Now that the Chicago Bears have their coach and quarterback of the future, it’s time for Ryan Pace to swing for the fences in free agency and the draft in order to assemble the best roster possible.
For Pace to do that, he needs to trim some of the fat on Chicago’s bottom line in order to clear space for the incoming free agent blitz. The Bears currently have about $42 million in cap space, but they have to sign/replace Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Christian Jones, and upgrade at wide receiver.
They need some more room if they really want to go after the best free agents available. Who should we expect to get “chopped” this offseason? If the Bears play their cards right, they could reasonably have just north of $100 million of cap space.
The easy cuts: These players were “chopped” before the final whistle sounded in 2017:
This man is currently the highest paid Chicago Bear … He almost makes twice as much money as Akiem Hicks. Yeah, my stomach just got upset too. However, the Bears will likely remedy this in the very near future. Glennon is still good enough for a backup role, but most would agree that his impending $16 million cap hit is a tad much. The Bears would only have to eat $4.5 million in dead cap (in turn saving $11.5 million) by putting Glennon out to pasture.
You know what stings more than shelling out $14 million for Glennon in 2017? How about paying Wheaton $1.75 million per catch this season. In some respects, Wheaton had some rotten luck in Chicago. He suffered appendicitis, had to have an emergency appendectomy, and a dislocated his finger within a month and a half of each other. Unfortunately, those don’t excuse a three-catch, 51-yard season in which he appeared in 11 contests. The speedster out of Oregon State will be even easier to cut considering the Bears will save $5 million in cap space by showing him the door.
No one will doubt that Freeman played well when he arrived in Chicago, but two PED suspensions do a lot to damage to any goodwill built up on the gridiron. Even if Freeman didn’t have to worry about a suspension next season, he will be 32 years old and is coming off of a traumatic pectoral tear that he sustained in Week 1. A $4 million price tag is a lot to offer up to a guy who is aging and has suspended twice, especially with the likes of Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski returning next year. Chicago would save $3.5 million by cutting Freeman.
These “easy cuts” create $20 million in additional cap space. Now the Bears have approximately $62 million total cap space.
Not locks, but likely suspects: Chopping these players may open up some roster holes, but their bloated salaries have likely sealed their fate:
I do not have a problem with the Bears having an above average blocking tight end who demands at least some type of respect in the passing game. However, that tight end better block like Joe Thomas if he’s going to get paid over $6 million. For those who didn’t already know, Sims doesn’t block like Thomas, and he is nowhere near worth his price tag. While the offense is somewhat to blame for his numbers, 15 receptions for 180 yards and a single touchdown is far from eye-popping.
Pace made a mistake by giving that much money to a player whose season-high receiving marks are 35 receptions for 256 yards and four touchdowns, but the general manager is able to recoup most of that by cutting Sims. Chicago would save over $5.5 million by cutting the tight end. However, the Bears don’t exactly have a clear replacement for Sims’ role. Ben Braunecker isn’t exactly a name Bears fans should want in the starting lineup. That said, there are plenty of candidates who can fulfill Sims’ duties for about half of his current asking price.
This was another eye-catching decision by Pace a year ago. Demps wasn’t the best safety on the market, but he was paid more than his peers who went on to have extremely successful 2017 campaigns while he took a quick seat on IR. With Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson looking like the safeties of the future in Chicago, Demps’ role in Chicago has more or less vanished into thin air. $3.9 million is a lot to pay for a backup safety, but I’m certainly willing to pay that much money if it means I never have to see Chris Prosinski suit up in a Bears uniform ever again. Pace would save a little over $3.2 in cap space if he were to cut Demps.
He earned every penny of his extension coming into this season. Unfortunately, his body just seemed to fall off a cliff in 2017. In four games, Young tallied seven tackles and two sacks. He built a reputation as a high motor, impact player since he arrived in Chicago prior to the 2014 season. Unfortunately, Young just seems to be running out of gas.
At 32 years old, it’s not likely that Young bounces back to his former self after suffering a season-ending triceps injury in Week 4. Cutting Young saves $4.5 million towards the cap. That said, the Bears have no depth at outside linebacker. Cutting Young would leave Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, Howard Jones, Isaiah Irving, and … ???
For being Ryan Pace’s first big free agent signing, McPhee has only two more sacks than missed games since coming to Chicago in 2015 (12 missed games to 14 sacks in three seasons). Multiple injuries and age slowed McPhee down to a crawl in 2017. While he was available for 13 games, he only started 5 contests and logged a measly four sacks on the year.
Numbers don’t lie, McPhee is not contributing anywhere near his $8 million price tag. However, much like cutting Young, the Bears have no depth at pass rusher as it is. The Bears don’t have a wealth of options available to them via free agency either. Cutting McPhee is ideal considering the $7 million it would save towards the cap, but it’s hard to justify doing so without a decent replacement in hand.
For the supposed crown jewel of Ryan Pace’s 2017 free agent class, Cooper was a massive disappointment. His Leon Lett impression against Pittsburgh will live in infamy long after he hangs up his cleats, especially since he has done little else worth mentioning since arriving in the Windy City. 18 tackles and three pass deflections aren’t much to warrant a $5.5 million price tag.
However, Copper may be the beneficiary of the Bears only having two other serviceable corners currently under contract for next season. Until the Bears decide on what to do with Amukamara, Fuller, and Bryce Callahan, expect Cooper to stay put. Cutting him would save $4.5 million.
If the Bears cut these “likely suspects,” they will create $24.7 million in additional cap space, and will then have approximately $86.7 million total cap space.
The final cuts: These players won’t be easy to cut, no matter how good the numbers look on paper:
The only thing more consistent than Sitton’s solid play is his religious appearance on the injury report. He’s more or less made a home there throughout his career. He deserves all the credit in the world for playing through his injuries, but considering that he’ll be 32 at the start of the season, his injuries will take him out sooner rather than later.
Outside of cutting a player who has performed at a high level for the last two seasons, the Bears would have to find a replacement. Eric Kush is a potential answer who is already on the roster, but expecting him to come back from a torn hamstring to be a 16-game starter is a tad bit on the optimistic side, especially since he only has five career starts.
The free agent market doesn’t offer a lot of good options outside of Seattle’s Luke Joeckel who is younger than Sitton, but will cost the same if not more. The Bears could also invest in a more fruitful free agent center market and ask Cody Whitehair to flip to guard, but we’ve seen that Whitehair is best at center. The last option the Bears have is to draft Quentin Nelson to be a direct replacement for Sitton. However, the Bears have needs like pass rusher that typically can only be addressed in the first round.
The Bears have a nearly $8 million incentive to come up with an exit strategy for Sitton.
This in many ways parallels cutting Sitton. However, unlike Sitton, Massie performs at an average to below average level whereas Sitton still looks like a Pro Bowl player at times. That said, much like Sitton, there isn’t anything on Chicago’s current roster to replace Massie, and the free agent market is sparse. Cutting Massie would result in the Bears having to draft a tackle good enough to start 16 NFL games in his rookie season, which is likely more of a gamble than expecting Massie to perform to his $6 million salary. That said, if the Bears do cut Massie, they would save $5.5 million.
If these players end up being those difficult cuts, the Bears would add $13.5 million in additional cap space, increasing their total cap space to approximately $100.2 million.
The Bears may have a number of players to re-sign along with reaching out for answers at wide receiver, offensive tackle, and outside linebacker. However, Pace has given out cap-friendly contracts that will allow the Bears to generate a lot of cap space and go after the premier free agents in 2018.
Speaking of Free Agents …
If you are already looking ahead to some potential fits for Chicago in free agency, I encourage you to check out this article by DeVante Tidwell that goes through his top free agents the Bears should pursue.