That extra cap space could allow the Bears to be more active in free agency, which is on hold until the NFL and the players' union agree on a new collective bargaining agreement. The Bears could also use the extra money to re-sign some of their 16 free agents, most of whom are expected to be unrestricted, or to extend deals for key players already under contract. But without a CBA, NFL teams don't yet know what the salary cap will be for 2011.
"We have more unrestricted free agents than what we've had in the past," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "So we've got a full plate. We will be able to do (some) things in free agency regardless of what the scenario of what the cap is."
If they decide to go shopping in free agency, there are several players who would be excellent complements to the extremely fast but somewhat undersized group they have.
The Chargers' Malcom Floyd (6-5, 225) could be just what they're looking for. He has averaged over 17.0 yards per catch in each of the past three seasons.
With four years' experience, Houston's Jacoby Jones may or may not be unrestricted, depending on the structure of a new CBA, but he would be the biggest receiver on the Bears' roster at 6-2 and 210 pounds, and he's coming off his best season (51 catches, 562 yards).
The Jaguars' 6-2, 214-pound Mike Sims-Walker was non-tendered, even though he had seven TDs on 43 catches last season. That was a disappointment considering his 2009 season, when he caught 63 passes for 869 yards and seven touchdowns.
Sims-Walker would be a huge upgrade for the Bears over their own non-tendered wide receiver Devin Aromashodu, who flopped last year after coming on strong at the end of 2009. The 6-2, 201-pound four-year veteran had just three catches for 38 yards in the last 10 games of 2011. He caught 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games of '09.
"I'm excited to get back out there and for all of our guys being in the system a second year," Smith said of the Mike Martz-led crew. "It's just like from the first game to the second game of the season, you see a lot of improvement. We're expecting the same thing and there's no reason not to."
Smith isn't completely delusional, though, when it comes to the offensive side of the ball, which clearly has the most room for improvement.
"There's a couple of areas we need to improve, but I think the core is in place, starting with our quarterback, Jay Cutler, leading us," Smith said. "I wouldn't want any other quarterback except for Jay. I'm excited about him going into that second year with Mike and seeing those improvements on the offensive side."
Unga was dismissed from BYU's football team before his senior season for the same reason and was snagged by the Bears in the 2010 supplemental draft but spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
"I don't think young kids like Brandon should be publicized the way they are because of the personal choices they've made," Unga told Chicagobears.com. "You look around the country and some guys are getting DUIs and committing crimes and hurting other people. But when it comes to this, this kid made a personal choice, and his business is out there for the whole nation to see, and I don't think that's right."
When Unga was suspended, his girlfriend Keilani Moeaki was also removed from BYU's women's basketball team. They were married last July and have a baby boy.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are very few positions that I would say that we're set. There are a lot of different options." -- Bears coach Lovie Smith, when asked if any offensive line positions were set aside from unrestricted free-agent center Olin Kreutz.
Suh doesn't have a great track record with these types of statements. Remember, last year after a tough loss to the Eagles at Ford Field, he vowed that the Lions wouldn't loss another home game the rest of the season. They wound up losing three more.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think they have a good offensive line, but it's a matter that they're definitely trying to get over the hill, and they're getting there. It's great guys, but they need some younger guys that can step in, and they started to move towards that a little bit in the guard position when we played against them the second time this year, and I think they made the right decision in doing that. But I think that's one of their big things they need to improve." - DT Ndamukong Suh, in an interview with the NFL Network, discussing the aging Bears' offensive line.
Green Bay Packers
"I don't know if that will ever happen here with Donald (Driver) playing until he's 40," Jones said Monday night, when he attended a premiere in Green Bay for the newly released "Super Bowl XLV Champions Green Bay Packers" DVD.
Consequently, Jones apparently will be compelled to test the free-agent waters, if and when free agency begins in the wake of prolonged negotiations between the NFL owners and players union for a new collective bargaining agreement. The threat of a league lockout is palpable.
Jones likely will be an unrestricted free agent after completing his fourth and best season with the Packers. Despite being relegated to No. 3 status on the depth chart behind Greg Jennings and Driver, Jones had 50 receptions for 679 yards and five touchdowns in the regular season and followed that up with 11 catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay's four-game march in the postseason to the league title.
The Packers have made a token attempt to bring back Jones, offering him a tender as a restricted free agent in the event the league has an uncapped season for the second straight year. Only players with at least six years of service qualified as unrestricted free agents in 2010.
"If they want me, they'll make something happen," Jones said. "If not, they'll let me go."
Left guard Daryn Colledge and kicker Mason Crosby reportedly received second-round tenders. Running back Brandon Jackson (second round), fullback John Kuhn (undrafted) and Jones (third-round pick) reportedly were tendered at the lowest level.
Those one-year tags would be moot with a new CBA and a return to the old rules by which unsigned players with at least four years of NFL service are unrestricted free agents.
Peprah, a five-year veteran, took over as the starter at strong safety after rookie Morgan Burnett suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 4.
Hawk, the team's first-round draft pick in 2006, was due to draw a salary of $10 million in the final year of his rookie deal. No sooner did Green Bay release Hawk than they re-signed him the next day to a five-year pact that is worth more than $33 million.
He could earn close to $11 million in the first year. The base salary for 2011 is just $1.15 million, but Hawk received a signing bonus of $8 million and figures to collect a roster bonus of $1.8 million. If a salary cap is back in place next season, Hawk's cap number would be $4.55 million.
Afterward, McCarthy talked at length with quarterback Scott Tolzien, who could go in the late rounds.
"I wish Scott nothing but the best," McCarthy said. "I think he's had an incredible college career. You're always hopeful to work with these Wisconsin guys. It would be no different if I had the opportunity to work with Scott."
Green Bay may be inclined to take a quarterback at some point in the draft. There's been early offseason chatter about the Packers dangling top backup Matt Flynn as trade bait, and the only other quarterback behind Aaron Rodgers is untested Graham Harrell.
"This is something we all dreamed about, is winning a Super Bowl," said Driver, the longest-tenured current Packer with 12 years in the league. "Now, we have our own DVD that we can be able to put on our display for a long time. This is a true honor for us and a true honor for our fans."
The Packers had a league-high 15 players on injured reserve during the season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a lot of lives these people are messing with, arguing over some money. At the end of the day, we're going to back the players association 110 percent. But, let's do something. At the end of the day, we're arguing over billions of dollars, so something should get done." - Wide receiver James Jones, on the interminable negotiations for a new NFL collective-bargaining agreement.