As of Tuesday midnight, the Chicago Bears had roughly $8.2 million in cap space, which was the fifth fewest amount in the league. The club still has a number of holes to fill and must allocate around $4 million for the incoming draft class, so they're not out of the woods yet.
GM Phil Emery's first cap-clearing move came with the release of Julius Peppers on Tuesday, which will save the club nearly $10 million this season. The Bears could have bumped those savings to $14 million by designating Peppers a June 1 cut, which would have split his remaining $8 million in dead money over the next two seasons, but the team chose to eat the full amount this year.
No reason to have Peppers haunting the club's financials for two years. Just rip the Band-Aid off and be done with it.
Emery isn't finished clearing space though, not by a long shot, as he can't truly field a "championship" roster with just a few million to spend. More cuts are forthcoming.
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One name on the tip of everyone's tongue is wide receiver Earl Bennett, who is owed $2.45 million next year. Bennett doesn't carry any dead money, so the Bears could wipe his entire contract off the books. For a cash-strapped GM like Emery, $2.45 million in additional cap space must make his mouth water.
Bennett was the club's No. 3 wide receiver last season, catching 32 passes for 243 yards and four touchdowns. He's extremely comfortable with Jay Cutler, going back to their days together at Vanderbilt, and he has reliable hands.
Yet Bennett has never truly reached his potential in Chicago. He caught 54 passes for 717 yards in his second year in 2009 and was viewed as a player on the rise. Since then his numbers have progressively worsened each season, culminating in a career-low 243 receiving yards in 2013.
In addition, Bennett has returned just five combined punts and kicks since 2010, so he has little value on special teams.
The Bears today are hosting seven-year veteran wide receiver Domenik Hixon, who has been a kick and punt returner throughout his career. Hixon, who reportedly wants to sign in Chicago, would likely come at or near the veteran minimum, $855,000, or about $1.595 million less than Bennett.
Also working against Bennett is the presence of Marquess Wilson, the team's seventh-round pick last year, who picked up steam late in his rookie campaign. Wilson has been working out in Florida with Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler, along with many other players, including most of the team's offensive line.
Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod tweeted a team photo yesterday of 13 Bears players as they geared up for paintball. Wilson is in the photo alongside Marshall, yet Bennett was not. That may not mean anything but it's worth noting. Either way, the team is very high on Wilson's potential as a contributing wide receiver next season.
If Hixon is added as well, there may not be room for Bennett, a $2.45 million receiver who could end up the club's No. 5 wideout next year.
Hixon's addition could also portend the departure of Eric Weems, a special-teams-only player due $1.6 million in 2014. He carries $500,000 in dead money, meaning the Bears could save $1.1 million by waiving him.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.