Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic answers your questions:
“I know the cap is always very flexible and there are a lot of outs in the contracts his players have signed but I’m worried the Bears are soon going to be an old, expensive team without a lot of young, developing blue chip prospects, a great defense, and not good enough to win a Super Bowl. I know this isn’t really a question but I’m asking if my fear is real or am I overreacting? Keep up the great work fish man. — Theodore A.
“Well, I think there are definitely things going on in the world to redirect your fear … actually, second thought, this is probably a better place to channel it.
“What we’ve seen over the past week with the additions of Robert Quinn, Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham, plus the Danny Trevathan extension, is a pretty clear ‘kick the can down the road’ and ‘make the playoffs in 2020’ strategy. Pace would never suggest that publicly, but after years of getting the Bears younger from the end of the Phil Emery era, it’s fully win-now. [Ryan] Pace doesn’t have the time to try to rebuild anymore.
“Cody Whitehair’s contract already got restructured. It’s possible we see another one (Akiem Hicks?) before an Allen Robinson extension gets done. All that does is push higher cap numbers into the future. Of course, if the Bears are a playoff team, no one will care about how much everyone costs. If things go sideways and a new regime has to come in, it’ll inherit a rough cap situation in the coming years. However, as Pace has taught us, there are always ways to get around it.”
I actually asked Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune a similar question and his answer differed a bit from Fishbain’s:
“In the past the Bears have been reasonably conservative with their contracts, often front-loading them to allow them to cut players who don’t work out with minimal salary-cap impact. From what I can tell about the recent additions Robert Quinn, Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham and from Danny Trevathan’s new contract, it has occurred to me that ?Ryan Pace might have shifted to win-now mode and shoved in all of his chips on 2020. But it also occurs to me that with the TV contract renewal coming this year, the salary cap might jump pretty significantly next year. I’ve heard estimates as high as $240 million. Do you think the structure of the new contracts has more to do with the Bears simply anticipating the increase and pushing the money off into years when they know there will be a higher cap? — Tom S., Chicago
“I don’t see the details of recent contracts as a sign of more immediacy at Halas Hall. The Bears have lowered the number of 2020 cap hits for the guys you referenced in order to fit them in for this year, allowing for them to carry larger cap hits in 2021, when, as you note, the cap is expected to climb significantly. That’s not putting a premium on the opportunity to win this season. That’s simply navigating the cap situation. It has gotten to the point in the NFL that teams are able to move cap money around so much, it’s really not a big hindrance to offseason roster building unless it’s totally out of whack. It’s worth noting Bears general manager Ryan Pace came from the Saints, who have, for the most part, always found a way to operate while being close to the cap at the start of the offseason. Of course, they have had a franchise quarterback they needed to pay for a long time, and the Bears don’t have one of those. My take is the Bears are doing business as usual with the contracts, even if these players create at least a little ripple for the cap situation in 2021 or 2022.”
After thinking about this a great deal, I think the truth of the matter is that both of these points of view are correct. This is, as Biggs put it, “business as usual” but it is also, as Fishbain puts it, “kick the can down the road and make the playoffs in 2020” mode.
Pace did, indeed, learn his philosophy in the Saints organization and that is to always be aggressive every year. That means that the large potential increase in the 2021 cap is an advantage which the team believes it should take advantage of now and worry about the future later. This is the way they’ve been playing it and this is the way that they will always play it as long as Pace is here.