The Chicago Bears yesterday slapped the franchise tag on wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.
If no long-term deal is reached before July 15, the Bears will owe Jeffery $14.599 million for the 2016 season. That's a hefty sum for a player who doesn't pass the ball or sack the quarterback, one that would give Jeffery the second largest contract on the roster, behind only Jay Cutler.
Combined, Cutler and Jeffery will cost more than $31 million next season. Yet beyond those two, the largest 2016 cap hit will be OLB Pernell McPhee's $7.67 million. In fact, only five total players have contracts exceeding $4.5 million, and one of those is Martellus Bennett ($6.31 million) who may not even be on the team next year.
That's why the Bears can afford to pay Jeffery a king's ransom, because they are flush with cap space.
Even after Jeffery's tag, the Bears have $46.57 million in cap space, which is eighth most in the NFL. When you subtract roughly $7 million for the draft class, that still leaves GM Ryan Pace with roughly $39 million to spend in free agency. That is more than double what Pace had in his first off-season last year, meaning he can make twice as big of an impact on the open market this year.
Pace said at the end of last season not to expect numerous big splash signings in free agency. While he may not dump money in Raiders-like fashion on overpriced veterans, it's safe to assume he'll be targeting one or two of the big names. At the end of the day, sitting on that cash will do him no good, so expect at least one or two of the top free agents (like LB Danny Trevathan and DE Jaye Howard) to end up in Chicago next year.
After that, Pace can fill in the rest of the roster using one-year deals on mid- to low-priced veterans, just as he did last off-season.
Bottom line: even with Jeffery commanding nearly 25 percent of Pace's cap space, the Bears can stil be aggressive on the open market and won't be forced to shop for bargains.