 2022 season 6-11, good for third place in the NFC North. It was a frustrating season that verged on downright ugly at points. I’m almost glad it’s over.

Sunday was also the final game in Matt Nagy’s tenure as the head coach of the Chicago Bears. I’m definitely glad that’s over.

The Bears now shift into offseason mode, and it’s hard to understate just how important this offseason is. The Bears will be on the hunt for a new head coach and a new GM to pair with their budding young QB, Justin Fields. Fields flashed some really special traits in his rookie season, and despite his ups and downs, should give Bears fans a lot of hope moving forward. Every move this offseason should be focused on putting players around him to help him succeed. The Bears have to do this, while navigating how much cap space they have as well. Put simply, cap space is how much money a team has to spend on its players. But its a little more complicated than that, and lots of different things play into that. You’ll hear about terms like void years, dead money, restructuring and prorated bonuses, and it can be hard to determine exactly how much money is really available.

Well have no fear! I’ve done all the digging and figuring so that you don’t have to, and below, is everything you need to know about the Chicago Bears cap situation.

Current Cap Space

The Bears currently have $39,472,053 in cap space available to them. That is one of the better cap situations in the league, sitting at 11th best, but also good for the most in the NFC North. In fact, the Packers and the Vikings are two of only four teams in the league with currently negative cap space, along with the Saints and Vikings. Always nice to have a leg up over your neighbors…

This $39,472,053 would be the amount the Bears would have to spend on free agents, draft picks, and extensions if they didn’t make any other moves. But the moves they could make are what make this conversation fun, and here are the ones I think the Bears will be heavily considering this offseason.

Restructuring

Some of the easiest and most obvious moves the Bears can make to free up some cap space would be asking some of their more expensive players to restructure their contracts. The Bears can convert part of the players salaries to a bonus, and create more cap space for 2022. Below are the players I think the Bears will consider restructuring, and the savings it comes with:

The easiest decision here is Khalil Mack. His contract is the gift that keeps on giving. Restructuring his contract would instantly create over 12 million more in cap space and to some extent, should be a no-brainer for the new Bears GM. 

Now there is no limit to how many players you can restructure, but the way the restructuring works pushes dead money down the road. The Bears shouldn’t get too trigger happy here, and I would assume they only ask 2 maybe 3 players to do so. 

My gut feeling is that Robert Quinn will not be one of the people the Bears will ask, and I have other plans for Eddie Goldman later, so that leaves Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair. The Bears only have 29 players under contract for the 2022 season, so every penny counts. I’m going to suggest that the Bears ask both to restructure, and I’m fairly confident they will.

Restructure: Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Cody Whitehair

Total Savings: $25,320,000 

Cuts

Another way that a team can create some cap space is to cut some players off the books. You don’t necessarily gain their entire yearly salary back, but there is some money to be saved. Now when looking at cuts, there are 2 ways to see them. You have your standard cuts, and any cuts that happen after June 1st. Cuts done after June 1st hit the books differently, as some money is moved into the next contract year, and can save a little extra money. The NFL allows for teams to “designate” two cuts each year as post-June 1st cuts, to allow for the cut players to go about their business and not have to wait until June to test the market. Below are the players I think the Bears would consider cutting, and how much savings cutting each player would pose:

So of the players the Bears currently have under contract for 2022, these 5 are the only ones that really make sense as options to cut. These are the players whose contracts are rich enough to be worth cutting, and also might not be in the new GM’s plans for 2022. 

Eddie Goldman is at the top of the list, and for good reason. His contract offers the most to gain from cutting him, and he has really fallen off since 2018. Not only has his play taken a big dive, but he doesn’t even seem to want to play football anymore. I think the Bears will use one of their post-June 1st cuts on him. 

Eddie Jackson is an interesting option here. By no means do I think the Bears should cut him, but lots of other Bears fans really soured on him this season. He is getting paid a pretty hefty penny, and didn’t have a single take away to show for it this year. The Bears would lose money if they outright cut him, but if they designated him as a post-June 1st, almost 6 million stands to be made. Its a fairly attractive number, but ultimately I think it would be a mistake, and I doubt the Bears go that route.

The more important reason the Bears won’t designate Eddie Jackson as a post-June 1st cut is because they only get to do it twice, and the second should absolutely be used on Danny Trevathan. Another player that would cost the Bears money to cut outright, but provides a nice savings if its post June 1st, I think its time that the Bears and Trevathan part ways. Much like Eddie Goldman, Trevathan hasn’t looked like a difference maker since atleast 2018, and he’s only getting older. I think the Bears will look to part ways this offseason.

So with both designated cuts being used, that just leaves normal cuts for the rest. The 2 cuts I think the Bears should consider are Tarik Cohen and Nick Foles. I’m not happy about leaning towards these moves, especially Tarik, but I think they need to be done. Tarik Cohen could use a fresh start, having missed the whole 2021 season with a knee injury he sustained in late 2020. Foles could be a useful backup, especially if the Bears plan to be competitive in 2022 (they should), but the savings are too hard to look away from, plus my gut tells me that Foles is probably ready to move on as well.

June 1st Cuts: Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan

Cuts: Tarik Cohen, Nick Foles

Savings: $17,610,407

That brings the Bears total potential savings up to a whopping $42,930,407. Now like I mentioned earlier, Chicago only has 29 players on their roster heading into 2022, just over half of the required 53. The Bears should add 4-6 players through the draft, which should only cost them about 5-6 million, but they also have to navigate some key free agent decisions and current player extensions for guys like Roquan and Montgomery. There is a lot to consider. But with just seven simple moves, the Bears could more than double their current cap space, and bring their total available spend up to $82,402,460, which should give them a little flexibility and breathing room as they fill out their roster this offseason.

New Total Cap Space: $82,402,460

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