The Chicago Bears were reportedly somewhere between $25 million-$30 million under the salary cap heading into free agency.
After placing a $7.7 million franchise tag on Matt Forte, absorbing Brandon Marshall's $9 million-per-year contract, re-signing five players and signing three more in free agency, the Bears are nearly tapped out.
According to Sean Jensen of the Chicago Sun Times, the club currently is just $7.5 million under the 2012 salary cap ($120.6 million).
Last year's five draft picks cost Chicago about $3.2 million, according to Spotrac.com. The club will have to allocate roughly $4 million toward the 2012 class, assuming they sign all seven. That leaves the franchise just $3.5 million under the cap.
There are a number of free agents still on the market that would fill team needs. And the Bears are also trying to re-sign Amobi Okoye, who is drawing interest from at least four other teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
If Chicago is going to continue to improve its roster in free agency, it will need to move some money around.
One way to clear space is to re-structure or extend existing contracts. A good candidate for an extension would be Brian Urlacher, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2013. Cutting down his $9.2 million cap hit would be a great place to start, while also securing the Pro Bowler for a few more seasons.
Charles Tillman hits free agency in 2014. Locking him up for another season or two, and reducing his $7.7 million cap hit this year, is an option.
The club could also make roster cuts, specifically Marion Barber, who is not expected back next season. Dropping him would clear up $2.8 million.
Another candidate to cut would be Matt Spaeth. There has been no mention from Halas Hall that he'll be cut. The coaches like what he did last year. But he carries a $2.4 million cap hit in 2012, which is a lot to pay for a backup tight end whose only real value is as a run blocker. There are plenty of cheaper tight ends on the market that could fill that role. If the Bears are looking to clear space, they should consider Spaeth.
The salary cap numbers suggest, more than anything else, that the Bears are unlikely to continue piling up the free agent acquisitions. Believe it or not, despite his spending ways this offseason, GM Phil Emery is a draft-first executive. He spoke extensively during his first press conference with the team about his desire to build the roster through the draft.
It appears he will now turn his attention to that area which he values so highly.
"I think there's still players, our own signings and players that are UFAs, that we're still considering and we're still looking at," Emery said this past Thursday. "It's hit that point of take a breath, sit back and see who has not been signed, re-evaluate what you have and move forward from there.
"Don't be surprised if we add a few more players here in the next few days. And don't be surprised if we don't because after we take that breath we may realize that it's best to start focusing on the draft."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.