Now that the hiring of general manager Ryan Pace and veteran head coach John Fox are done, it’s time for the Chicago Bears to turn their focus to their current personnel and cap space.
The team currently has nearly $114 million invested in contracted players. The 2015 cap is projected to range upward of $143 million, which would be a $10 million jump from last year. The Bears will also roll over $969,845 in unused space from 2014 and could be looking at nearly $30 million in cap space, including Roberto Garza’s new, fully un-guaranteed contract.
PRE-SPENT CAP SPACE
As a rule of thumb, there are always hidden costs that go into a team’s cap expense each year. The biggest expenses are:
- In-season expenses
- Dead money
- Performance bonuses and escalators
When accounting for cap space, the rule of 51 is key to remember. The rule of 51 is simply accounting for the team’s top 51 contracts in terms of highest dollar amounts. This is extremely important when you are looking at a list of 90 players before and during training camp.
With league minimum at $420,000 in 2014, the bottom of each roster, including low-round rookies, usually account for 15 percent of the overall cap.
For example, when adding in a new $1 million contract, the salary cap will only rise by $580,000 since the league minimum has already been accounted for, even without a full 53-man roster. When using this principle for adding up total expenses, you will notice there is a little more hidden cap space than most think.
On average, a draft class will cost a team roughly $3-$5 million in cap space, depending on number of picks and draft position. This is a total cost that will need to be taken out of that $30 million cap figure, which would now be down to $27-$25 million.
As most fans know, injuries happen, which is why most teams go into each campaign with $3 million or more in spending cash. Each roster move takes a portion out of each team’s remaining space, which is why this “reserve” is a must. If not spent by the end of the year, teams will be able to roll that figure over into next year’s cap space.
This part of the used cap space haunted the front office last year and produced many front-loaded contracts.
Dead money is paid to a player who is no longer on the roster but was still owed a guaranteed amount the year he was cut. For instance, last year Julius Peppers carried an $18.183 million cap hit with $8.36 million in dead money. Although the team saved approximately $9.8 million by cutting Peppers, that $8.36 million dead-money figure still counted against the cap.
Compared to 2014, the Bears are in a much better spot in terms of dead money. Last year, Emery piled up more than $18 million in dead money, which counted for approximately 14 percent of the team’s overall cap space. This year, Pace has just $105,155 in dead money.
Performance bonuses and escalators
Built into most contracts are performance-based bonuses and escalators that will have a small effect on the end-of-year cap space. For instance, some teams such as the Saints and Cowboys have been penalized for failing to prepare for these bonuses and have ended the league year above the league’s hard salary cap.
Saving Additional Cap Space
Each year, each team’s front office finds ways to clear additional cap space through a few different avenues:
- Releasing a player
- Restructuring a contract
- Contract extensions
Last year, the Bears had multiple cap casualties including Earl Bennett, Adam Podlesh, Michael Bush and Julius Peppers. Those moves alone freed up almost $20 million in cap space but counted for more than $10 million in dead money. This year, the front office faces similar situations.
Former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer is now gone and this could spell the end of the only blocking scheme Bushrod knows. He struggled last season but a Bushrod cut doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Bears would save just $1.45 million and would eat $6.6 million in dead money, but it still remains a small possibility.
Though this is not a popular choice, Marshall carries a cap hit of $9.58 million in 2015. If the Bears cut him before March 12, they could save $3.95 million next year. Yet no “good deed” goes unpunished, as Marshall carries a dead-money figure of $5.63 million.
Coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended in a torn ACL due to a sack celebration in the midst of a blowout, Houston could be a cap casualty with minimal consequences. Houston is going into the second year of a $35 million contract that was front-loaded. Cutting Houston saves a little more than $3 million in 2015, with $3.96 million in dead money.
This may come as a surprise to some but his antics seem to be growing old, even with some of his teammates. If he can find a viable backup plan, Pace might be faced with an interesting decision. Cutting Bennett would save the team $3.88 million, with a smaller dead figure of $2.25 million.
Other cuts that could save quick money with no dead money include Jeremiah Ratliff ($2 million) and Ryan Mundy ($1.5 million).
Overall, the Bears could save anywhere from $1.5 million all the way up to $15.85 million with these cuts. Trading any of these players would result in full cap savings.
With the cap expected to rise at least $10 million from last year, the Bears will have right around $30 million to spend before the draft, in-season funds or cuts are accounted for.
The Bears currently rank ninth in the league in cap space going into the 2015 offseason and have a chance to extend that $30 million cap figure to potentially to $45 million through strategic cuts.
That will gave Pace enough money to sign the team’s important free agents, such as DT Stephen Paea, OL Brian De La Puente and CB Sherrick McManis. That $30 million can go fast though, so expect to see a few substantial cuts once the league year begins.
Aaron Leming has years of salary cap knowledge and has written for Rant Sports, Bears Draft On Tap, and Cover 32. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report.