On the surface, it appears the Bears invested in nine years of production. Yet a closer look at each contract reveals a much smaller level of investment.
McPhee signed a five-year, $38.75 million contract. He received a $2.5 million signing bonus, which is prorated over the length of the contract at $500,000 per season. His 2015 base salary is $5.975 million.
The only part of McPhee’s salary that is fully guaranteed is the signing bonus and his 2015 salary. If the Bears cut him before the start of the 2016 season, they’ll only be on the hook for the remainder of his signing bonus: $2 million. That’s it.
If McPhee struggles this season or is felled by injury, and the front office feels he’s too risky to retain, they can cut him and save $30 million, which includes $5.675 million in cap space next year.
Rolle signed a three-year, $11.25 million contract, which includes $4.9 million in guarantees. Yet those guarantees are all paid out in the first year of the deal. Beyond 2015, the Bears owe Rolle nothing.
In essence, McPhee and Rolle are on one-year trial contracts. If they prove their worth this season, they’ll have the potential to earn much more. But if they falter the Bears can cut both players with minimal repercussions.
Royal’s three-year, $15 million includes $10 million in fully guaranteed money. His base salaries the next two seasons – $5.5 million in 2015 and $4.5 million in 2016 – are fully guaranteed, yet the third year carries no guarantees.
The Bears invested two years in Royal, twice as much as McPhee and Rolle, but can opt out after that.
So what looks like a nine-year cumulative investment is really just four years invested in three players, carrying a risk of just $2 million in dead money.
The Bears created contracts that carry potential for each player if he performs, yet the club mitigated the risk existing in each contract. Unlike the heavy investments of the first-week free agents Phil Emery signed, new GM Ryan Pace left himself a way out from the burden of long-term free-agent deals gone bad.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.