Following a 3-13 campaign, the Chicago Bears will have some roster decisions to make this off-season.
Some of the the biggest moves will be roster cuts, as the Bears look to free up cap space or remove under-performing players, or both.
As it stands, the Bears will have an $8.1-million rollover into 2016, for a total of $57 million in cap space this off-season. That could all change with cuts, giving the Bears even more money to spend in free agency.
One of the cap casualties could be OLB Lamarr Houston, who is due $5.95 million next season, the fourth largest salary on the team.
If the Bears decide to move on from Houston, it will save them $5.01 million in 2017 and an additional $8 million in 2018 if they cut him prior to June 1. The move would also carry $1.98 million in dead money for 2017.
The 29-year-old signed a five-year, $35-million deal with the team in 2014, supposedly to give Chicago a solid pass rusher on their struggling defense. The move was smart at the time, as the Bears really had no edge rusher.
Prior to his arrival in Chicago, Houston didn’t miss a single game in four seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Durability was supposed to be one of his strengths.
But in Week 8 of the 2014 season, Houston suffered an ACL injury on a celebration after sacking New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
He would miss the final eight games of the season for a Bears defense that was historically bad.
Houston bounced back though and, despite having Willie Young and Pernell McPhee on the roster, Houston found significant playing time in 2015.
The Bears transitioned into a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Vic Fangio and Houston excelled. He recorded a career-high 8.0 sacks for the Bears in 2015, playing in 15 games.
Even with Houston’s quality effort, Chicago GM Ryan Pace continued to improve the pass rush.
Pace drafted OLB Leonard Floyd in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, giving them another pass rush option. They entered the 2016 season with the hopes of having a dominant pass rush, assuming everyone could stay healthy.
With McPhee starting the campaign on PUP, it gave Houston a shot to earn more playing time at a crowded position.
Unfortunately, Houston tore his ACL in Week 2 and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season and possibly his time with the Bears. Chicago still has depth at the linebacker position, both inside and out, which makes Houston a little more expendable.
The team has plans for Floyd to be their outside edge rusher of the future and could even look for another player on the edge early in the draft this year.
If Myles Garrett falls to the Bears at No. 3 overall, it would surely mark the end for Houston.
Coming back from two major knee injuries is no easy task. With Houston’s recent injury issues, it might be too much of a gamble for the Bears to expect 2015-like productivity from the linebacker.
Cutting him isn’t the only option but it's the most realistic, as there's not a big market for players coming off two major knee injuries.
Chicago could ask Houston to take a pay cut and restructure his contract this off-season. It’s unlikely but the Bears could use his recent injuries as reasoning to make the move.
If the two sides can’t work something out, don’t be shocked if Houston is indeed released and becomes one of the Bears cap casualties as they move forward in 2017.null