It’s been a fast and furious first week-plus in NFL free agency. With teams all over the league splurging on big-figure contracts, Chicago Bears GM Ryan Pace spent his money using a strategy of quantity, not big-name quality, in filling numerous roster holes.
Successful teams build through the draft, there is no denying that, but teams like the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants have also shown that free agency can be used as a tool to speed up the process in creating a playoff-caliber roster.
How Much Have The Bears Spent?
As of this week, the Bears had spent the most cap space in the league ($41 million) according to Spotrac.com.
While Pace has been the biggest spender so far this off-season, in terms of cap hits for 2017, their overall guarantees to these players rank fifth in the NFL, at $54 million.
Why is this figure important? Pace may have spent more than half of his allotted cap room for the 2017 season, yet the guarantees barely leak into the 2018 season.
While Pace spent big for one season, he did not make many long-term commitments. A prime example of this would be QB Mike Glennon. The 27-year-old signed a three-year, $45-million contract with just $18.5 million in guarantees. The guarantees ultimately dictate the commitment of each contract and in Glennon's deal, it shows a one-year commitment with a minimal penalty to cut ties in 2018.
Glennon carrie a $14 million cap hit for 2017, followed by cap hits of $16 million in 2018 and $15 million in 2019. Since only $4.5 million will be left in guarantees following this season, the Bears could still save $11.5 million if they cut Glennon next year, incurring just a $4.5 million dead cap penalty.
Here’s a breakdown of the team’s signings:
2 Year Commitments:
-TE Dion Sims 3 years, $18M ($10 million guaranteed)
1 Year Commitments:
-QB Mike Glennon 3 years, $45M ($18.5 million guaranteed)
-S Quintin Demps 3 years, $13.5M ($5 million guaranteed)
-WR Markus Wheaton 2 years, $11M ($6 million guaranteed)
-CB Prince Amukamara 1 year/ $7M ($7 million guaranteed)
-CB Marcus Cooper 3 years, $16M ($8 million guaranteed)
-WR Kendall Wright 1 year, $4M (Contract not yet disclosed)
-OT Tom Compton 1 year, $1.85M ($850 thousand guaranteed)
-DL John Jenkins (Contract not yet disclosed)
Shown here, the Bears have just one player financially bound for longer than one year. This follow Pace’s guideline of using one-year deals that provides quick outs if the team doesn't get proper return on its investment.
How Can Pace Create More Cap Space?
As of this weekend's NFLPA Salary Cap Report, the Bears have $23.5 million in cap space with 70 players on the roster, although the contracts of Wright and Jenkins have not yet been made official.
The Bears can create more space, if needed, through further roster cuts.
To that end, veteran receiver Eddie Royal is expected to be released as soon as he can pass a physical. The team may also part ways with OLB Lamarr Houston, who is coming off his second torn ACL in three years.
Here’s a list of potential (Pre-June 1st) cuts as we head into the draft:
-OLB Lamarr Houston, $5.01 million savings
-WR Eddie Royal, $5 million savings
-CB Tracy Porter, $3.6 million savings
-CB Sherrick McManis, $1.15 million savings
-DL Mitch Unrein, $1 million savings
As seen above, the Bears still have close to $15 million in cap flexibility using cuts alone. Another factor could be trading CB Kyle Fuller, who would give them a $1.74 million savings. Keep in mind that if they cut him, they would save nothing.
What Will They Do With The Remainder Of Their Space?
This year’s free-agent class not only lacked top-end talent but depth as a whole. As a result, almost no impact veterans remain on the open market.
As a result, it's unlikely the Bears will shell out any more lucrative deals to veterans.
They’ll likely continue to bargain hunt through the month of April and then re-assess their situation after the draft, where the occasional valuable veteran becomes available after cuts.
Here’s a look at the top five remaining free agents left on the market:
-DL Jonathan Hankins (New York Giants)
-ILB Zach Brown (Tennessee Titans)
-DL Jared Odrick (Jacksonville Jaguars)
S T.J. McDonald (Los Angeles Rams)
CB Sam Shields (Green Bay Packers)
If nothing develops between now and training camp, look for the Bears to work their pro scouting department hard through the preseason to take advantage of the final two waves of cuts heading into the regular season.
While it’s always possible that a name like Josh Sitton could become available later on down the road, it’s very likely Pace and the Bears are done handing out multi-year contracts to outside free agents this off-season.