Few teams have a busier schedule stacked up for the 2014 NFL off-season than the Chicago Bears. Here is what is on the docket.
Nobody necessarily wants to see Julius Peppers go. He is still the best defensive end on the roster, but at age 33 he is becoming older and less productive while his contract continues to eat up salary cap space. If he isn’t cut this coming season he will count over $18 million against the team cap. On the other hand by cutting him they would save upwards of $10 million. That money could be used to shore up the defense in other areas.
It wasn’t a bad idea when the team signed Michael Bush in 2012, but a shift in offensive scheme has clearly not helped the veteran running back. Last season marked the first time he’s finished below 400 rushing yards in his career, and he also matched the career low for touchdowns. He turns 30-years old before the start next season at a position that demands youth. Cutting him would save the team over $1.8 million against the cap.
He was a Pro Bowler when the Bears signed him but Adam Podlesh has had trouble the past couple season, but especially in 2013. For the season he averaged 40.6 yards per punt, which was a career low and dead last in the NFL. That is not acceptable given how important field position can be in a weather-beaten city like Chicago. If the team axes him, which is very possible, they would save just over $1 million in cap space.
Really the only player of note that warrants talk of an extension at this point is wide receiver Brandon Marshall. He’s entering the final year of his deal and after back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons has more than earned a new deal. At present he will make around $9.3 million in 2014. If given an extension the Bears could likely bring that number down as low as $4 million this season, which would be a great help. Is it necessary? That is up for debate and might depends on what happens with the cuts.
Having re-signed Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Matt Slauson and Robbie Gould the Bears have eaten up most of the cap space they were slated to have in May. It’s not surprising. All four players were big contributors this past season. If Chicago is to have any presence in free agency they will have to clear up more money, hence the cuts and extension talk. They have the ability to do so, but no team likes moving money around until they’re certain of what they can get in return. There are plenty of quality defensive options expected on the market including some big name defensive ends, safeties and cornerbacks like Greg Hardy, Jairus Byrd and Alterraun Verner. Any of them would greatly help the cause of rebuilding the defense. Whether the Bears can afford them is the question.
Regardless of what happens in free agency, the Chicago Bears front office knows their most important time frame for getting the team, and more specifically the defense ready for 2014 rests with the NFL draft. GM Phil Emery has been hard at work since the season ended scouting as many players as possible be they defensive tackles, end, linebackers or defensive backs. There should be some very good options on the board when the Bears go up at #14. The key of course is getting a good player and trust their tweaks to the defensive coaching staff can get the most out of them as quickly as possible.
If they can then next season should be very interesting for Bears fans.