Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune talks about how the Bears might create space under the reduced salary cap in 2021:
Free safety Eddie Jackson is a prime candidate for a restructure to lower his cap hit of $11.45 million. Maybe the Bears will take a similar approach with outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who has a $14.7 million cap hit but has a fully guaranteed base salary of $11.5 million. The Bears could attack the problem by moving cap commitments into future years when the overall cap number is expected to rise, especially after the NFL finalizes new television contracts and the pandemic is in the past.
The problem with extending contracts is that, obviously, it connects you at the hip to players for the future. The same goes, to a lesser extent, with converting salary to bonuses, which spreads the cap hit out over future years but which also makes it harder to part from a player in those future years.
Jackson is, indeed, a prime candidate for this and I consider it to be almost a certainty that the Bears will do something here if they can. Kyle Fuller is another player who is in line for an extension. Both are still in the prime of their careers and, though it was a bit of a down year for both as play makers, I think pretty much everyone still considers them to be cornerstone pieces for the defense. As Biggs points out, this might be easier said than done, however. Agents will know that the Bears are desperate to create space and this will give him leverage.
The problems come after that. Quinn is a great example of a player who is a real quandary. He didn’t live up to his massive contract last year. To top it off, the contract was back loaded which means that the Bears are paying the price for it this year in terms of the cap hit. When they put the contract together, I’m certain it was with the idea that they would do a restructure this year. But now you have to wonder if that’s still the plan.
Quinn carries $23.9 million dollars in dead cap if the Bears cut him this year as the contract stands. That obviously makes doing so prohibitive. However, that falls to $9.3 million if they cut him is 2022 and the cap savings would be $6.7 million.
So the Bears have a decision to make with Quinn. Do they want to restructure his contract and move money into future years, making it more difficult to cut him later? Doing so would be betting that he recovers to be a better player and earn the money in his contract. But that’s a bet I think it would be difficult to make based upon what we saw this year. You have to wonder if they would be better off leaving the contract as it is, which would leave them to option of separating from him later if necessary.
The Bears are in a similar situation with Akiem Hicks, who is entering the last year of his contract. Hicks is 31 years old and has been injured a bit more often than anyone would like the last couple years. On the other hand, the defense isn’t anywhere near as good without him. Extending Hicks would essentially be betting that he maintains a high level of play for at least a few more years, something the Bears should be hesitating to do with a declining player on the wrong side of 30.
Other options for creating space include cutting Bobby Massie and Jimmy Graham. Each older player has his flaws. Each has his strengths. Cutting each creates another hole in the lineup that has to be filled with someone else.
Connecting yourself to the younger players above like Fuller and Jackson for future years is a no brainer. But its what the Bears do with the other players that will tell us a lot about where they are at.
Disconnecting from these players would be what the Bears would want to do if they think that the current team needs a major overhaul. But it they continue to connect themselves with older players that they could replace, especially those like Massie and Graham, that tells the world that they continue to think that the current team is good enough to contend. That’s something that many, including myself, might question considering the Bears performance against some of the better teams in 2021.
One way or the other, the Bears have to create space under the cap in order to make the moves at quarterback, wide receiver and other positions where holes exist in the current lineup. But its going to involve some tough decisions that are going to tell us a lot about where the Bears think they are at and that will have implications far into the future.